(previously published on nerdhenshinlovegogo.wordpress.com by Howard Tyrone Smith II)
In case you haven’t seen it, the trailer for the upcoming film Stonewall has debuted. The film chronicles the story of famous New York riot at a secret gay bar that ran afoul of the law due to the lack of social progression for LGBTGIA+ people. However, it appears that the film lacks historical awareness and accuracy as the previews essentially erase all the LGBTIA+ people of color that were involved in the revolutionary historical flashpoint in favor of fictional White protagonist Danny Winters.
This omission and erasure also isn’t new, sadly, as films that are about Black historical (or even fictional) figures or just feature them often and amscray them out of their due role. This once again causes us to watch as our representation is pushed away to the rubbish bin.
But, again, the question is raised: If Hollywood is so outspokenly “liberal” and “progressive”, why do they continue to treat Black characters as though they took cues on Black people from Ben Carson and Larry Elder? The answer, sadly, is both painfully simple and obvious and can be summed in an anecdote involving one of the greatest Black athletes to have ever graced a playing field: Michael Jordan.
Back in the ’90s, during the election for the North Carolina Senate, the race was between Harvey Gantt, an outspoken liberal progressive from Charlotte and incumbent Jesse Helms, the face of North Carolina’s far right conservatism. Helms famously opposed AIDS research funding by stating that “AIDS is caused by sodomy”–as he so eloquently put–along with funding the arts.
Jordan, a native of North Carolina and a former member of the Dynasty-tier UNC Tarheels Men’s basketball team, could have swayed the vote by endorsing either candidate and essentially handing them the election. But instead of choosing the obvious, non-bigoted candidate, Jordan decided to ride the fence and replied “Republicans wear sneakers too” when asked if he would endorse Gantt.
Jordan’s need toe the line publicly to keep making money is a prime example of what Hollywood does when it is asked to give proper representation to Black people and other people of color in films. And so we watch as Hollywood works to earn the bigot’s dollar. But to be fair, the bigot’s dollar rivals that of the Black dollar as nothing unites people like shared ignorance.
Look at how people freaked out when Lionsgate decided to cast Lenny Kravitz as Cinna in The Hunger Games. It should be noted that the books never actually divulged his ethnicity. Look at how they freaked out when the actual Black characters from the book–Rue and Thresh– were–*gasp*–cast as BLACK people.
Hell, if you want to argue that Katniss was supposed to be a Black woman (or some other woman of color), I’ll use that to point out the clear colorism in films. For years, movies have cast lighter-skinned Black women for roles as upper-class women while darker-skinned Black women have been forced to take roles as prostitutes, drug addicts, and etc. Hell, sometimes they just outright cast lighter-skinned women for people and characters who we KNOW are darker.
I’m looking at you, Bryan Singer.
I’m also looking at that unfortunate Nina Simone biopic.
And why is this done, exactly? I’d wager that it is to not damage the collective White fragility of Middle America. This is not to say that there aren’t any White people in this country that wish to see more people of color as a whole PROPERLY represented in films. But if we’re being honest here, I’m going to need said White people to accept a hard truth about what comes in doing so.
You’re going to have to learn to stand up to your bigoted aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, and, yes, parents when they go on and on about how society has become too “politically correct” because they see more Black people in their movies.
You’re going to need to challenge the status quo.
And you’re going to have to be prepared to deal with change that comes with it.
Images From: Replygif.net, Giphy.com, Tumblr, Housingworks.org, Bullsnation.net, Vulture.com