by G. Brown
Hollywood like fashion, history and life circumstances seems to flow in a perpetual metonic cycle where genres and trends repeat themselves every 20 years or so. The current trend for Black actors, directors and writers seems to be race relations.
Chadwick Boseman is starring in the title role of powerful biopic about the first African-American Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Long before he changed history by winning the landmark Brown v Board of Education case which outlawed school segregation, Marshall was challenging racism as an attorney for the NAACP. Here’s a look at the official trailer for “MARSHALL” which opens in theaters next month…
Admittedly, the film looks intriguing especially since it gives us a look at a side of Marshall that few remember or ever even knew about the civil rights icon. But the movie seems to be one of a slew of projects created by or starring Blacks that all have a common theme dealing with racism, segregation, Jim Crow etc.
A movie that was the talk of this year’s Sundance Film Festival is headed to streaming service Netflix. “Mudbound” is another period piece that centers around a time when Jim Crow laws kept Blacks and Whites separated often with a violent hand. “Mudbound” is based on a novel by the same name and tells the story of White farmers and the Black sharecroppers who worked for them.
The film stars Mary J. Blige, Jason Mitchell and Garrett Hedlund and cost Netlix a hefty $12.5 million price for the privilege of streaming to audiences this fall. Like “Marshall”, “Mudbound” is being heralded as a cinematic triumph which is already creating Oscar buzz in the Best Picture category.
While both of these films bring to the big screen stories that are compelling, powerful, beautifully crafted both in photography and dialogue, they are hardly stories that have not been told over and over again in some fashion. “Selma”, “Mississippi Burning”, “Malcolm X”, “Django”, were all brilliant stories and hit movies that still brought us the same story of Blacks struggling to overcome a time in history when Blacks didn’t equality, freedom or the law on their side. It’s like Hollywood can only see Blacks in one facet–sadly one where we are still the downtrodden and underdog. It’s almost as if that’s the only story Hollywood has to tell us about Blacks. Movies like “Hidden Figures” and “Moonlight” prove through their success with critics and at the box office that audiences want stories about people overcoming life circumstances period. Racism isn’t the only obstacle Blacks face, but it’s the only one Hollywood seems to frequently acknowledge.
Actor, director Jordan Peele broke out of the mold with his hit movie “Get Out” which flipped the horror genre upside-down by showing us racism as the horror that it truly is. Now Peele is collaborating with director Spike Lee on another film inspired by real life events about a Black detective who infiltrated the KKK in “Black Klansmen”. True, there’s an angle we haven’t seen , be we can expect dialogue peppered with racial epithets all of which we’ve heard over and over.
Hollywood’s liberalism has led the way to breaking down so many barriers for Blacks, gays, feminists, physically and mentally challenged citizens and I get the only way to do that is by exposing on a big screen what has happened or is happening to oppress people. But it would be a relief to see Black actors not just type cast in films always about oppression or the fight to overcome oppression. Yes, these stories are necessary, but it feels like those are the primary roles for Black actors. This may be Hollywood’s idea of diversity, but it’s a poor execution of the idea. Diversity is hiring an actor no matter his or her color. A good example, Denzel Washington in “The Equalizer” or Will Smith in “Legend” roles that were character and plot driven. No one expects a White actor to be cast in the starring role in biopics and biographies about Martin Luther King or to see a Black actor in the lead role in a movie about JFK. But there are plenty of movies where race is not central to the lead character, yet Hollywood still seeks out Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks or Robert Downey.
Most of us go to the movies to relax and get away from the anxiety and pressure of real life. I don’t have to pay $15 for a movie to see Blacks being mistreated or hear them called racial slurs. I can just watch the news unraveling in Charlottesville, Virginia or where ever the latest White supremacists are protesting for that.