Time to be Independent

Posted on January 7, 2013

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“Until the lions can tell their stories, tales of hunting will always glorify the hunter.” – African Proverb

Tune in next Monday at 10pm on PBS to watch the documentary “Soul Food Junkies” by noted filmmaker Byron Hurt.  This isn’t the entire point of this blog post, but I realized after writing half of this post that I was endanger of doing exactly what I am criticizing.  Being one of too many current “State of Black Media” watch-dogs who only criticize and don’t promote.

Somewhere in the modern era of black activism we have confused the anti Jim Crow tactics of the Civil Rights era to our concern with black self-image and modern media policing.  I get it.  We need more stories told by and/or about us that show us in a realistic and thought provoking light.  But now the internet has become a great place for pho-activism.  Where well-meaning people, trying to protect us from the ire of the ever-present racist eyes and ears of America, engage in “nigger” word counts and decry depictions of any black character that is less than heroic.  The problem is, they do this completely out of context.  As Kerry Washington and Jamie Foxx so simply and necessarily state, the word “nigger” is supposed to make you wince.  I understand not liking a film like Django, I don’t understand being offended by it.  I’ll let other people like Rodney Barnes,django-unchained-poster-jamie-foxx make the pro-Django argument as he did so well in the Huffington Post.  Rodney writes,

Film is an art form. It is a form of expression. And it is a business. And I want my films about my culture to be honest. Not positive or negative, just honest. There are those who feel all slavery-era films should be of the same tone where a gospel choir plays in the background as the noble slave is whipped and defiantly refuses to cry… a story where the prospect of revenge would never enter his mind because he is chiseled and formed from the spirit of Mother Africa.

Tarantino doesn’t need my publicity and support, but film-makers like Stacey Muhammad do.

Stacey M. has just launched the first of a series of webisodes for her new project “Redemption: For Colored Boys”.  This gritty look at a man returning from a 10 year bid to reunite with his family is the kind of film making that many people in our community so ravaged by the Prison Industrial Complex can relate to.  It’s not a fairy tale, and it’s convincingly portrayed by great performances by Julito McCullum, Rob Morgan and many others.

Projects like hers are going to further prove that people are ready for “alternative” views of the black experience, like another hit web series “Awkward Black Girl”, did for witty comedy.  But will our black media gate keepers scream from the mountaintop in favor of it the way they try to chant down Shawty Lo’s “All My Baby’s Mama’s”?

I actually don’t have a problem with a short documentary about a man and his multiple “baby momma’s”. I’m all for us exploring the reality of modern (and in all honesty even “good old days”) relationships. The head shaking at this film is understandable, but once again, I don’t have to be upset by this project.  As Tami Winfrey Harris  said in her Clutch Magazine article,

shawtylo“Stop it with the black shame. Shawty Lo is not the black community. If the white guys over on Gawker aren’t hanging their heads over Mick Jagger, his many children, and their mothers, then you can still hold your head high in a world where Shawty Lo and ‘Fighter Baby Mama’ exist.” 

It’s a shame, because it could actually be an interesting look at an important topic. Even in the trailer, they go into things (unknowingly) about black standards of beauty and “sister-wives” relationships.  I’m not going to protest Oxygen channel. Evidently I’m already boycotting them, because I don’t watch anything on their station. I will work to make sure our film makers make our films though.

Like Janks Morton’s latest film “Hoodwinked”.  There are so many “untrue truths” spreading around our community about our own rates of success and failure.  Janks looks to change the conversation by going directly at these misconceptions, like the idea of the disproportionate ratio of men v women at HSBCU, or the popular (but never true) statement that there are more black men in prison than there are in college.

These films are being made, daily, at a rate that I can’t keep up with.  My artsy friends have suggestions great indie fiction and drama’s like “Beasts of a Southern Wild”, “The Invisible War”, “The House I Live In”, and “Pariah”. The truth is, in 2013, if you are reading this blog on the internet and still can’t find positive and/or thought provoking images of black people, you aren’t looking hard enough.

We need to put more independent movies in independent theaters, tell our people where to find them and to come and support.  We need to stop telling them what to be upset about.  That’s not even how young people operate anymore.  They aren’t reactionaries. They aren’t revolutionaries.  They are waiting to be told something is hot, and join in on the trend.  We don’t tell them what’s hot, we just tell them what they should be offended by, what they should avoid, and that they should spend their valuable personal time upset about.  In the words of Sweet Brown “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”.

I’m tired of defending the artistic choices of some of my favorite actors.  I am as equally an artist as I am a black man (I didn’t chose to be either, I was just born that way), so I defend both of them vigorously.  There is nothing lonelier than being a black artist trying to tell stories outside of the mainstream in black America.  Every move you make is somehow supposed to be a reflection of your culture as a whole. If you aren’t talking about how slavery is still oppressing you, or how much you love Obama, or how much better children behaved back in the day, you are letting down your people.  I understand this, and I don’t disagree entirely with the concept of shining a positive light on my people.  It’s our duty represent our families and our cultures well.  But as an artist that is done by telling the best stories, not just the stories Jim Crow fighting era folks feel we need for self-esteem and public image.  What about the stories that feel like a fresh jagged cut across your forearm?  They teach the realest lessons and leave the coolest scars.

To get to the real point of this post, I am ready for us to tell our own stories, and for me to make sure those stories get out to the world.  Starting next week, Monday at 10am I’m starting my radio show “The Indie“.  It will be a live, hour long blogtalk radio show that airs again at 12pm on The Paradise Radio Network WCBQ-AM 1340 WHNC-AM 890.  My first three guests will be Byron Hurt, Stacey Muhammad and Janks Morton on three consecutive weeks.  I plan on sprinkling in independent books and music evenly as well, but the scheduling just worked out that way.  Join in the conversation, and promote your favorite independent artists.  Even if the lions don’t tell the stories, the hunters will.