When Race and History Meet Hollywood (Part II): Can a White Man Tell a Black Story?

When Race and History Meet Hollywood (Part II): Can a White Man Tell a Black Story?

Despite its box office success, “Django Unchained” has received a mild reception from many Black film makers.  For many, there remains a deep frustration that the lens through which America views slavery continues to belong to a White man.  A fair point (though no one loves a Steven Spielberg slavery movie more than me), I considered the impact that this perspective had on the film that was made and the how the story was told. I also wondered whether a Black Director could have made the same exact movie as Tarantino without there being a ludicrous fear of a nationwide Black revolt or “Django-induced” acts of retaliation.

I imagine that for many Black film makers, the existing narrative around slavery appears to be painfully single-dimensional.

Scene one –Africa.

Scene two – Slave ships.

Scene three – Cotton fields.

Scene four – Freedom!

Sprinkled somewhere in the middle you will find the Civil War and somewhere afterwards you will find the Color Purple.  Admittedly, I find it intriguing that there are no major films about any of the 250 attempted slave rebellions that took place between the 17th and 19th centuries.   It would seem that the part when slaves fought back would be an important story to add to our nation’s cinematic history.  Perhaps this not-so-revolutionary concept of a pissed off slave speaks to both the success of “Django Unchained” and the frustration of those familiar with the untold stories of our country’s Black ancestors.  Perhaps, ‘Django’ is the closest a major Hollywood studio will ever get to telling a new dimension of a multifaceted story that goes far beyond whips, chains, and the victimization of slavery?

And though I can understand the frustration of many Black filmmakers I must stop short of proposing that ‘Django’ was not Quentin Taratino’s story to tell.  As an African American, can I not pass on the story of the Holocaust to my son?  Can I not deeply empathize with the atrocities of the near annihilation of Native Americans?   Do certain stories of history not belong to me because the blood of those directly impacted by them does not run through my veins?

The stories of history, especially one as engrained in American society as slavery, belongs to us all.   Tarantino’s fictional film spoke to but a fraction of the larger story of slavery and archetypes of heroes and heroines that many did not know existed.  For that reason alone, his narrative should be accepted and received for what it is – a movie that added another layer to the context of how we view our past, our ancestors, and our collective selves. All of these stories, vital in the development of our collective psyches, are not only all of our stories to tell but it is our responsibility to make sure that they continue to be told.



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    Kay S

    Kay Smith is a Chicago-based freelance writer and blogger who focuses on race, politics and urban culture. Having worked on public policy at the state, regional, city and community level, her opinions have been featured in the Chicago SunTimes and a host of news websites (under very mysterious sounding pseudonyms). Follow her on Twitter @kaywillsmith or contact her at kaywilliamsmith@gmail.com.

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