Legendary Filmmaker, John Singleton, happens to be African-American
I was challenged to opine on the column, by one of the most formidable men of my acquaintance; Mr. Isaac Henderson. Seldom one to be at a loss for opinions, and enamored of a quest, I've taken the challenge in earnest and with due, proper, respect for the writer. Perhaps the simplest way will be to work on just a couple, key, segments of his missive?
"Yo! YOU black! What do you people think?"
"Whenever a black-themed film comes out, I get the call. And even more stops on the street. "Yo, man. What did you think of that flick?" The truth is, I wish folks would ask me what I think of some general releases. (My two favorite movies of the summer were comedies: Seth Rogen's This Is the End and Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine.) But, hey, I guess commenting on all things black is my lot in life, being that I'm a recognizable African-American face in an industry that isn't exactly the gold standard when it comes to diversity."
Who Gets to Define a "Lane"?
I, too, find it challenging when people ask ME things about black this or that, as if I'm able to represent the entire culture. Black men, as any other men, are not tethered to any one thing or another, due to the color of our skin. It's a limited, and misguided, view for some people to hold.
Black themes will not be accepted by "mainstream" audiences.
"Like everything else in Hollywood, though, black films tend to come in waves, and by some standards 2013 is turning into a banner year. Nearly a dozen black movies will be released before it's over. And with awards season just around the corner, three indie flicks are right in the mix: Ryan Coogler's remarkable and unquestionably authentic debut, Fruitvale Station; my friend Lee Daniels' The Butler, which has drawn a diverse crowd and topped the box office three weeks in a row; and the film everyone is waiting for, Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave."
Like the song says: "Somewhere, a place for us?"
"Hollywood's black film community has always had a one-for-all-and-all-for-one attitude, openly cheering the success of any black-driven movie in the hope its box-office success will translate into more jobs and stories about people of color. But, at the same time, the success of black-themed movies like The Help and this year's 42 points to a troubling trend: the hiring of white filmmakers to tell black stories with few African-Americans involved in the creative process."
It is, however, a sobering point he puts forth, "...points to a troubling trend: the hiring of white filmmakers to tell black stories with few African-Americans involved in the creative process."
Credit, where credit is due!
To deny, or discount these pictures, would be to deny their importance in proving market-worthiness, value, and commercial meaning. It would also require, too, that we'd have to deny a large number of films that told our stories, when nobody else would, or could.
I, for one, am grateful for those non-black helmers that had the courage, foresight, and opportunity to make those "black films", telling "black stories"! In my view, we'd still be relegated to the "blacksploitation" films of the seventies, and the like.
It would be, entirely, inappropriate and disingenuous, to not give some credit to those film makers who proved to the industry that black themes, from black perspectives, had merit. And market-share-ability. Thereby, opening doors to us, and our stories.
"An approximation of life?" An answer to the question? "Can a White Director Make a Great Black Movie?".
Of course they can, if they are sincere, and artfully-endowed, enough! True empathy goes a VERY long way when attempting to represent others, and their plights and experiences authentically.
One example of the benefit of empathy, is in a script I penned some time ago. In it, I wrote a Jewish woman, an elderly black woman 80 years my senior, an Irish Lesbian, a Nez Perce Native-American, a devout Muslim female, a latino immigrant... and everyone would ask "How in the world could you WRITE that!?" Since I was none of those people. Telling a story requires authenticity. Authenticity comes from empathy. Empathy enables vivid, respectful, compassionate, storytelling.
Thank goodness, once again, for the vanguard of daring filmmakers who saw the appeal, significance, and worthiness--- of fighting to be green-lighted, to fight with the studio system of the period, and to demand an opportunity to explore the fertile ground of black subjects. Many more than I have room to mention here.
Perhaps I, too naïvely, think that their passion was entirely altruistic, and with a mind, and passion, for telling our stories because they deserved a voice. Altruism notwithstanding, I am grateful for the exposure they provided, and the doors they opened.
I'm reminded of the times when dinner guests offer rave reviews about my Creole Gumbo recipe... which I happily share.
I provide them the entire list of ingredients for which to shop, and the recipe. To fellow, PASSIONATE, foodies.
One-hundred percent of the time, however, it doesn't taste like mine. It's GOOD, and it's TASTY, and WONDERFUL... but it is not, at the end of the day, quite, like mine.