I was going to name actor Joe Morton as my House Negro of The Day because of his comments recently about slave films coming out of Hollywood. But the more I read into what he said the harder it was to totally disagree with him and dismiss him as a Negro who belonged in the house.
First, I love my man's character in the television series, Scandal. (Yes, I watch it. And if any of you brothers reading this are being honest , you will admit that you watch it as well.)It's probably why I gave pause before tossing him in the house.
Also, this subject is a very complicated and nuanced one; it's just not something we can make into a black and white issue. (Pun intended)
So let's take a look at what he said:
"12 Years A Slave is a film that is beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, and told in a compelling manner. However, there are some questions, in my opinion, as to its importance. Paramount among those questions is, What does this scenario illustrate that we didn’t know or haven’t seen before? And why does such a film garner such popularity? And the list of questions goes on: Why are equal rights the greatest, and seemingly the only, commercial product for so-called black film coming out of Hollywood? Does this imply that mea-culpa-slavery-films are an artistic perennial for a predominately white audience?
Why are there few films about African American heroes, produced by Hollywood, as opposed to African American victims? Why has there never been a film about Nat Love or William Pickett (African American cowboys), Bass Reeves (the first African American lawman in the west who, if Reeves were fictional, would be a combination of Sherlock Holmes, Superman, and the Lone Ranger) or The Exodusters (African American pioneers who ventured west)? These are stories about people who took charge of their own destinies and were only victims of their individual circumstances, like their white counterparts. These are characters that are heroic, not victims.
It is very difficult for me, as an American of African descent, to view a film like 12 Years a Slave, as brilliant as it might be perceived, without being angered about the amount of violence perpetrated upon black flesh and black womanhood, without feeling that the self-worth of modern day African Americans is being diminished, without feeling that this kind of film enflames an omnipresent and smoldering mistrust of whites by blacks."
OK, my first thought: Why would I care if whites "mistrust" me because of their own fears and prejudices? Sorry, scenes of "violence perpetrated upon black flesh" does not "diminish" the "self-worth" of the "modern day African", rather, it is needed to teach the "modern day African" his (or her) history and to show him (her) how far he (she) has come in this country.
Maybe if the "modern day African" truly understood history, he (she) would not do so much to squander away the future. Maybe there would be a greater appreciation for the struggle to get us where we are and more focus on moving forward to make sure that we never find ourselves in that position as well.
Why must we sanitize and diminish our history because we are afraid of how white folks feel about us? Do you think, for a minute, that Jews had this type o mindset when movies like Schindler's List were being produced and marketed?
It was a rhetorical question. Of course not. But this is the problem with so many "modern day Africans", who have been co- opted and homologized by the trappings of the house; they forget.
Having said all of that, I agree with what Morton said about movies about African American heroes such as Love, Pickett and Reeves. African Americans need to see this side of their history as well; we need to see movies about brave and noble people of color surviving against all odds.
But to say that the people who were brutalized and ravaged by slavery are playing roles of victim hood is thoughtless and contemptuous. They had no choice, and history done honestly should show things as they really were.
I would argue that some of the slaves we are seeing being portrayed were also courageous and heroic. To endure the type of brutality that they did and maintain their humanity is heroic.
Joe Morton is an actor, not a historical a scholar or black intellectual. But, like all of us, he has an opinion, and he has as a right to express them. But, unlike most of us, he is a celebrity, and as a result his words have more meaning.
Joe Morton should think a little bit more about his words next time.