THE OBENSON REPORT

Covering Cinema From All Across The African Diaspora

Things That Made Me Go Hmm - #3

In thinking about how we judge black cinema today, I recall a quote by Frantz Fanon, the preeminent black psychoanalyst, activist, thinker and philosopher, who wrote Black Skin, White Masks and The Wretched of the Earth. In Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon states, "There is a fact: White men consider themselves superior to black men. There is another fact: Black men want to prove to white men, at all costs, the richness of their thought, the equal value of their intellect… For the black man there is only one destiny... And it is white... The analysis I am undertaking is psychological… It is apparent to me that the effect disalienation of the black man entails an immediate recognition of social and economic realities. If there is an inferiority complex it is the outcome of a double process: Primarily, economic; subsequently, the internalization of this inferiority."

So, essentially, he’s attempting to deconstruct what appear to be innate feelings of dependency and inadequacy by Blacks in a world dominated by whites, and how black people have effectively lost their native cultural originalities and are essentially forced to embrace an Eurocentric culture that’s being imposed on them; and as a result, this inferiority complex, whether consciously or unconsciously, manifests itself in many ways, throughout our lives.

Thus, there’s a much larger issue at work here - one that maybe isn’t being directly dealt with. And that issue is multi-leveled – first, it’s whether we as black people are judging each other, or in this specific case, for the sake of this blog, whether we are judging our artistic expressions, specifically film, based on some Eurocentric model, as opposed to an Afrocentric model. And secondly, I'm led to wonder where European influence ends and blackness begins… or, are we forced to reconsider that age-old question, what is blackness? How can one define blackness? Can it be defined, or has black culture (or maybe more specifically African culture) been completely co-opted and essentially absorbed so much that it doesn’t even exist anymore, and that black culture is in essence American culture? How does one really begin to answer those questions? I don’t know. We can spend hours wondering what Africa could have been like today if the Portuguese never landed on Africa’s western shores in the 15th century, beginning the exporting of slaves to Europe and America, through the 19th century. What would Africa be today? Where would black people be today? Our culture(s), arts, music, language, philosophies, attire, cuisine, and of course, in this specific case, cinema? Impossible to say I think, but certainly something to always keep in mind, especially as we consume cinema bred from a system that's been operated exclusively by white men and women who have no genuine interest in our evolution.

But maybe all of that is irrelevant, and we should simply accept the cards that we’ve been dealt in life, and try to make the most of what we do have… whatever those things are. But, yes, I wonder whether those of us who are dismissing films like those by Tyler Perry for example, should be doing so with a little more awareness of the various hierarchical currents prevalent in our societies; essentially, those of us who have been exposed to films made by the majority… those with the real power in this world… and those, as Frantz Fanon said, whom we are consciously or unconsciously trying to emulate. Here we are dismissing Tyler Perry’s films, for example, essentially comparing them to these white “masters,” or some specific Eurocentric style, or formula that we’ve been conditioned to accept, and not realizing the potential danger in doing that. Who’s to say that this model - this Eurocentric standard that we all seem to have anointed as THE model to emulate, is indeed THE preeminent standard that ALL films (all art) should be judged by.

Then again, what is this Eurocentric model? How does it differ from an Afrocentric standard? Are they the same thing, or are their individual elements interchangeable?

Again, I don’t know… I don’t have all the answers.

But the point of all this I suppose, is that this rabbit hole (this notion of black cinema in crisis today) goes a lot deeper than we may realize, and it’s a much more complex issue; not one that can be resolved with a singular statement, or act. There are several factors to consider here, some that I didn’t even get into; but there’s much more to this than we might be able to actually do anything about.

One thing I do know, is that we simply just can’t sit back on our hands and wait for the others to identify our problems, and resolve them… we have to be much more aggressive, assertive and proactive, as I’ve said many times before.

It is worth noting that in my research, I learned that the word "Afrocentric" isn't listed in some dictionaries, but "Eurocentric" always is. In my Oxford Dictionary, copyrighted 2006, so it's not an older version, Afrocentric isn't listed, but Eurocentric is. Even as I typed this in Microsoft Word, the program has one of those squiggly red lines underneath "Afrocentric" indicating that it doesn't recognize the word. However, it doesn't have the same squiggly red line underneath "Eurocentric." That's actually quite telling, don't you think?

More later...

8 comments:

  1. UK Black Chick aka Wendy said...
     

    Yep, this is a topic that could be discussed at great length, ad nauseum... possibly with no conclusion or solution.

    However, I do agree with you when you say:

    "One thing I do know, is that we simply just can’t sit back on our hands and wait for the others to identify our problems, and resolve them… we have to be much more aggressive, assertive and proactive, as I’ve said many times before. "

    With regard to black cinema, I've often said [to you] that whilst we might wish that the quality of black films be of a certain standard - a 'white' standard? - we really need to just accept that there aren't enough films by black people, about black peole, out there and those that are out there very often aren't getting seen, so we need to applaud all (or, at least, most) efforts, encourage more, and hope that, with time, we, as black people/filmmakers, will begin to explore and portray the complex and diverse nature of what it really means to be black.

    Only we can do that and I don't know that I see it so much as a need to prove our richness of thought so much as our richness of depth and experience - something I feel we need to remember and prove to ourselves, more than to white people.

  2. theblackactor.com said...
     

    I agree this is true:

    "black culture is in essence American culture"

    Sad; but true.

    For me, mediocrity is colorblind. I think there's a case for quality (and I mean here, the ATTEMPT, at quality) regardless of color, race, or even historical realities.

    Crap, stupidity and second-rate, half-assed efforts should be unacceptable. No excuses. No whining.

    I memba in A Soldier Story - Adolph Caesar (God, is that his name?:)) -- he had a great line - I loved it.

    He said, "not having is no excuse for not getting" or something along those lines.

    This relates to many things, including black cinema.

    I think it would be a mistake also, to equate quality with that which is Eurocentric.

    Quality is quality.

    I ramble. Sorry.

  3. Ferocious Kitty said...
     

    TAO wrote: "Here we are dismissing Tyler Perry’s films, for example, essentially comparing them to these white “masters,” or some specific Eurocentric style, or formula that we’ve been conditioned to accept, and not realizing the potential danger in doing that. Who’s to say that this model - this Eurocentric standard that we all seem to have anointed as THE model to emulate, is indeed THE preeminent standard that ALL films (all art) should be judged by."

    But-but-but...I would contend that Tyler Perry is not offering us some new model--something other than the Eurocentric model--with his films. He's following the same narrative structure and bowing to the same conventions that "standard" films made by white writers/directors do.

    He's dismissed not because he's presenting a new model that's not being well-received. He's dismissed because some find his work trite, overly simplistic, and ham-fisted. (I'm not a huge fan of his, but I'm not his biggest critic either).

    If there is a "new" model that results in films that are trite, overly simplistic, and ham-fisted, I sure hope it's not embraced as a or "the" black or Afrocentric model! :-)

    ~Deesha

  4. Anonymous said...
     

    This is an interesting topic.

    I think we judge far too many things based upon a "eurocentric" standard, not just cinema. Unfortunately, this is a topic that is hard to approach with most blacks, especially those who have attain a certain level of success within the "white" power structure.

    This is why I believe we will never have a "legitimate" black studio in Hollywood, because it would be difficult to get the successful black actors with influence(Will, Queen Latifah, Jamie Foxx, Denzel to a degree) to use that influence to make the studio a success.

  5. UK Black Chick aka Wendy said...
     

    @ Anonymous:

    It's a Eurocentric view that makes us think that we need to set up a black studio in, or even like, Hollywood.

    Why would we want to set up a studio that needs to be 'legitimate' in a system that hasn't done much for us in its 100 year history?

    Why do we need to look to 'them' to make anything we do 'legitimate?' And why do we need the few black stars they've allowed to climb their totem pole to make our ventures worth pursuing?

    There's a wealth of black talent out there - actors, writers, directors...

    It may not mean instant riches for those involved, but we need to be prepared to blindside a good many people in order to acheive our own goals.

    If we're only prepared to follow the set Hollywood formula, then we may as well fold our arms and give up now...! And the same could be said of everything we do, not just cinema.

  6. Anonymous said...
     

    @ uk black chick aka wendy:

    No, it is not "eurocentric" to think we need to set up a black studio in Hollywood. It's called entrepreneurship, it's called business. One of the main complaints of blacks is that Hollywood does not produce cinema that depicts us accurately or favorably. Well, why do we continue to expect a white-owned, white-managed, and white-staffed studio to produce movies that are favorable to our culture or experiences.

    I did say we needed to look to "them" to legitimize anything we do. When I said we need a legitimate studio, I meant one that is respected, reputable, and doesn't reduce our experiences to that of "Who's Your Caddy?"

    When I said legitimate, I meant a studio that would go against the grain, so to speak, and have the courage to challenge the established system in Hollywood.

  7. The Obenson Report said...
     

    @ TBA & FK - True dat... true dat... Quality is quality. "Afrocentric" shouldn't equal average or sub-par... of course not! What I question is who defines "quality?" Is it subjective? Is it something that we've been taught, whether directly or through years of socialization under the rule of “Eurocentricism” - "This" is quality and "That" is not. In English classrooms, from junior high through college, I was taught the so-called "masters" of literature - Shakespeare, Dickens, Hemingway, and others like them - none that looked like me. Are these people "masters" because someone told us they are? I say yes. It's like seeing the black kid down the street with his pants down to his knees and passing judgment on him because he doesn't conform to some "standard" we expect him to - a standard that I believe wasn't set by people who look like us. If we hadn't been essentially taught what someone else considers "quality," what would be "quality" to us? It's like when the Europeans invaded African countries in an effort to "tame those black savages" and show them how to live like "civilized" people... who was to say that Africans weren't already civilized? Who's definition of “civilized” are we to adhere to? Who's definition of "quality" are we currently holding as the standard?

    Ok, I know I'm skipping about a bit and digging a little deeper than maybe is necessary, but these are things I ponder from time to time...

    I guess my point in all this is that maybe we shouldn't be so quick to dismiss or judge not only people like Tyler Perry, but also the people who love his work and others like him regardless of the medium in which they work. And when we are being critical (which is fine with me by the way), we should consider what exactly it is we're criticizing and why, and maybe that will help shape our various critiques.

  8. UK Black Chick aka Wendy said...
     

    @ Anonymous:

    It wasn't the 'black' studio in Hollywood I had a problem with in your first comment, but the idea of a black studio in 'Hollywood,' the Eurocentric image factory.

    It was a so-called black 'Hollywood' studio that produced the trifling fare that is 'Who's Your Caddy.'

    We need to work outside of, or around, the Hollywood system, because working within it doesn't seem to have yielded anything other than updates of the usual stereotypes that Hollywood has foisted upon us for decades.

    What 'Our Stories,' makers of 'Who's Your Caddy,' have done is nothing short of exploitation.

    They've exploited their positiosn as black 'entrepreneurs' to sell stories about 'us' that their white financiers are happy with.

    They've used 'white' money, as well as white directing and writing talent, to produce images of us that, we both agree, could hardly be described as 'accurately or favorably.'

    In fairness, I've not seen the movie but, from what I've heard and read, it's nothing short of sterotypical buffoonery - i.e. typical of Hollywood of old... But this, it seems, is what you get when you set up a black studio in Hollywood.

    We're both obviously in agreement that we need a respected, reputable studio that has the courage to challenge the established system in Hollywood. I just don't think that setting it up in 'Hollywood' is the answer.

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