Thursday, December 21, 2006

"Burn Hollywood Burn!!": A few examples of how black folks are used in Hollywood:

One would think that my critique of how black folks have been portrayed in Hollywood comes from some sort of militant background of mine, visions of a baby HumanityCritic wearing an over-sized beret as my parents, with their matching Afro's and black Panther attire scream "Power to the People!!" as loud as humanly possible in unison. Some people think that my strong opinions come from the time I dated that black Muslim chick and had to be knowledgeable about all things black in order to feel her up under her dashiki and handle my business after I lifted up her sarong, while whispering impromptu spoken word poetry in her ear mid-coitus.

Actually you'd be surprised to learn that my militant attitudes about the portrayal of African Americans in Hollywood comes from me attending predominately white Catholic and private schools growing up, I'm not shitting you. Even though I was a kid and didn't notice how I was being used at the time, I can recall more times than not being asked by some ass-hat teacher to break-dance for them, or perform some other dance-step of the time like I was some trained seal and shit. I won't play the race card and blame my race for being the deciding factor as to why I never got the juicy roles in the school plays that I was in, but the fact that my acting resume consisted of "Robber #1", "Ned the homeless guy", "the black cloud", and a slew of other dark colored inanimate objects, you can see why I'm so critical of the roles black folks play on television and on the big screen. Granted, I was delighted when I learned that I got a lengthy role in the play "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer", but when I learned that I was playing a runaway slave, one who's broken language in the script would be funny if it wasn't so sad, you can imagine that I was none too pleased. I'm probably the only 9 year old who'd say, while holding a script, "You want me to recite gibberish?? This is so beneath me!!" moments before throwing a 40 page play in the air as high as possible.

Listen, I know that there are fine lines that black actors, directors, and writers have to maneuver based on our deplorable history in film. There is a fine line between comedy and "cooning", a fine line between gritty realness and the glorification of violence, a fine line between uplifting and being preachy, the black artist I feel has more things to consider when putting out a work than anyone else. As for the actors, I know that many of them have families and have food to put on the table, being a single guy with no children that I know of, I don't have any experience with that to be completely honest. But I still maintain that your integrity and self respect should always come before any check, something that I wish would be remembered whenever a movie like "Soul Plane" comes around again. Anyway, here are some commonly used themes that Hollywood has used for black folks that I just wish would come to an end. What do you think??

Captain "Save a Negro": There have been many white people that were instrumental in my life growing up, two in particular were my track coach who lit an eternal flame under my ass to out-work any miserable bastard in my path, and my High School History teacher that forced me to be a critical thinker and see all sides of an argument. Lord knows that I cherish those individuals, I truly do, but if Hollywood were to make a film about my life I'm sure that they would merge both influences into one person, and have that character come into my life and save me from the impending life of doom and gloom that I'm sure I would be destined for. Movies like "Dangerous Minds" and "Hardball" are just a tip of the iceberg when it comes to the shitload of Hollywood flicks that expressed the opinion that black folks need one white person to come into town and save the day.

The Magical Negro: The term "magical negro" is by no means is my creation, but it highlights a very telling motion picture device used over the years. It seems that Hollywood, when uncomfortable having a person of color seem knowledgeable and smarter than his/her white counter-parts, they suddenly give the character some sort of "powers" to explain their superiority in the I.Q department. Examples include Whoopi Goldberg in "Ghost", Will Smith in "The Legend of Bagger Vance", Don Chedle in "Family Man", and as much as I love and am a fan of Kevin Smith, Chris Rock's character in "Dogma".

The Jive, hysterical soldier: Growing up I thought that my father hated Vietnam era movies because it gave him uncomfortable memories of his time in that war, the friendships he had that were cut short because of a Vietcong grenade, or the way his own country treated him like dirt and called him a "baby killer" when he returned home. But as I really watched these movies I really understood why my father hated them so much, they did a disservice to every black man that ever fought for this country. In most of these movies, if a black soldier isn't acting like some sort of sniveling coward with his tail between his legs, he is a jive talking embarrassment who only seems good for talking shit and inventing some ultra-Hip cadence that he coerces the others to learn. Jesus fucking Christ man..

The Sassy Black friend: Not every time, but I hate the fact that they have to make a female character's black friend as sassy as they come. I mean, its as if the writer and director locked that black actress in a room for an entire weekend, and forced them to study Jackee Harry's performance on "227" and take notes the whole time. Its usually hard to take anything that these characters say seriously between the constant "OH child!!", "Oh, no he didn't", "Nah-uh, a sister don't play that!", and other incoherent drivel you would have thought were transcripts of a conversation that Lil Kim was a part of..

Show me how to be cool, black man: I think that I've been asked advice on how to pick up women and fashion advice based on this very dangerous character in Hollywood history. It never fails, from as far back as I can remember up until now, you'll see a geeky white guy ask the "coolest" black guy in school tips on women, fashion, and(holding my head) 'how to walk". What is even more painful is when the black kid specifically teaches the white kid that using broken English and calling a woman "baby" is a sure fire way to win her heart. Right wing pundits want to believe that Hollywood is a bunch of tree-hugging liberals, but based on the fact that they regurgitate this same tired stereotype, I take issue with their stance to be completely honest. Last month I was chilling with a friend and he asked me, "HumanityCritic, I don't have any game, why don't you go over to those ladies and work your magic!" I agreed, so I went over there, and like any cool black man I said, "Hey ladies, I have a crisp 20 dollar bill.. Who's trying to fuck??" I guess that showed him, huh??

28 comments:

alias_storm said...

HumanityCritic - you're so right! But I could add another:

The Smart, Frigid, Perpetually Single Negress - why is it that a successful black woman has to be out of touch with her emotions and doomed to perpetual manlessness? think vanessa william's character on "soul food" or nia long's character on "the best man"? this one is particularly damaging because of the real issues in black male/female relationships. the thought of hollywood "exploring" the reasons why is really, really scary.

DJ Black Adam said...

Don’t forget in the war movie, the “Sacrificial Negro”, the guy who gets killed and causes the White star to have nightmares about not saving him, or causes him to go on the heroic rampage for revenge. This also works for cop flicks too. lol

AussieWanderer said...

On point, as usual, Humanity Critic. Don't forget the star athlete (usually basketball) who's dreams of success are thwarted until some white chick teaches him how to read, find love, dance the tango etc. etc. etc.

Malik "Geronimo" said...

Taking into consideration the upcoming release of "Freedom Writers" with Hilary Swank as Captain Save-A-Negro (or a whole generation of em), your timing couldn't of been more precise.
P.e.a.c.e

Amadeo said...

I have to mention one I got from my man Dallas...The Noble Savage. The one black guy amongst the rest, usually in another country, that helps the lost white hero find his way and stands apart from all the other "natives".

Acolyte said...

Don't forget the angry black man and big mama!

JJ said...

40 Year Old Virgin is all I got to say

Mo! said...

Y'see, of all the genres of art I wonder if Hollywood films are the most conservative.You can find intelligent shows on cable and intelligent serious video games on the web but otherwise you have to go to the city or museum for an intelligent film. It's all "magical negroes" and sand niggers (I am an Arab-American) in Hollywood. People say Crash is against racism. Sure, the Iranian guy will travel all over LA to shoot the guy who doesn't get him the right door. Of course he needs his assimilated daughter to take out the bullets so Dirty Sand Nigger Harry doesn't go buck buck all over downtown LA.

Anonymous said...

@ alias_storm

don't forget sanaa's character in something new!

jameil1922 said...

you also forgot the whore. gabrielle union if not playing the successful frigid woman, plays the whore. the girl who was lovita alize jenkins (terri j vaughn) on the steve harvey show is usually the sassy sista girl. these typecasts make me want to throw things. you've seen the new white savior movie coming out right? when i saw that preview, i said, oh yeah, i've seen that before. IT WAS CALLED DANGEROUS MINDS! gtfoh.

Stucco said...

I think you are right, and probably more tuned into these cookie cutter roles that they'll force black actors into, but I think if you keep looking you'll find that they are all crap, regardless of race. To be sure, blacks in Hollywood are treated like children or worse, but the whole industry is incapable of anything else. Special effects, explosions, and shitty dialogue between one dimensional sock puppets in makeup are all they know.

M.E. Grant said...

I agree with most of those film cliches. Antonio Banderas saved ghetto students with ballroom dance, and now Hilary Swank has a similar flick coming out. I don't see the connection with Jackee on 227 though. Her character wasn't the typical finger-popping/neck-rolling sista. Sandra was an overbearing sexpot. I'd say that's a jab at all women in general.

SoberCityGirl said...

Great post! Great blog! Will continue to read.

Mo! said...

Stucco said:
"But I think if you keep looking you'll find that they are all crap, regardless of race. To be sure, blacks in Hollywood are treated like children or worse, but the whole industry is incapable of anything else. Special effects, explosions, and shitty dialogue between one dimensional sock puppets in makeup are all they know."

So Hollywood has no respect for the human race. And they wonder why we pirate their movies instead of paying ten dollars to have our intelligence insulted.

BronzeTrinity said...

That was a very intriguing entry! I'm just thinking of all the movies that I have seen. Usually, most of the characters are black, or there is one token black person who is a stereotype. Its so true. But what do you think of the roles of people like Taye Diggs, Cuba Gooding Jr., Wesley Snipes, Morgan Freeman, Oprah Winfrey, Nia Long, Angela Bassett and others. These actors have had some really great and smart roles, but those roles only come around once in a while. Maybe until actors get some power or fame they have to take the bad roles.
But I can also remember them playing stereotypes too. Sometimes I think its better than nothing to have a black person on the screen, but not if the roles are stupid.
I was thinking of the comment of the smart, frigid, perpetually single negress...that's how people would probably describe me. When you go to school or are working on your career you don't have much time for relationships. I'm wondering if maybe there are stereotypes with all characters in movies, but that black people rarely get the positive ones. I can think of some good roles, but its true, most of them do fit into your categories.
I've noticed that in a LOT of movies, the main character is white and he or she has a sassy black/aggressive/dominant best friend. We are always the sidekicks, and we usually get killed in films. Great post, it really made me think :)

Anonymous said...

A great website that chronicles these characters is http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/menu.htm

Crackpot Press said...

I agree. I get it.

But am curious on your thoughts on Dreamgirls...

Crackpot Press said...

Sorry if I am repeating...

Agree with all you said...

Would like to see your comments on Dreamgirls.

Sankofa said...

I went to see Dreamgirls on Monday (great...go see it by the way). During the previews, the ad for Freedom Writers came on. I was with another teacher friend of mine. She leaned over and said, "Ahh...thank God! Another white woman has come in to save our babies! What would we do with out them!" I laughed and replied, "I disagree. They make movies about black folks saving kids...wait, no, they were coaches." We bothed laughed cuz we were tired of crying I guess. Don't forget the cock-blocking plus sized sista...lol.

dlovely1 said...

Just wanted to add the new movie Freedom writers to the Captain "Save a Negro": catagory.

Furious said...

um. i almost hurt myself laughing at these comments. but like everyone else, i totally cosign.

i think the "captain save a negro" films irk me the most. the others stereotypes suck royally, but that one just REALLY gets under my skin.

Nina MM said...

The Magical Negro

If I ever recover from laughing THAT hard at that moniker, I will tell you how utterly DEAD-ON you are about this. I'm sick of seeing niggas pull miracles out of their collard greens in movies.

Yeah, yeah...I know folks are on this "Nigga Boycott" thing, but I'm a scab. What you expect from me? Old habits die hard when you're dealin' with an asshole. *blushing*

Mahogany Elle said...

Haha!! I used the same label when I watched the Green Mile in the theatre. It took all of my friends to stop me from yelling "get your hand out my pocket" to clear the movie, I was so disgusted. Why is it okay for a big ole "just escaped from slavery" black man to perform magic tricks for your urinary tract infection, etc. while he gets slaughtered by da chair o' death. The funniest thing was that the white people walked out of the movie like this is great! They totally didn't get it. I keep saying that one day I will march on washington. I think this is the year :)

Miss Bourgie said...

Brilliant! So on point!

Billy Sunday said...

I admit to hating on Humanity Critic every chance I get but to read about the 'Magical Negro' I realized that H.C. could be my brother from another mother. What you call the Magical Negro I term the bagger Vance syndrome.

The end result is always the same. This negro sacrifices himself for the rest of humanity.

Damn, Humanity Critic, just when I was ready to shit on you and end your blog you go and create this jem of a drop. You sir, are one magical negro.

Mista O said...

You hit it! Especially concerning the depiction of Black soldiers. I remember watching the one Vietnam movie with Charlie Sheen in it (the "serious" one) and being so pissed when they show him in a fox hole with a Black soldier who is supposedly so afraid he wouldn't even fire his weapon.

What's even worse than all of this is the fact that Black people still actively participate in the generation of all of these negative images. Seemingly without question. But there are a few stand up brothers and sisters out there. Heck, remember when Angela Bassett flat out refused monsters ball? She said she read the script and felt the role (that halle got an oscar for) was a smack in the face to Black people in general and Black men in particular. That's why I have nothing but respect for her, here is a true sista with knowledge.

Sadly, most Black people cant even comprehend what you are saying in this post.

Anonymous said...

I was looking forward to seeing the movie "Black Diamonds" until I saw a trailer with white lead star say to the lead black co-star, "Don't worry man! I'll get your daughter back!"

Even in Africa, white people are still the rescuer?!

Nosiree bob! No Black Diamonds movies for me! I'll stick with the documentary

Anonymous said...

here's a recent one: notice how they understated the power and influence of Frank Lucas in American Gangster, supposedly because they "didn't want to glorify crime"? where was that conscience when they made The Departed? Fuck that!