'BlacKkKlansman' Is Black Hollywood's Latest Example Of How Black Cinema Is Supposed To Happen
When you decide to tell our stories, get a black person to do it.
I don’t think I have left a movie theater with breath this bated since Get Out. No, Black Panther. Yeah, it was Black Panther where I can say I last felt this much emotion in a movie. That was just about six months ago, and too much time if you ask me. To be honest, I had stopped going to the movies. Opting for the low hanging cinematic fruit- aka my friend’s Hulu subscription. Walking out of NABJ’s (National Association of Black Journalists) screening of BlacKkKlansman, followed by a Q and A session featuring Spike Lee and the movie’s star John David Washington, I was reminded of something, that deep down I already knew.
Black narratives must only be told by black people.
There are several well-meaning white people who have been commissioned to make famous black narratives by major movie houses. Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal’s Detroit comes to mind (currently on Hulu). A narrative about the Algiers Motel incident where three black men were executed by the Detroit Police Department during the 1967 Race Rebellion. The film was a failure, falling nearly 10 million dollars short of breaking even, despite strong black leads. That is because the film was doomed, explaining police brutality, and make it appear as if there were good and bad people “on both sides.” What Bigelow and Boal could not anticipate is just how little time black people for that kind of rhetoric in their biographic material. And if Black Panther has taught you anything, in order for your film to do well, black people need to make time for it.
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White people’s inability to communicate in their art what they do not experience is in no way reflective of their skills as writers or directors. It is just not their lane. However, with so may storytellers of color available it is their duty to step aside and include people of color in the development of films that are quite frankly- our business. Ron Stallworth’s autobiographical tale came to life via Jordan Peele and Spike Lee in the film by the same name is all of black people’s business.
So much our business, we all thought this was a Dave Chappelle skit. Nah, this is a real thing that really happened. Our protagonist, Ron Stallworth, is a black man caught between regular white racism, and police white racism when he attempts to do his small part to make the world a better place as the first black member of the Colorado Springs police department. His first assignment as a detective is to monitor Black Panther ‘terrorist’ activity when Kwame Toure comes to town to speak. Stallworth completes the racially charged assignment. Proving that the Black Panther Party had no terroristic agenda- something else we already knew. With no leads from Toure’s appearance, Stallworth leads CSPD to an actual terroristic threat-- The Klu Klux Klan.
Like many of us who are the only black person in white spaces, he struggles with the duplicitous nature of the profession he has selected. He is a black man, and a cop, who does not have the luxury to assign a hierarchy to his identities. He is all of these things all of the time, and both of them can cost him his life in a world where black lives are not valued. While he represents black people to CSPD, he is not all black people. Yes, another visual representation provided by Spike Lee to remind y'all that black people are not a monolith. It is done with so much style. He shows up to work a little late, winces at the epithets, always aware that he has to prove himself; not for himself but for all of the black people who will come after him. He dons an impervious afro, and that swag step I am sure that Washington inherited from his father. This character is perfection, toeing the line between Shaft and Obama like a choreographed two-step.
At the end of the film, the entertainment stops as you are jarred back to reality with scenes from 2017 Charlottesville which match previous scenes from the film. Spike pointed out during the Q & A session this film would be released on August 10, 2018. A day before the one year anniversary of the tiki torch march in Charlottesville, and the chaos that erupted thereafter, killing Heather Hayer, who receives her just due at the end of the film. He tells us that right and wrong have no race. The world is in need of more agents of peace of all colors, especially white people. But there is an etiquette for this to work. Like the officers portrayed in the film, when white people are dismantling racism they must humble themselves and take a lead from the victims of it. And when white people are making a film about people of color they must select people of color to write and direct that narrative.