Wednesday, February 24, 2016
On #OscarsSoWhite, Slavery Context, and THE BIRTH OF A NATION
I'm just going to say (again) what you're not supposed to say: I'm really fatigued by films narratives within a slavery context. Now before some of you jump down my throat, I know that Nate Parker's (of whom, by the way, I have been a huge fan since he burst onto the scene in the Denzel Washington-directed drama, The Great Debaters) Sundance darling THE BIRTH OF A NATION is a slave rebellion film. It's a film starring, directed and co-written by a black man (Parker)--which means there should be no white savior syndrome or what I have recently come to refer to as the Race complex (when the black heroic protagonist is reduced to a supporting role in their own movie). After all the buzz I heard coming out of its record-breaking Sundance Film Festival debut this year, it may very well be an amazing film
But again, that's not my point. It's the fact that out of all the diverse films in a variety of genres on the Sundance slate (according to many of the roundups I've read, the festival was almost like the perfect response to #OscarsSoWhite), mainstream media (and yes, black media as well) has focused strictly on The Birth of Nation. Maybe because it's an amazing film, but I also wonder how much its slavery context--given that it's proven to be a narrative that leads to Oscar gold these days--has to do with its instant acclaim. And how much systemic Hollywood racism, and the often disturbing fascination to see actors of color confined to certain roles, plays a role here. If the cast and quality were applied to a contemporary drama or other narrative, would it receive the same praise?
I'm definitely going to see THE BIRTH OF A NATION (whose October 7 release date was just announced today), but I find this trend interesting on a variety of levels. I just want there to still be room for other narratives--horror, comedy, action, other dramas--featuring actors of color within this cinema landscape. Because it's not just about ethnic diversity among the cast, it's also about the narratives being inclusive, and that there be spaces for women filmmakers of color to have the allegiance to venture outside their supposed designated genres.
It's 2016, folks. If not now, when?