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Vices Versus Virtues - Representations Of Iconic Black Figures On Screen (Survey)

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act October 17, 2011 at 4:48AM

Watched The Black Power Mixtape again recently which led me to further research on Stokely Carmichael, aka Kwame Ture (he's featured heavily enough in the movie)...
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Watched The Black Power Mixtape again recently which led me to further research on Stokely Carmichael, aka Kwame Ture (he's featured heavily enough in the movie)...

He passed away in 1998, but I'm not certain that he actually saw Spike Lee's Malcolm X, which was released in 1992. At least, after a Google search, I couldn't immediately find any sources to confirm or negate that.

What I did find were the following comments he made in 1993 during an interview with Paris-based African-centered weekly Jeune Afrique: "Spike Lee is incapable of making a film about Malcolm X," calling Spike a "petite bourgeois who took the choice of selling his people for a fist full of dollars."

Needless to say... Ouch!?

I couldn't date the below interview, so I'm not 100% certain that his comments in the early half of it are targeted specifically at Spike's movie, or just a general commentary.

But what I really wanted to draw your attention to are his theories on depicting vices versus virtues in filmic representations of real-life people (like Malcolm X). I focus on that especially because it fits quite nicely into conversations we've had on this site about films on Civil Rights luminaries like the aforementioned Malcolm X, as well as Martin Luther King, Jr.

If you recall, one of the reasons for the holdup in the production of 2 high-profile MLK film projects (one by Lee Daniels and one by Paul Greengrass - both which would reportedly emphasize MLK's vices, and not just revel in hagiography) was Andrew Young's objections - the civil rights activist, member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) during the 60s Civil Rights Movement, a supporter and good friend of Martin Luther King, Jr., who played a key role in the events in Birmingham, Alabama, was a strategist and negotiator that influenced the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. And also, he was with MLK in Memphis, Tennessee, when he was assassinated in 1968.

Young reportedly objected to scripts which included scenes of marital infidelity during MLK's final days, among other "vices."

Some might express concern for the play currently on Broadway (The Mountaintop, with Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett starring) that "humanizes" MLK, as the plays stars have said in interviews they've done marketing the production.

The same thing could be said for holdups in developments of maybe 1 of the Marvin Gaye projects that have been in the works for awhile; specifically, Janis Gaye, the late singer's second and last wife, who objected to British director Julien Temple's project which she reportedly said would "focus on his drug abuse, on other negative aspects of his life."

Kwame Ture suggests in the video below that Hollywood peddles vice as entertainment, and he obviously has a problem with that.

Obviously, there are those of us who prefer that films/projects like the above, about these iconic figures of history should essentially canonize them, or at least, as Kwame Ture notes, focus on their virtues and not their vices. And there are those who feel that a warts and all depiction "humanizes" them, making their achievements more accessible to those of us who hold them in such high regard.

I think this also ties in very nicely with our ongoing discussions about the "burden of representation" some expect black public figures to carry and others don't; or more specifically, the battle between "positive" and "negative" portrayals of black people on screen.

Watch the video, think about all I've said, and let the conversations continue... whether about Ture's observations about Spike Lee and his Malcolm X movie, or the virtue versus vices debate.

This article is related to: Things That Make You Go Hmm...


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