THE OBENSON REPORT

Covering Cinema From All Across The African Diaspora

Things That Made Me Go Hmm #2 - Dear Black Filmmakers...

Ya know... I can't help but be a little frustrated when I read stories like this. Yes, I fully realize that I have absolutely no authority to tell others what career decisions/choices they should make. But, I would be kidding myself and you all as well, if I say that I wasn't even slightly annoyed when I read this.

My beef? Well, here's the deal.... With so few roles available for black performers in this business, and thus a diminutive number of films with blacks in starring performances, supporting, or even in thankless roles, or as extras, I would expect (or maybe hope) that any black filmmaker, especially those who are lucky enough to be in positions to attract the financial and human resources necessary to produce films, to almost always want to make films that showcase the varied lives of black people... at least initially.

As a black filmmaker, I absolutely cannot fathom sitting at my computer, writing a story that has no prominent black characters in it. In fact, I can't imagine writing anything that didn't have a majority black cast, much like the films that Hollywood produces and distributes today that almost always tell stories about whites, with a few "colorful" faces sprinkled in every now and then.

I want to tell stories about people who look like me, not only because they look like me, but also because people who look like me are invisible in cinema. We've been invisible since the invention of celluloid. I want to make films about us, and frankly, only us... at least until the scales of power and influence are closer to equilibrium. Does that mean that I would never make a film that tells the story of a non-black person, or non-black people? Of course I would! But not until after I've already made a few about "us," or, at least, the majority of films I intend to make will be about "us." And if I was in a position to routinely attract financing for my efforts, given the current cinematic climate in this country, in which people of color are mostly invisible, I would be even more vehement about my specific agenda.

There are enough films about "them" for God's sake! Whenever there's an opportunity to make one about "us," and that opportunity is squandered, I get incredibly frustrated, especially when "we" are involved.

I read the following story a couple of days ago on Variety.com, which is what prompted the above diatribe.

"Lightning Entertainment has acquired the international sales rights to Jada Pinkett Smith's directorial debut, "The Human Contract." The Santa Monica-based company will debut footage of the pic at Berlin's European Film Market in February. "Contract," which stars Jason Clarke and Paz Vega, tells the story of a relationship between a repressed advertising exec and a reckless woman. A successful corporate type harboring a deep, dark secret befriends a free-spirited stranger who encourages him to ditch his stuffy lifestyle and live life in reckless abandon. Jada Pinkett Smith and Ted Danson have supporting roles in the pic, which is now in post production."

Jada also wrote the script, by the way.

The first thing I thought was, this would have been even more thrilling news to me if the stars of the film were black! Jason Clarke is Caucasian; Paz Vega is Spanish (not Latino; not Hispanic; she's from Spain, and could "pass," as they used to say during the days of Dorothy Dandridge and Lena Horne). The film does feature Jada and Idris Alba in supporting roles... but they are just that - supporting roles. Why couldn't Jada have instead had herself and Idris in the starring roles, with Jason Clarke and Paz Vega in the supporting roles? It doesn't seem like there's anything about the story that makes race relevant for any of the roles... but I suppose I'll learn more as more is revealed about the film.

As I started off saying, I can't help but be a little frustrated when I read stories like this. And, yes, I fully realize that I have absolutely no authority to tell others what career decisions/choices they should make. It's still frustrating. This isn't a "slam" against Jada Pinkett, or anyone else who has taken a similar path. Rather, it's a plea, you could say, to remember "us" more often. Don't forget about the rest of "us." We've seen more than enough about "them," and we'll continue to see plenty about "them," from this moment on, and we've been incredibly influenced by what we have seen and continue to see of "them."

So, to the likes of Jada Pinkett and others, you are in the fortunate position to attract the financial and human resources needed to produce films today. Use that power and influence you possess to ensure that there are more complex stories and images of "us" on screen. When you have an opportunity to produce work, an opportunity that escapes most of us, I implore you to use those opportunities to fill the screen as much as possible with rich, robust portrayals of people who look like you and I, because we are truly invisible, and are in desperate need of some light, and I certainly hope that you all do realize that!

Regardless, kudos to Jada Pinkett on her writing/directorial debut, and I look forward to seeing more of her work behind the camera.

2 comments:

  1. UK Black Chick aka Wendy said...
     

    I feel your pain. However, as a black, female, screenwriter who has only ever written scripts heavily populated with black characters, I'm well aware that I'm painting (or writing) myself into a corner. I'm unlikely to attract financial resourses from conventional quarters for my scripts to get produced as long as they tell mainly stories about "us."

    And no, this doesn't mean I intend to whitewash my stories to get such funding. Like you, I can't imagine writing a story that didn't involve anyone who didn't bear some resemblence to me in some way... As a black female, I feel I owe it to myself to write characters who know my woes and fears and from a perspective that I share, even if not entirely expressed in the same way that I might personally.

    But I guess it's easy for us to pontificate from below... We don't have a 'name' and we have neither the money nor people with money behind us.

    And maybe that's to "our" advantage. For, when we do make a movie (as you've done) we make them from the heart rather than from the hard boild fact that, apparently, black movies don't sell...

    I could be wrong, but this doesn't sound like a project that'll get any more notice than 'Beautiful Things' your own gem of a film - and the budget for your movie probably wouldn't cover catering for one day on this set.

    As long as we're looking for financing outside of our own pockets, then we can either expect to fight our corner and lose, end up compromising, or just give them want they want straight off the bat, assuring them that "we" are never going to usurp "them" as fully fleshed out, multi-dimenstional beings.

    Let Jada do what she's got to do... It would be really nice, but a change isn't gonna come... it's already here, WE are the change and should maybe stop looking to others to be it for us.

  2. theblackactor.com said...
     

    I share your sentiments word for word, Tambay.

    In my script all the characters were black. That was by design. I wanted to show what I never see on screen. These characters I drew do not exist onscreen. I wanted to put them there. My next script -- whenever it happens, will be populated by black characters as well. Like you, maybe after the 22nd script...

    I think there are so many aspects of our lives that do not exist onscreen, there is so much to choose from, that there is no shortage of ideas.

    No; it's not our place. But there's nothing wrong with expressing that we would have wanted or wished for or hoped for Jada Pinkett to...

    @ UK black chick...

    "Let Jada do what she's got to do..."

    what SHE WANTS to do. WANTS TO DO.

    It would be really nice, but a change isn't gonna come... it's already here, WE are the change and should maybe stop looking to others to be it for us.

    Yes; this is true. I agree.

    But I think as long as there are Hollywood zillionaires and as long as Black Cinema is in its current state, I think people look to these moguls to use their power not haphazardly - but purposefully.

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