Where are the movies that portray the quiet bravery and utter terror of black men about to be lynched?
Where are the scenes of black mothers breathing a sigh of relief when they see their just raped daughters are traumatized, but alive?
Where’s the lone black hero ready to give his life so that others may flee, the standoff that’s so common in movies from westerns to science fiction?
I AM A MAN
Where’s the movie showing the list of “uppity nigras” who needed to be dealt with by a group of bigots, and a savior arrives at the last moment to rescue them?
The Lynching of Laura Nelson
Where are the scenes showing a group of blacks being terrorized because they dared to demand the right to vote?
From Schindlers List
Or the camera close-up and hold on a young boy’s crumbling expression, when he realizes he’ll spend the rest of his life in prison.
The REAL Scottsboro Boys
And where are the scenes of tenderness between a father and his children, knowing they’re about to be split up, and this may be the last time they see each other.
In my generation, I had Sounder. But what do the young audiences today have?
Sounder movie poster
Per imdb.com, here’s the plot of the movie in one sentence:
The son of a family of black sharecroppers comes of age in the Depression-era South after his father is imprisoned for stealing food.
The scenes I concocted are mashups from other movies on either the Holocaust or some other family drama. But one thing remains constant. There will rarely be a minority cast in the lead.
Even minority audiences have been long accustomed to seeing and in many cases identifying with a white male as the savior, the leader, the brash anti-hero, the conflicted loner who somehow does the right thing at the right moment.
The white female lead isn’t far behind as they mix beauty with bravery. Two recent examples are Sandra Bullock’s Oscar winning role in The Blind Side, and now Emma Stone’s turn at playing a junior steel magnolia in The Help.
These are Scarlet O’Hara’s for the modern age. They’re southern belles on a mission to see the black people they know rise to their full potential, “as God is my witness!”
Scarlett makes a vow
The glass is half full (or empty, depending on how you view progress) because in each of these films a black character(s) is part of the plot. That’s at least something.
"You are a Godless woman"
Thankfully, Aibileen gets more backbone in the movie, even this highly dramatic scene where she utters “You are a Godless woman” to Hilly. Something like this was sorely missing from the book, as Aibileen remained cringing and unsure of herself almost to the novel’s end.
From the novel:
The room getting blurry. I’m shaking my head and my fists is clenching tighter.
” . . .Miss Hilly,” I say it loud and clear. She stops. I bet Miss Hilly ain’t been interrupted in ten years.
I say, “I know something about you and don’t you forget that.”
She narrow her eyes at me. But she don’t say nothing.
“And from what I hear, they’s a lot a time to write a lot a letters in jail.”
I’m trembling. My breath feel like fire. “Time to write to ever person in Jackson the truth about you. Plenty a time and
the paper is free.”
“Nobody would believe something you wrote, Nigra.”
“I don’t know. I been told I’m a pretty good writer.”
She fish her tongue out an touch that sore with it. The she drop her eyes from mine.
Before she can say anything else, the door flies open down the hall. Mae Mobley runs out in her nightie and she stop in front a me. She hiccupping and crying and her little nose is red as a rose. Her mama must a told her I’m leaving. . . (Pgs 442-442)
” . . . Aibileen,” Miss Leefolt say real quiet.
“Miss Leefolt, are you . . .sure this is what you . . .” Miss Hilly walk in behind her and glare at me. Miss Leefolt nods, looking real guilty.
“I’m sorry Aibileen. Hilly, if you want to . . . press charges, that’s up to you.”
Miss Hilly sniff at me and say, “It’s not worth my time.” (Pg 443)
While Viola Davis’ performance has already been touted for an Oscar nomination, which category she’ll be placed in will be the key. Academy voters may be a bit squeamish to award the golden statuette for a role that’s part mythical Mammy and obedient maid. It’s a leading role, but look for Emma Stone to get a nomination in the Best Actress category. At least that’s my guess.
Viola Davis will probably end up in the best supporting actress category, along with possibly Octavia Spencer. There’s no risk of them canceling each other out. Voters will want to award Davis for all her prior fine performances which prepared her for this one. Unfortunately, that also means other co-stars may be crammed in the category with her. Like Jessica Chastain, and a long shot but entirely possible, Bryce Dallas Howard.
Best supporting actress has almost been a sure thing these past few years for black actresses. Leading Actress in a motion picture has not.
For more on the awards quandry possibly facing The Help
, see this post
Sadly, there won’t be an African American male nominated from The Help, since the movie, like the novel didn’t see fit to realize both black males and females suffered and triumped under segregation TOGETHER.
I can’t imagine a movie about the Holocaust that would leave out a Jewish male lead, or have one acting like a straight up asshole the way the novel of The Help and the movie does. The male I’m referring to is Leroy, the vile husband of Minny who was a thankless character in the book and is also briefly in the movie.
I mean, when have you ever seen a film that separates the white male from the white female? Even when the guy’s in prison there’s usually some sort of flashback (Shawshank Redemption, Tim Robbins had a wife). Even in war movies a female sweetheart is either talked about or a letter read, or a whole new love interest is hinted at for the lead.
But putting a black male and a black female together on screen in a drama is apparently still an elusive project.
1950s Tan magazine asking a question that's still relevant today in Publishing
There was the Tina Turner bio-pic What’s Love got to do with it? which starred Angela Bassett and Lawrence Fishburne in the early 90s. And Denzel Washington with Angela Bassett, this time in Malcolm X, again an early 90s production.
Guess I can always boot up the old DVD and watch Ray
with Jamie Fox and Kerry Washington, but that’s still a few years back. There’s also The Pursuit of Happyiness
from 2006 with Will Smith and Thandie Newton.
The Pursuit of Happyness starring Will Smith
or Hotel Rwanda
in 2004 with Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo.
Hotel Rwanda, starring Don Cheadle
I know, I know. What am I bitchin’ for when there’s at least these few movies to watch. The problem is, just look at the multitude of films that have been released inbetween the ones I’ve mentioned which don’t have strong storylines and minority leads.
I’ve since started seeking out international films cause you just can’t get enough worthwhile dramas featuring people of color here in the states.
For more on the mistakes the book The Help made with the black male characters while glossing over the white males, see this post
In the Blind Side, we get a glimpse of a back story for the real Michael Oher. The viewer sees where he used to live and realizes he’s hit pay dirt with his new family. At least there’s no pretense of “they were poor but happy.”
In The Help Aibileen, Minny and Constantine reside in what can best be described as shacks, and it doesn’t appear to bother them. These are characters who plod along, not really noticing the unrest building in their own community. At least that’s how they behave in the book. In the novel, Minny even jokes about it.
Aibileen and Minny get their hugs in, note the shack in the background
To be continued . . .