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Why White People Don’t Like Black Movies (Postscript)

Features
by Andre Seewood
October 3, 2013 10:28 AM
29 Comments
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So it took over three months before any commentator mentioned the film FRUITVALE STATION as a rebuttal or challenge to the article WHY WHITE PEOPLE DON’T LIKE BLACK MOVIES (http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/why-white-people-dont-like-black-movies) which was originally posted on Shadow and Act in July 2013 and I am very surprised.(1)  As the article itself questioned the lack of empathy many Whites exhibit in regards to those outside of their own race, I thought that the film FRUITVALE STATION would be a rather obvious choice to challenge the assertions within the article considering that it is a recent Black film that many Whites are going to see in the theatres.  

Here is a Black film that shows the deadly consequences of the racial empathy gap in real life: the 2009 senseless murder of unarmed African-American Oscar Grant by a White transit officer early on New Year’s Day in Oakland California.  Grant’s murder at the hands of police authorities is an event that happens so often to Black males in this country and elsewhere that it almost appears trivial in the ebb and flow of our globally interconnected culture.

But where Whites who go to see this film and are both emotionally affected and outraged, we have to remember that the original article WHY WHITE PEOPLE DON’T LIKE BLACK MOVIES stated that,” The effects of such a Racial Empathy Gap may not negatively influence all Whites when they are viewing a Black film…”  Therefore, the fact that some Whites are seeing FRUITVALE STATION as well as THE BUTLER does not discredit the thesis of the article that,” A vast majority of White people don’t like Black movies because they lack the empathy necessary to identify with Black characters which in turn affects their ability to “suspend disbelief” and surrender to the narrative of a Black film.”

Yet the bitter irony here is that some Whites who are seeing FRUITVALE STATION and are emotionally affected could possibly be affected by the circumstances represented in the film in a qualitatively different manner than those Blacks who are seeing the film.  That is to say, some Whites are emotionally affected by the wrong-doing of the White police officer and NOT the death of the Black male represented in the film.  Oscar Grant’s death is the collateral consequence of a breach of the boundaries of White authority and thus the circumstance can still be looked at through the lens of White privilege and power and not through the lens of racial injustice and White controlled oppression and indifference.

These Whites could be angry that the police officer committed such a heinous and blatant act of disregard for a human life, which subsequently opened the door to charges of racism to which the authorities were so quick to vehemently deny.  It could be that many Whites are seeing the film FRUITVALE STATION as a means of denying the existence of racism by looking at the circumstances represented as a tragic accident while simultaneously convincing themselves that they are racially tolerant enough see this circumstance beyond the lens of race.  Such an assertion begs the questions: Does FRUITVALE STATION encourage the delusion of racial tolerance and blunt the critique of racial injustice in those Whites who are brave enough to see it?    If so, then is the film actually encouraging racial intolerance instead of increasing the sensitivity of its viewers toward racial injustice?

Though there may be Whites who have shed tears during the screening of FRUITVALE STATION some of these Whites may not have “introjected” or fully internalized the pain of being shot while Black (or having been lynched while Black , or kidnapped while Black, or enslaved while Black, or falsely accused and imprisoned while Black…).  Indeed, some Whites are angry and emotionally affected by the circumstance but not by the subject whose Black body is dead.  

By contrast, when many Blacks watch the film the pain of Oscar Grant’s senseless death is both palpable, certain, and has an unparalleled urgency because the very color of their skin inherently means that any one of them could be the next potential victim of such real violence, discrimination and injustice by Whites in authority.  We should return to the words of film scholar Anna Everett that were quoted in the original article when considering the exclusion of Blacks from what was defined as White films,” Whites don’t take notice when there are no minorities or Blacks in a film, but Blacks do.  “Even if Whites recognize the exclusion it will have different meanings for them.”

Here we should consider that there may be different meanings to the tears Whites are shedding during FRUITVALE STATION and the tears Blacks are shedding every day during the many similar senseless circumstances of murder of Black males by Whites and other ethnicities in positions of authority or who harbor delusions of authority because they possess a firearm.  

What is qualitatively different when some Whites cry during the screenings of FRUITVALE STATION as opposed to when many Blacks cry is that some Whites may be crying at the senselessness of the particular circumstances but not at the system that is poised against Blacks and perpetuates these reoccurring particular circumstances of reckless racial indifference, otherwise known as racism, which cuts short the lives of Black males without any remorse, recrimination or justice for the act of wrongdoing.

All of this has not been said to detract or besmirch the character of those Whites who have seen FRUITVALE STATION and were genuinely emotionally affected and outraged by the Oscar Grant’s murder, but the fact remains  that it has become far too easy for the majority of many Whites to write off these reoccurring incidents of murder of a Black male at the hands of White authority (and those ethnicities who feign White authority) as tragic accidents rather than seeing these incidents as symptoms of systemic racism incited by reckless racial indifference, prejudicial stereotypes and a lack of racial empathy.  One wonders if the visible expansion of Blacks within the upper and middle classes made racism more or less difficult a lens through which to see acts of racism and racial bias?

Is the price of the success of a few costing the lives of many others?

I suspect that many potential White commentators knew that by using FRUITVALE STATION as a counter-argument against the notion that Whites don’t like Black films would have been too problematic and therefore they either curtailed their responses to films from the Early Nineties (E.g. BOYZ N THE HOOD, etc), comedies from the Nineties (e.g. FRIDAY) or used confirmation bias to make the ignorant sweeping generalization that all Black films, as defined in the original article, are bad and inferior to White (mainstream) cinema.

But then it is so difficult and painfully ironic to use a film about the murder of a Black man by a White man as evidence that Whites like Black movies; it is so painfully ironic isn’t it?  And yet it is so painfully obvious that some Whites like only a certain type of Black film and cannot see a Black film as a legitimate contribution to the art form of cinema.  Many Whites only see a Black film as a representation of a particular circumstance that is not addressed to them and has nothing to say about the world they inhabit; such is the blinding power of White privilege and ignorance.

(1) This postscript was originally written as a response to commentator DLYNN who posted on September 19th 2013 at 10:30pm,” The last two "Black films" that I saw at the cinemas were Fruitvale Station and The Butler. The audience was predominantly white, and more than a few were in tears at the end of Fruitvale Station. #empathy”   This was first and only presumed White commentator to mention having seen FRUITVALE STATION as a rebuttal or counter-argument to the original article after three months and much discussion.         


Andre Seewood is the author of SLAVE CINEMA: The Crisis of the African-American in Film. Pick up a copy of the book via Amazon.com HERE.   

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29 Comments

  • Steve | December 25, 2013 5:10 AMReply

    Here

  • James May | December 16, 2013 7:42 PMReply

    Well, that's a tough row to hoe, so I have no rebuttal. I've never worried about whether films were black but whether they were interesting to me as well told films. One of my favorite films used to be the now forgotten ...tick... tick... tick... with Jim Brown. Not a black film I guess and neither is the Marcus-Nelson Murders which I liked even better. Liked the made-for-TV Tuskegee Airmen, but not Red Tails. What IS a black film, at least in terms of the cast, is one I like even more and have seen maybe 30 times, Black Orpheus. I admit I've never heard of Fruitvale Station, although I certainly know of the event. I wouldn't have any more problem watching it than Costa Gavros Z. Boyz in the Hood certainly has no problem with quality nor does New Jersey Drive nor do any of Spike Lee's films. Gabriel Casseus could easily have been nominated for an Oscar. Liked Menace II Society the 10 times I've seen it and Clockers too. Liked Ray, Glory, and the old A Raisin In the Sun. Liked Cooley High - it was the closest of all films to what I experienced with friends. Devil in a Blue Dress is a really fine film and I liked A Soldier's Story. It seems as if this is a lose-lose. If I don't watch them it's bad, if I watch them cuz I appreciate the artistry then that's bad cuz colorblindness. I dunno, I saw those as human stories.

  • Nunya | October 31, 2013 9:39 PMReply

    I for one don't find myself enjoying most black centered movies because it is almost always about race in some way. Secondly, black movies often portray whites from a stereotypical black mindset. I.e. criminals or overly dorky, and the women are almost always slutty or gold diggers. It is a little sickening. Something that you'd expect to find in North Korean or nazi propaganda.

  • Denzel Washington | October 25, 2013 4:01 AMReply

    You need to stop with writing articles like this Andre, otherwise you are just making the less-educated African-American population angry. Also may I add that many African-American children do not look at figureheads like those seen in Lee Daniels' The Butler, but they look to heavily negative figureheads like rappers, hip-hop artists and generally people who live with a tribal attitude to life. If we could get the African-American children set on becoming respectable citizens in society instead of aspiring to be the next Chief Keef or Lil' Wayne, then maybe the Whites in the next generation would look at us African-American's and think that we aren't the welfare bludgeoners that we are stereotyped as today, but respectable, educated people who they can have feelings for in real life, or in a work of fiction.

  • Denzel Washington | October 25, 2013 3:52 AMReply

    It is articles like this that create the double-standard that is found in the U.S today.
    Would you be offended if an African-American police officer had a caucasian prisoner die in his custody? Maybe otherwise you wouldn't have written an article such as this, however you seem to suggest that caucasians of any European background can't enjoy a film with African/African-American protagonists who have a positive influence in the world or a fictitious film basically because what you are suggesting is that white people like to see black people in roles like that of a slave who without qualm continue to work until his death all the while the white people live up in riches and laugh evilly with money made from Mandingo fights.
    White people can enjoy African-American movies with positive characters. If they couldn't do you think Spike Lee and myself would have won so money awards?
    The majority of film-goers are going to Caucasians in the U.S not because African-Americans are segregated by race, but because of population statistics in where the majority is either Caucasian from an English speaking background, or Caucasian from a Spanish speaking background.
    It is people like you who like to complain about such trivial issues in today's world. If other fellow African-Americans dropped the culture of being a victim and attended school, stayed away from committing crimes and got married and had children like so many respectful African-Americans had done in the past before we all seemingly pulled out the race card, then America would be a better place today.

  • Denzel Washington | October 25, 2013 3:37 AMReply

    I'm black and I have see no reason why I should be emotionally affected by the death of a man I had no prior knowledge of before his so called, 'racially motivated killing' of which you are suggesting

  • Denzel Washington | October 25, 2013 3:34 AMReply

    You are a racist prick

  • Cynthia Morse | October 14, 2013 1:30 AMReply

    The constant references to Oscar Grant's cold-blooded murder as a " tragic accident" show the author's unfamiliarity with the killing, AND the scope of police killings of young black men. It's not a surprise that some viewers see it as terribly sad, but not because if white parents try to put themselves in Oscar's family's place--son shot by police while simply celebrating a holiday with his friend, it would HAVE to be an accident. But racism killed Oscar, not an accident. The train driver called in a "fight." If the driver was white the sounds of young black men arguing may have called up fear. If black, ever-
    present job security worries common in the workplace for Black employees might have caused hyper-vigilance.

    Then there are facts not used by either prosecution or defense in the trial.. Mehserle had had altercations with two black men already on his shift that night. Mehserle's father is a ku klux klan grand dragon in his home town. Mehserle knew exactly where his taser was; he pulled it and used it to intimidate the crowd on the platform , twice,before murdering Oscar. Oscar didn't die right away. EMTs who treated him were motivated, or ordered, to give Oscar sub-standard care and did not bandage his heavily bleeding exit wound.. He bled out for 5 hours before dying.
    What part of this up to and including Mehserle pulling his service revolver to shoot a prone, handcuffed young man who had not committed any crime--what part of this is pretty much never a part of police misbehavior to whites? Taking racism out of the murder just about means it didnt really happrn. Thus a verdict of involuntary manslaughter

  • Carol Olson | October 12, 2013 2:11 AMReply

    Jeez - talk about generalization. This is a ludicrous article. Of course whites are crying for Oscar. Make good movies and work to build an audience. Filmmakers like Ava Duvernay are doing it. Too many black films are in the Tyler Perry mode - pure drek.

  • IGBO | October 4, 2013 9:49 PMReply

    At a recent screening of 12 YEARS A SLAVE, the white woman sitting next to me was crying so hard, you would have thought her child had just died.

  • Walter Harris Gavin | October 4, 2013 12:18 AMReply

    Empathy as an emotion and as a reaction to a story - "there but for the grace of God go I," is I think not so much a "natural" reaction, but one that is "learned," through culture and social interaction. It is very easy for one black person to empathize with another because one is aware that because of "color" bias and discrimination, one can find oneself in the same boat, figuratively as well as literally. White privilege by it's very nature and integration into every aspect of the "race-based" culture we inhabit means that "whites" have to be taught what real empathy is: "Do unto others, as you would have others do unto you." That can not be an intellectual exercise, but has to be felt, experienced, made real.

  • C'mon Son | October 3, 2013 7:51 PMReply

    This again?? The author must be getting paid for every comment made...

  • Floyd Webb | October 3, 2013 3:38 PMReply

    How bout we stop caring what the dominant culture don't like and building a body of work we can sell around the world. Jeezus, people like to whine. After 110 years of cinema in America you still expecting a miracle. Time to do for self. Calling folk racists is like a doctor calling cancer deadly and not doing anything about it. In other words don't nobody care what you call them cause we ain't organized well enough to decide to bust a grape. Das mi rant!!!

  • Jite | October 4, 2013 1:25 PM

    Thought I was one only one tired of obsessing about that which you have very little control over. Surely it's time to focus on that which we can.

  • Nathaniel Poe | October 3, 2013 2:48 PMReply

    The entire premise of this article is as ludicrous, if not more so, than Charlie Smalls' claim that White soul and Black soul falls on different beats. The only result your entire article manages to accomplish is a continued promulgation of stereotypical ideas about race, and how our differences become racialized. Your mind is completely constrained by cultural notions of blackness and whiteness, when we are long past the point in society where a single unified culture is a desired outcome.

  • bb | October 3, 2013 3:43 PM

    uh, bye.

  • Guyver | October 3, 2013 2:27 PMReply

    HOW ABOUT THEY ARE RACISTS, who can't see past color enough to realize that we are all human beings with very similar stories to tell.

  • megastarr | October 3, 2013 1:01 PMReply

    I really liked this article. I saw both Fruitvale Station and the Butler. The difference is that I saw the Butler in a regular theater, and fruitvale was at a indie theater.White people will go see our films, I just believe if its hyped enough they'll go see it. Granted I live in Paducah Ky where they out number us. I agree with the article, and I just wanted to say that we as a people have to demand better with films. I hope we get more films like these films and cut down on the Tyler Perry and lame predictable romantic comedies

  • jeanettesdaughter | October 4, 2013 9:14 AM

    well and simply stated! " high above the drama." good for you.

  • DIXON | October 3, 2013 12:03 PMReply

    Right, I forgot that all black people identify with, understand, and fully appreciate all White versions of culture and creation. I also forgot the enormous amount of remorse that black people usually have for the death of whites.

    Sense the sarcasm Seewood? Blacks and Whites have different interests, and relate to their own experiences (Because ... shocker - it's their own) - is there something wrong with that? Why don't most Black people identify with rock music? This is just as sweeping of a generalization as your article, and the answer seems ridiculous to even attempt to obtain.

    Jews have been prosecuted forever, and nearly exterminated on multiple occasions in history. Yet they are not quibbling over weather the tears shed during Schindler's List were for the "Right Reasons".

    You sound racist Andre. Get over yourself.

  • Ras The Exhorter | October 3, 2013 11:37 AMReply

    Wasn't the point of the University of Milan study indicating that Whites have a hard time watching stories in which Blacks are in a position of power and are controlling the narrative? FRUITVALE STATION and THE BUTLER are stories where the Black man is in control of the narrative, but certainly is NOT in a position of power (same thing with 12 YEARS A SLAVE).

    So the U of Milan study still holds validity.

  • Amari | October 3, 2013 3:41 PM

    I think you pretty much summed up why White folk love films like the two mentioned, The Color Purple and Precious. They can't relate to Black people in power, and may not really want to see it. Perhaps it is no different than how MLK Jr. brought us some form of equality. When we are lambs being slaughtered, the people will come. However, when we the decisions makers, the possible person with blood on their hands, or the one who finds a way to triumph, then it becomes a case where we may be screaming "Black Power," and all the while White people feel alienated since white privilege usually makes them the hero, a la Django Unchained.

  • Maurice Emel | October 3, 2013 1:23 PM

    Hey Ras can you post a link to that study, I'd like to read it?

  • scripttease | October 3, 2013 10:51 AMReply

    How about an article on "Why some Black People Don’t Like some Black Movies."

  • peemore | October 9, 2013 3:31 PM

    Now there's an article worth reading!!!!

  • jeanettesdaughter | October 4, 2013 9:26 AM

    nice one! i for one do not watch movies in which black people or others so marginalized are not in 'power.' it doesn't mena that i believe we always win, are of stellar character, have no serial killers, etc. it means i know we are fully human. that means i do not go for the weepers: precious, colored girls, etc. or the deranged: anything tyler perry. i can see all of that on the five o'clock news or the last doc about the socio pathology of black families. i happen to know bettter. i will see anything out of the ordinary. oddly, in reverse fashion i will see anything about white pathology. what do i mean by that? i mean - walter white is what i mean; i mean breaking bad or anything that cuts through the flawless white people cloud of ignorance or feigned innocence surrounding all talk about race. why? because in everyday life, we americans walk around as though every human failure is somehow related to 'blackness' and it just isn't so. by the way, when fellow traveler posts that milan study, i hope some other fellow traveler will find and post langston hughes essay, "the new negro." 1929 and we're still explaining...

  • scripttease | October 3, 2013 2:52 PM

    Why must we keep worrying about White Folks.

  • CC | October 3, 2013 11:08 AM

    But what, pray tell, would be the purpose of that article?

    As an aid to that conundrum, search your mind to find what you received from the original post. Then, see if you can draw any parallels between your proposition and that post.

  • Winston | October 3, 2013 10:46 AMReply

    Shut up, Seewoods. We've had enough of your quibble. Talk about something new, for a change.

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