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Why America Loves Slave Narratives

I recently began research for a final paper in my adaptation of film class. For my final project, I decided to focus on Nate Parker’s adapted work The Birth of A Nation originally by D.W. Griffith’s who adapted his work from the book called The Clansman.

Despite the unpleasant controversy surrounding the film’s release, Parker’s film still managed to shake up the box office. In discussing the film as a tool of social commentary I am quite frankly annoyed. Parker’s work is important, however, it like many of the films before focus on an all too familiar narrative; rebellious slaves trying to break free.

Now, I genuinely Parker’s work exists to spark systemic change and ameliorate the oppressive forces that work to burden African Americans, however, the story line is played. I say that with no intentional disrespect or dismissal of Parker’s work but speak more to the chosen and often repeated narrative. 

Do not me misunderstand, we as a people, especially given the current racial climate of the US, must know and understand our history. However, we cannot continue romanticizing the struggles of African Americans as a people.

In 2008, when President Barack Obama took his place in the oval office, we were empowered with ideas of Hope, moving towards an ideal America unbridled by the burden of racism. The idea of a Post-Racial America began to feel so real, so tangible. We wanted to believe we were on the road to racial equality. But in 2012 Trayvon Martin was gunned down in cold blood and his killer was sent home without so much as a judicial slap on the wrist. His death was the not the first of its kind, a black man killed by a white man, but it sparked the outrage necessary to bring change. Wrong again. For the  next few years, we would see this same image replay over and over again, different face and name but same story, innocent African-American gunned down by a white and soon unconvicted male.

Depictions of black men and women flood Hollywood movie screens. But quite rarely do we see black men and women in the lead role living a life of privilege or simple pleasure without being riddled by gross stereotypes or misinterpretations of what it means to be black.

For the first time in 2010, we saw the face of a black woman as the face of new major network television drama. But the character is riddled with salacious and adulterous behavior reserved for lack of a better word a modern whore and home wrecker. This again is no dismissal of Washington’s work or performance, because she is simply brilliant. But the misfortune of Olivia Pope as a single, successful, and influential women who is overcome with issues of infidelity, mental instability, and consumed in a world of treachery is an all too familiar narrative.

Women of color have been subject to poor depictions of the strength they truly have. Works that do speak to that part of who are often are dismissed and reduced to  5 minutes of fame.

But works where we are oppressed, broken, battered, or victimized, were lauded and awarded by white critics. We as a people must truly join together and stop celebrating how we got over and start working to create change a corrupt system.

In 2015 when #WhiteOscars called out the unbalanced white presence and representations in the academy we were so graciously given voice by the lovely Stacey Dash insert upside down emoji. But I digress…

Here’s the point–

America Loves Slave Narratives because subconsciously they do one of two things: 1) the remind us as a people where we are coming from and who we once were and why we seemingly are too inferior to achieve 2) they keep African Americans in a constant state of “memory,” where they must relive the horrors of their brutal history so anger continues. These stories keep people divided. They keep us in a place where we must face over and over the brutality of one group of people inflicted by another.

Racial reconciliation seems close to impossible. Why? Because instead of focusing on a narrative that calls for systemic change and racial harmony we retell the story of how we all got here. People aren’t getting a chance to heal because the wounds are constantly being reopened. Film and television are not the only guilty sources; news, school systems, government, people everywhere are focused on a narrative of oppression. A story that never has a happy ending; a story that never truly offers a resolve. I certainly DO NOT have all the answers. However, I know with certainty we must start telling some new stories and stop reliving the hurts of the past.

MY Directive: Let start telling some new stories and force them to care.

Please comment, like, and share! It’s okay if you don’t agree, I would love for you to share why. 🙂

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