I was just thinking the other day about the way some Black people online complain that they want to see more of “our stories” being told in the media (yes this is a First World Problem sort of post). Well what do you mean “our stories”? Black people are not a monolith and we have many different stories. But I have an idea of what you mean, you want more stories like “Precious” instead of stories like Condoleeza’s or Claire Huxtable’s.
You want more stories of Black people struggling, suffering, and dealing with poverty and racism because you feel those stories express the reality of Black life. You don’t care for stories of middle class Black people who’s problems mirror those in “White stories” such as getting a date, getting married, getting the great job, solving a mystery, inventing something, going on road trips with the kids etc. that are the focus of many films starring White people. Personally, I think we need to see more of those stories, starring Black actors, rather than more of “our stories”. Now why in the world would I want that?
It’s because everyone already has some idea of “our stories” and they know them so well they have become stereotypes! Depending on where you live, many non-Black people around the world will assume the following: you are poor (e.g., Beasts of the Southern Wild), you grew up in a ghetto plagued with gang bangers and violence (e.g., Boyz in the Hood), you are on welfare or struggling to get by (e.g., The Pursuit of Happyness), you have no father (e.g., Antwone Fisher, ok I don’t think he had a mother either), you have been badly abused (e.g., Precious), you went to a bad school plagued with frustrated teachers and students who aren’t interested in education (e.g., Dangerous Minds), people say and do racist things to you on a daily basis (e.g., A Time to Kill), you are mad at the White man (e.g, X), you are really good at sports and devote your life to it (e.g, Coach Carter), you also really love rap music (e.g., Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and Awkward Black Girl…I had to say it) and of course your ancestors went through Jim Crowe (e.g., Ghosts of Mississippi) and slavery (e.g., Amistad). Did you notice how many of those films have been nominated for Oscars and are therefore very well known? In my opinion, a lot of those African American stories have been told numerous times so Hollywood has succeed in informing us! We all know these stories!
I think the problem we have now is that we all know these stories so well, it’s hard for non-Black people to believe that some of us don’t live those stories every day. Because of “our stories” the media tends to portray us in ways that conform to the roles in the movies listed above. Because of “our stories” people make fun of us by using those stereotypes (e.g., dressing up like gang bangers, acting like sassy Black women etc.). Or when non-Black people want to relate or be like Black people, they adopt the dress and speech of the people in “our stories” (e.g., Asian women acting hood in Japan).
Nowadays, because of the prevalence of ”our stories”, White and Black people will believe the stereotypes and assume negative things about us (e.g., your education was sub-par, you are angry and stressed, you have no money so you may steal, you won’t get along with non-Black people at work etc.). This gets in the way of us being treated as equals to everyone else. “Our stories” also cause problems among Black people because only people with stereotypical stories are accepted as being Black. Those of us who are not poor, did not suffer, don’t like rap music, etc. are accused of “acting White”, criticized, and rejected (well unless we do something that makes Black people look good, then we are temporarily praised).
To remedy this situation, I think we should stop asking for more of “our stories” in order to achieve balance. We need more “anybody’s and everybody’s stories” where the lead characters just happen to be Black and anyone can relate to and enjoy it. In these films the character could have easily been played by a White, Asian, or Hispanic person. We need more roles like the ones given to Denzel Washington (e.g., Inside Man, Flight) and Jennifer Lopez (with better acting though, e.g, Angel Eyes, The Wedding Planner) where race wasn’t an issue. It would be better for Black people if we saw Black actors in ANY and EVERY role, not just the stereotypical ones, and in roles where race isn’t brought up at all. We need roles where Black women are beautiful, fit, desired, feminine, admirable, likable, getting the guy, getting married, having a pleasant demeanor, and making positive contributions to society. We also need similar roles for Black men (so they don’t make us all look bad and women stop being blamed for Black men’s problems). That way the world can relate to us and see us as being similar to themselves, not different, not damaged, and not dangerous. “Our stories” can be told from time to time but they should not be the only one’s everyone remembers and our most popular stories. I think that we need to turn the page and start focusing more on appearing more like everyone else rather than completely different. People are already aware of our differences so now it’s time to start relating. We need the world to see Black people as being NORMAL! We need more “Black people are normal” stories, not more of “our stories”.
This is just a social commentary and my OPINION about what other people are asking for. It is not a call for action or angry rant. No need to get upset about it. I don’t think that we should get too worked up about the media. But if you were to get worked up, I would only support efforts to make “Black people are normal” stories because, in my OPINION we have gone along with the “othering” and Black people are different script for way too long. Basically, if White folks tend to be painted positively, “normal”, and “average” in films (or at least a more balanced way) then I think Black folks should aim for the same. But that’s just me :)