We still live in a world where racial narratives are clearly defined and blurred at the same time. Despite some progress in racial equality policy, some of the issues around race that were acute decades ago, are still poignant now.
Many black story tellers have pointed out the similarities and nuances between racial narratives past and present, but when I watched the documentary, I Am Not Your Negro at Block Party Cinema’s Film Club series, it remined me of how racism is driven by mindset. It’s these ideologies that drive the social structures built to oppress the powerless.
I was quite lucky to find The Film Club showing of this award-winning documentary, released in 2016. Upon arrival, there was a DJ’s, street food and the signature beanbags, and just before the film started a brief synopsis was given by the Block Party team. Some of the quotes from the documentary that will stay with me are below, if you’ve seen the documentary which quotes resonate with you? Comment below.
“I was not a Black Muslim, for the same vein, though for different reasons that I did not become a Black Panther, because I did not believe that white people were devils and I did not want the young Black people to believe that.”
“If we were white, our heroes would be your heroes too. Malcolm X would still be alive…when the Israelis or the Poles pick up guns and say ‘give me liberty or give me death,’ the entire white world applauds. When a Black man says exactly the same thing, he is judged a criminal and treated like one. Everything is done to make an example of this bad n**ga so there won’t be anymore like him.”
“All of the Western nations have been caught in a lie: a lie of their pretended humanism. History has no moral justification and the west has no moral authority.
“History is not the past, “It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.”
“The world is not white. It can’t be, whiteness is just a metaphor for power“.
What white people have to do, is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place, because I’m not a nigger, I’m a man, but if you think I’m a nigger, it means you need it.
When English footballer Danny Rose revealed his depression battle, his bravery was celebrated by everyone, from the NHS to Prince William. In recent years, there has been a growing number of prominent black voices sharing their mental health struggles, which is no doubt a good thing. However, the experiences of everyday black people within the mental health system are quite the opposite, as research has shown.
Like many who suffer with mental health challenges, Rose stated that there was no singular cause of his depression. Dealing with long term football injuries, his uncle committing suicide, his mother suffering racial abuse and someone attempting to shoot his brother at their home, all contributed to his depression.
Few writers’ words still resonate thirty years after their death, but James Baldwin was no ordinary writer. It’s believed that Baldwin died of cancer on 1 December 1987 aged 63 while starting, what is now his final manuscript – Remember This House. Comprising only 30 pages at the time of his death, the focus of this manuscript were personal recollections of the lives and assassinations of 3 juggernauts of the civil rights movement in America – Martin Luther King Jr,. Malcom X and Medgar Evers.
The lives of the former two have been compared throughout history. The ideologies of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X even came up during the commentary surrounding Marvel’s Black Panther movie, directed by Ryan Coogler. The ideologies of Black Panther (T’Challa – played by Chadwick Boseman) and Erik Kilmonger (played by Michael B Jordan) were likened to the two civil rights activists. Some thought Kilmonger’s desire to arm all oppressed people so they could protect themselves reflected Malcom X’s rhetoric. While T’Challa’s (what some would deem) measured approach was like that of Martin Luther King Jr.
I watched two men, coming from unimaginably different backgrounds, whose positions, originally, were poles apart, driven closer and closer together. By the time each died, their positions had become virtually the same position. It can be said, indeed, that Martin picked up Malcolm’s burden, articulated the vision which Malcolm had begun to see, and for which he paid with his life – James Baldwin in a 1963 TV interview
Medgar Evers died on 12th June 1963; a World War II veteran and university graduate, Medgar Evers was instrumental in overturning segregation laws at the University of Mississippi, public facilities and collating evidence from witnesses in the Emmitt Till murder case. Malcom X died on 21st February 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. died on 4th April 1968. All three of these civil rights activists were killed within a 5 year period and none of them lived to see their 40th birthdays.
In his array of writings and novels where he documents the civil rights movement, Baldwin’s words are still pertinent today. Events that led to the Black Lives Matter movement and similar situations, played out over social media is testament to this. When the civil rights movement started there was no social media, now we all have front row seats to witness injustice and oppression. While there has been progress, there is still some way to go for black lives to be seen as equal to others of the human race. There’s still unfinished business to handle…
Clip from 1963 where James Baldwin is asked about his view on the future of America.
“The future of the Negro in this country, is precisely as bright or dark as the future of the country. James Baldwin
The ‘blogosphere’ can be all-consuming; as bloggers we’re told that consistency is key but sometimes I don’t have time to reflect on how my blog has evolved. A recent Twitter thread forced me to think of why I started blogging in the first place and the importance of so-called ‘niche’ stories.
Many bloggers/vloggers/content creators want to develop content that will be consumed by the masses. There is a perception that black and ethnic minority stories can’t resonate in the mainstream, wth Western audiences. Black Panther shut down that theory, but a few years earlier in 2013, Fruitvale Station made a significant dent in this theory too (along with other films).
The film recounts the murder of Oscar Grant (a 22-year-old unarmed African-American man) by police. Michael B Jordan starred as the lead character, in director Ryan Coogler’s first, critically acclaimed film. The poignant portrayal of the events leading up to Oscar Grant’s death, were preceded by Coogler showing Oscar Grant’s life and struggles. Dealing with life after prison, looking for a job, balancing his relationship with his girlfriend and daughter.
Following a fight on a train, Oscar Grant was killed by police on New Year’s Day 2009. He was shot at point blank range in the back. The officers used an unnecessary amount of force, which I don’t think would have been used if Oscar Grant was white.
But Oscar Grant was not white; if he was, even with the same socio-economic status and lifestyle, he probably would have lived to tell the tale.
On a small budget, the cinematography of the film contributed to gripping viewing. All the accolades the film received were well deserved, especially on a debut directing role for Coogler.
‘Justice’ is not a word I would use to describe the verdict on the murder of Oscar Grant. If anyone else killed Oscar Grant in the same manner, I think the verdict would have been different.
Whether you love or hate social media, its presence allows us to consume and share stories which would have been marginalised or erased. Oscar Grant’s murder was captured on mobile phones by various witnesses. In the moments leading up to when Oscar was shot, the film showed the witnesses who, regardless of race were all united in their emotions at what unfolded before their eyes.
When we share ‘niche’ stories we think may not directly relate to us, we humanise these stories. What we may think is un-relatable, can resonate with us on a human level. We may come from different backgrounds and cultures, but we have one thing in common – we are all human and can relate to each other emotionally on that and understand each other through that gaze. When you authentically explore your own narrative and execute it intelligently, as Ryan Coolger did in Fruitvale Station, it can have global appeal.
I started blogging because I wanted to share the stories that are important to me but often marginalised by the mainstream media. We all benefit from telling and sharing ‘niche’ stories and that’s why it important for all creatives to tell them. Content creators are doing so through various outlets, including Block Party Cinema who hosted the screening of Fruitvale Station that I watched on a sunny May Bank Holiday weekend.
“As cinema loving Londoners, we’d grown disenchanted with the lack of access to black and multicultural films either through mainstream or pop up cinemas. Our ambition with Block Party Cinema is to help rejuvenate, and make these films even more accessible, whilst adding our own special ingredients to the mix. Community spirit has always been the soul of the best block parties and that’s the feeling we’ve harnessed to create this unique cinema experience.” – Block Party Cinema
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) machine roars on, with its latest release – Avengers: Infinity War, expected to be the biggest Marvel film ever. Many people (who are not Marvel fans per se), including myself would not have much interest in the latest release if it wasn’t for Black Panther. Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last three months, you’re aware of its global impact.
Ryan Coogler, on the Black Panther promotional trail in South Korea
The MCU is one of the most successful film franchises in the world, but the success of Black Panther put it in front of a new audience, taking it to a different level. Although not a Marvel fan, I’ve seen Thor, Captain America: Civil War Civil and Guardians of the Galaxy on TV because I watched it with people who are fans. I didn’t watch any of them with bated breath as I did Black Panther, after waiting a year for it’s release. The concept of an African country unaffected by slavery and colonisation was epic!
Black Panther introduced a whole new audience to the MCU franchise and succeeded as a stand-alone film – you didn’t have to know the back story for it to resonate. Co-writer and director Ryan Coogler (who adapted the screenplay from the original 1966 Marvel comic) was able to infuse his authentic voice throughout the whole film without depleting the traditional superhero narrative. References to black culture, history and emotion were simultaneously subtle and blatant. In a time when the validity of black (African) existence in the diaspora is constantly questioned, the positive portrayal of Africans came at a point when everyone needed a reminder of the richness of African culture.
In the midst of a superhero story, the allure of Africa encouraged Ryan Coogler to visit the continent before embarking on his Black Panther journey.
“I was very honest about the idea I wanted to explore in this film, which is what it means to be African. That was one of the first things I talked about. And they [Marvel] were completely interested.” – Ryan Coogler, Rolling Stone interview
Coogler just finished directing his second film, Creed, when Marvel come knocking at the door. For any director, working with the Marvel franchise is big, but for a young filmmaker with only 2 films in his portfolio, Creed (2015, estimated budget $40 million) and Fruitvale Station (2013, estimated budget $900,000) shows it pays off when you are authentic. This is not always easy in Hollywood, but Coogler does it with a discreet defiance.
“I wanted to tell epic stories, stories that felt big and fantastic. I liked that feeling as an audience member when it felt like I went on a flight and felt out of breath and I couldn’t stop thinking about it days later. I wanted to make stuff that gave people that feeling – but I wanted to do it for people who look like me and people I grew up with.” – Ryan Coogler, Rolling Stone interview
While directing Black Panther, Cooger admitted he hadn’t directed two white men (Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis) in the same scene before. When I heard this, I immediately thought he was being restricted by the establishment, but Coogler’s apt response changed my perspective. This isn’t really an issue if you are portraying the stories you want to see.
“It’s not a situation where people are denying me that opportunity”. The stories [I’m telling] just haven’t lent themselves to me doing a scene with only white people in it. I’m making the movies that I want to make.” – Ryan Coogler, Rolling Stone interview
After its release in mid-February, according to Forbes, Black Panther is STILL showing in 1,650 cinemas and is the second highest grossing (tickets sold) superhero movie in the US. When Marvel Studios president, Kevin Feige, was asked if Coogler will be directing the Black Panther sequel (#BlackPanther2), he was optimistic.
“We definitely want Ryan to come back and that’s actively being worked out right now. When will it be? A lot of it will be when Ryan wants to and not rushing anything, but I think we have an idea of when it will be… “The success of Panther is so amazing and makes us happy for so many reasons, and it certainly exceeded our lofty expectations. – Kevin Feige interview with Collider
I’ve seen 2 out of 3 Coogler films (Black Panther and Creed). I’m all here for keeping the cultural finger on the pulse of the African diaspora narrative (the reason I started blogging), so I’ll be going back to the very beginning, to watch Coogler’s first film (no, I haven’t seen it before and yes, I’m late to the party lol). Fruitvale Station won awards at Cannes and Sundance Film Festivals and was produced through Forest Whitaker’s (played the character Zuri in Black Panther) production company, so I’m sure it’s going to be a good watch!
The last film I saw at the cinema was Black Panther and before that, it was Girls Trip in July 2017! I am into films, but there just hadn’t been many that resonated enough for me to leave the confines of my house and take a trip to the cinema. Before this I went to the cinema regularly; one of my most memorable cinema experiences was when I saw Titanic, because I cried. My friends still remind of that little fact until this day!
Over time I’ve become more selective about what I watch, because I got tired of the same old faces and narratives. I wanted to see more people who looked like me and stories that I could relate to, such films were not easy to come by.
I hadn’t heard about Block Party Cinema until a few weeks ago and wanted to see their interpretation of the pop up cinematic experience. The 90s RnB chilled out vibes evoked a welcomed nostalgia and was met with contemporary beanbag seating. I was a bit apprehensive about sitting on a beanbag throughout the whole film, but to my surprise, they were comfortable and afforded lots of leg room (well enough for my legs, anyway!)
The film, A Moving Image, was about gentrification in Brixton (a subject I have touched on before). Followed by a panel discussion with Lisa Maffia (of Solid Crew and former Brixton resident), Community Leader Michael Smith and the director of the film, Shola Amoo.
I was a bit conflicted about watching a film about gentrification in Pop Brixton, which some may deem as the epitome of gentrification in the area, but I wanted to see how the film would approach the issue and the setting in POP Brixton was nice, with a bar and free popcorn.
The film touched on some interesting points, including the Reclaim Brixton protest and the protagonist who once lived in Brixton, being conflicted as to whether she was now part of the problem. The film highlighted that gentrification is a class issue and not just about race. This is true, but for a place like Brixton with such a distinctive racial heritage, if the community is depleted of African and Caribbean people regardless of socio-economic status, Brixton as we know it will be no more.
Whether good or bad, which I don’t think the film made a final decision on, gentrification has it merits and drawbacks. Maybe that was the take-home message of the film. By leaving the ending open-ended (in my opinion) provided food for thought on a complex issue affecting many parts of London.
While colourism extends to many cultures, this post will focus on colourism within the black (of African descent) community
That Tweet (and all the others that have come before it) A few days ago, another anti-dark skin black girl tweet from 2012 resurfaced. UK TV personality, Maya Jama (a teenager at the time) girlfriend to Stormzy (a British-Ghanaian), one of the biggest grime artists in the UK, was exposed for tweeting this tweet – a quote from a comedian:
To top it off, Maya had to apologise twice because her initial apology was addressed to ‘all women’ and not specifically to dark skin black women.
Yes, Maya was young when she tweeted this quote from a comedian. However, black women have been brutalised physically and mentally for hundreds of years due to their skin tone, I don’t have sympathy for anyone who encourages this type of abuse (including the comedian who apparently said it initially).
Some were not best please with Maya Jama’s quoted tweet.
What also makes it worse is that, Maya has a black fan base and makes money from black culture (she hosted the UK MOBO awards last year). Now she is not the only celebrity ‘of colour’ (apparently, she is of Somali/Swedish descent) that has allied with the abuse of dark skin black women, that is why this post is not about her, but a more pressing problem.
What’s funny about the Maya Jama tweet from 2012 is that, AFRICAN women have been shaving their heads for decades! So, it’s funny that some believe dark skin black women should not wear a hairstyle that has been passed down the generations!
Colourism The negative connotations that come with having darker skin (especially as a woman) are palpable.
Stemming from slavery and colonisation the roots of colourism run deep, along with the global narrative that lighter skin (especially for women) = beauty, this isn’t a light-hearted issue and like racism ignites similar emotions.
What’s depressing about this whole colourism issue is that it’s perpetuated by US! Yes, black people. If black people abuse dark skin black women, then the flood gates are open for others to do the same, thinking it’s totally acceptable behaviour. The psychological abuse of dark skin black must stop, and this must start within the black community.
Slavery and colonisation were strategic in their psychological carving away of black self-worth. Many black people have internalised and perpetuate this self-hate as a fierce emotional a weapon.
It’s been noted on Twitter that celebrities who get the most attention for speaking out against racial discrimination have a ‘similar look’. Like Beyoncé (who is an amazing singer – #beychella), the perception is they are the ‘acceptable (more palatable) faces of black’.
Actress, Zendaya recently admitted that ‘light skin privilege’ within the black community does exist, when many choose to be coy about the subject. Zendaya frequently speaks about racial disparities and is applauded for doing so. However, If someone of a darker hue, e.g. Serena Williams were to do the same, more often than not would be crowned with the ‘angry black woman’ slur.
It’s about time we have honest conversations, acknowledging the ‘light skin privilege’ many black and mixed-race people posses. Allowing dark skin women to say how they feel, without being dismissed as jealous and angry of their light skin counterparts is important too.
“Unfortunately, I have a bit of a privilege compared to my darker sisters and brothers”.
“Can I honestly say that I’ve had to face the same racism and struggles as a woman with darker skin? No, I cannot.” – Zendaya in a 2016 Cosmopolitan interview
Even in the black entertainment industry the bias towards dark skin black women is evident. This beauty legacy, means that ‘the struggle’ is harder for dark skin black women. Along with everything else that was great about Black Panther, the concept of having a dark skin love interest (one which had a darker complexion than her male protagonist), played by Lupita N’yongo is not something we are used to, even in 2018.
Having powerful gate keepers like Shonda Rhimes, has given us characters like Anaalise Keating in ‘How to get Away with Murder’, played by Viola Davis. Nate Moore who works for Marvel Studios was instrumental in placing the Dora Milage via Black Panther on the big screen, which definitely had a billion-dollar impact! Despite this (and other exposures of dark skin black women) and hundreds of years post slavery, I’m still here in 2018 writing a post about colourism!
Maybe we need more representation in our local communities, professional and creative industries? But I’m not sure if this will shift the negative narrative around dark skin black women either. Are these perceptions actually changing? It’s hard to overcome the battle of the mind and like most psychological illnesses, I guess colourism requires some sort of ‘therapy’. The first step in this process is to admit there is a problem, so maybe we start there?
Any other suggestions on how we can move past colourism? Comment below.