I told yall about how I grew up in a super pro-Black home right? In my house, it was all about Blackness: Black movies, Black TV shows, Black books, Black dolls, Black music, Black everything. In my house, I pretty much watch whatever if it was Black, which is why I saw a lot of Spike Lee and John Singleton films before I was probably old enough, LOL. And I was blessed to come of age in the golden age of Black TV, with shows like Martin, Living Single, In Living Color, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, New York Undercover and more. I even grew up with indie stuff, like Sankofa and Just Another Girl on the IRT.
Back then, the good old days of 90’s film/TV, we had such a diversity of images and stories being told. We had some stories of struggle and violence (Boyz In The Hood, Menace II Society) but we also had carefree stories (House Party) , and even romcoms (Boomerang). And then we went through this drought, where we hardly saw ourselves on TV or in film, and if we did get a film, it was probably a Tyler Perry Madea special - no shade to those who like that sort of thing, but it’s not my cup of tea for a variety of reasons.
It seems now like the pendulum is swinging back towards what we saw in the 90s, with a greater diversity of creators and stories being told, which I love. But what I don’t love is the type of stories that I feel bombarded with.
Frankly, I’m tired of seeing Black pain and oppression presented as entertainment.
A few week’s ago, Netflix released Ava Duvernay’s powerful miniseries, When They See Us, which focuses on the Central Park Five and the unjust, inhumane way they were treated. I know folks who watched and wept at every episode. I know folks who only made it through one episode before they had to turn it off, never to watch again. But me, I’m not even starting it - I won’t be tuning in. This is not because I don’t love Ava Duvernay’s work (I do) or that I don’t find this story worth telling (I do). It’s because I don’t think Black folks should be the ones watching this story at all.
We know what pain and trauma and oppression look like. We live with it everyday. We’re the first ones to share stories of police brutality or yet another unarmed Black person being murdered by the police or of a Black church being burned to the ground. We live with these atrocities and we already know these stories. It’s not us who should be watching this story, It’s white people. They are the ones who need to see and internalize the pain these young men endured.
i’m so happy that Black creators - from producers to directors to screenwriters and beyond - are getting the opportunity to create their own projects and share their stories, and our stories with the world. But is it asking too much that we share less about our Black pain and more about our Black joy? I’m tired of seeing us as slaves, as second class citizens enduring Jim Crow laws, of us living in poverty. I don’t need films or TV to teach me these stories, or to make it more real for me. All it does for me is inflict more pain and more trauma. Sure I could watch Rosewood or Twelve Years A Slave or Mudbound, but I know it will end with me in tears and feeling such a…a heaviness and sadness. And I don’t want that. So I don’t watch.
I do however, watch Insecure. And I watch Queen Sugar. And I watch Blackish and grownish and Dear White People. I love to see Black people doing regular degular smegular things, like fix their broken relationships or try to fit in at work. I want to see all different types of Black folks, that demonstrate the diversity of the Black experience, and how there isn’t just one way to be Black. I’m engaged and invested in Issa and Molly on Insecure because in them, I see myself and my own existence. I loved seeing Zoe grow on Blackish and now do stupid college student stuff on grownish. It’s relateable but more importantly, even at the “worst” moments, it’s not rooted in pain and oppression. It’s simply Black people living their lives and telling their stories.
Twitter told me that Octavia Spencer is producing a movie about the Tulsa race riots. While I hope it’s going to be better than that revisionist history presented in The Green Book, and while I love Octavia Spencer, I’m not looking forward to this one. It’s an important story that should be told, but I hope that we also get some films greenlit that show carefree Black people living their lives, and maybe some Black joy in it as well.