Category Archives: media

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Open Thread: What Makes A Black Film a Black Film?

By Kendra James

Every so often it pays to check in on the current “Black Film” rubric– ie, What makes a Black Film a Black Film? It’s a question I found myself struggling with as I wrote about Dear White People last week and realised that I couldn’t bring myself (and director Justin Simien didn’t want his audience) to stick it in the same category of Madea’s kooky and poorly directed adventures. But why is that?

Like a lot of popular movies that fall into the Black Film category Dear White People has a majority black cast, a black director, and deals with subject matter meant to resonate with a Black audience. Yet even beyond being an Indie, it’s clearly a different beast than 2014′s well performing Ride Along which seems to more easily fall into the traditional Black Film category. Making comparison and thinking about other movies that also seem to fall without question into that category -let’s consider movies like The Best Man series, the Barbershop series, and romcoms in the vein of Think Like a Man or Why Did I Get Married- I started to wonder if maybe it becomes a question of quality.

To include quality on the rubric is clearly problematic, leaning towards the implication that to be placed in the Black Film means to be a bad film. But do we place 12 Years A Slave in that same Black Film category? What about The Butler? They fall under the drama genre, but so do movies like Stomp The Yard, ATL, Coach Carter, or The Inkwell; a group of enjoyable, if otherwise unnotable films, with black directors and casts found under the “Urban Drama” category on Amazon . (Urban Drama being another way of saying “a drama with Black people in it.”)

Does it really come down to a question of quality with, perhaps, a side of pedigree- films nominated for multiple awards in various categories? It’s a tricky qualifier. Stomp The Yard with white protagonists is called Bring It On and it’s a comedy or a teen movie, not a “white film”. Coach Carter is called Hoosiers or Miracle and again it’s not a white film, it’s a sports drama. The Inkwell becomes a drama/romantic comedy directed by Nancy Meyers, starring Meryl Streep, and… well, you can see the trend. There’s no real need to recategorise any of these films as “Black” or “Urban”, but for some reason we do.

But what if beyond the merits of the cast, director, subject matter, and relative quality, it’s a simple matter of character relateability? White viewers are conditioned with the societal requirement that it’s necessary to at least pretend to empathise with the Solomon Northups of the world. The Kenya McQueens? Not so much. With that we’re left with a qualifier almost more insulting than the question of quality. While Black audiences are expected to relate and empathize with white characters in films regularly, the moment we ask them to do the same for us suddenly it’s a Black Film. In that case, the categorization is almost left up to the white viewer alone.

So is it cast/director, subject matter, quality, or a question of white audiences being unable to empathise with characters who look nothing like them? What actually makes a Black Film? Thoughts?

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Understanding anti-Black racism as species-ism: Reflections on Richard Sherman’s affective excess and the Twitterverse’s response

By Guest Contributor M. Shadee Malaklou, cross-posted from JFCB

My first impulse was to resist paying even a modicum of attention to the story following Richard Sherman’s postgame interview, namely because the goings-on of the sports industry — an industry that takes from Black bodies their bits and pieces of flesh, leaving Black athletes often permanently disabled and with little material or financial support in (a very early) ‘retirement’ — rarely surprise me or gives me pause for critical reflection. But then I saw the tweets. The disgusting, racist-cum-speciesist tweets.
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Race Forward Releases New Report On Media, Civic Activism + Race

By Arturo R. García

Yesterday, Colorline’s publishers, Race Forward — formerly known as the Applied Research Center — released a two-part report covering both the common media mistakes when it comes to approaching race and the impact of racial justice initiatives looking to set the record right.

We’ll have a more in-depth look at Race Forward’s findings in a few days, but for now, here’s the great Jay Smooth with a video preview discussing one of the failings discussed in the report: media outlets’ tendency to talk about race in an individualistic fashion, rather than addressing the systems that enable it to thrive.

Who Didn’t See This Coming?: Cracker Barrel Doubles Down on Duck Dynasty

A Cracker Barrel restaurant via NY Daily News

Last week Arturo reminded Duck Dynasty fans of what hadn’t gotten newly revealed (“newly” for those of us who still have no idea what a Duck Dynasty is, at least) homophobe and racist Phill Robertson suspended from the hit A&E show. Since the decision A&E has remained strangely mum on the topic, while others like Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and Bobby Jindal have chimed in attempting to make the tenuous state of the show and Robertson’s future an issue of 1st amendment rights.

In a slightly tangential turn of events Cracker Barrel took a stand against Roberstson’s comments, pledging to pull all Duck Dynasty merchandise from their shelves. (Yes, you too can buy a Duck Dynasty Talking Keychain while eating away your Saturday night kegger hangover in AnyTown, Ohio!) It was a decent gesture, especially given that the merchandise practically flew off the shelves at Walmart after the GQ controversy broke in a sad show of support for the brand . However two days after making the promise –and still, with no word from A&E– this message was found on Cracker Barrel’s official Facebook page:

Dear Cracker Barrel Customer:

When we made the decision to remove and evaluate certain Duck Dynasty items, we offended many of our loyal customers. Our intent was to avoid offending, but that’s just what we’ve done.

You told us we made a mistake. And, you weren’t shy about it. You wrote, you called and you took to social media to express your thoughts and feelings. You flat out told us we were wrong.

We listened.

Today, we are putting all our Duck Dynasty products back in our stores.

And, we apologize for offending you.

We respect all individuals right to express their beliefs. We certainly did not mean to have anyone think different.

We sincerely hope you will continue to be part of our Cracker Barrel family.

The post gained over 1000 likes in the time it took to copy and paste the statement from there to here and currently stands upwards of 68,000.

This is probably a great time to remind anyone who’s surprised by this 180 turn of events that in 2004 Cracker Barrel was sued by 21 people in a $100 million federal lawsuit alleging a nationwide trend of discriminatory service that ranged from segregating Black families from other customers to outright refusing to serve them at all. It was the largest lawsuit of its kind since Denny’s in 1994; it settled for $8.7 million. In 2008 they received a 15 out of 100 from the Human Rights Watch on their LGBTQ Corporate Equality Index and had only managed to raise it to a 50 in 2011.

In the case of Cracker Barrel and Duck Dynasty, birds of a feather really do flock together.

Racialicious Review: The Citizen

Khaled Nabawy in a scene from "The Citizen"

Khaled Nabawy in a scene from “The Citizen”

By Guest Contributor Nour Soubani

The recent independent film, The Citizen, raises a number of important questions related to identity, belonging, and representation that are relevant and challenging to many American communities at large today.

Ibrahim, a middle-aged Lebanese man, wakes up one day and actualizes his dream: he wins a ticket from the Green Card Lottery to come to America. He lands in New York on September 10th, 2001, and befriends Diane, an attractive white American woman who is just escaping an abusive relationship. The next fateful morning is the September 11th attack, and the rest of the movie follows Ibrahim’s experience as an Arab Muslim in a post-9/11 New York City, the relationships he builds with Diane and those who both support and villainize him, and his interactions with the law.

 Ibrahim, although not a legal citizen, is painted as the ideal American: He helps the homeless, works an honest job, and intervenes at a crime scene to save a man’s life. Although he looks distinctly Arab, and some suspicion is raised that he is related to one of the hijackers, there is a clear assertion throughout the movie that Ibrahim is completely disconnected from the evil terrorists who attacked the United States, and from the Middle East as a whole. In fact, multiple times throughout the film he expresses how grateful he is to leave Lebanon, to come to America and pursue “the American Dream”, and to leave behind his penniless and unsuccessful life. While the protagonist’s morals and values are virtuous—this was enough to make the audience fall in love with him—his character functions with a subtle undertone that reinforces a binaric hierarchy between the U.S. and the rest, one that inevitably places America at the top. Ibrahim comes to the United States to make something of himself; the storyline implies that this was inherently not possible where he came from, nor were any efforts to do so valued and encouraged. He is portrayed as an exception to the rule—a respectable, mannered, responsible and hardworking individual, who, with these admirable, individualist traits, clearly does not belong in the Arab world. The character of Ibrahim—while well-intentioned—in fact plays into Orientalist notions that otherize the Middle East, creating an unknown, inferior entity out of it that inherently does not hold the same purely “American” values that cause Ibrahim to succeed.

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An Open Letter to Mike Babchik: I Am Not For Sale

By Guest Contributor Diana Pho, cross-posted from Hyphen Magazine

TRIGGER WARNING FOR THIS POST

Photo of Mike Babchik and ‘Man Banter’ crew at NY Comic Con. Credit: Bethany Maddock

Dear Mr. Mike Babchik of Man Banter,

You thought you were having fun last month at New York Comic Con when you and your film crew gained access to the convention using your job credentials at SiriusXM Radio. You thought this would be a great opportunity to provide footage for your YouTube show (now defunct, thankfully). You thought it would make great television to pull me aside, to put your mic in my face, to drive your camera’s light in my eyes and to ask if you could buy me.

You thought it was just a joke when you said you wanted to buy an umbrella with an Asian girl — because I was holding a parasol.

You thought you were being clever by mistaking me for a geisha girl, like the many submissive, diminutive women you’ve seen on TV or on the Internet or in movies.

You thought that because I was small and female and Asian, it gave you the right to ridicule my existence.

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Silence and Spectacle: How the Sports Media Sanctions Racist Mascots

By Guest Contributors C. Richard King and David J. Leonard

Image by Keith Allison via Flickr Creative Commons.

One would hope sport media outlets might take their civic duty to foster critical thinking, public engagement, and informed debated seriously. Their approach to the representations in Native Americans in sport suggest otherwise. Under the veil of fairness and balance, they opt to speak for, to be silent and to silence as preferred pathways.

When ESPN columnist Rick Reilly offered a defense of Native American mascots because the American Indians he knew did not have a problem with them. Flouting his whiteness and playing his privilege with little regard, he spoke for Native Americas. His word – his whiteness, his platform – made their words meaningful. His editors neither batted an eye nor cleared a space for Native Americans to express themselves.

In fact, Reilly misrepresented his key source, his father-in-law, who wrote a lengthy retort in Indian Country Today that noted he found the name of Washington D.C.’s National Football League team to be objectionable. Reilly still stood by his piece and neither he nor his publisher have offered a correction or an apology.
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