Too Hard on Ourselves
By Todd A. Smith
For the third straight week, The Help film is the number one movie in America. Like many African Americans, I was very reluctant to see this movie but was pleasantly surprised with the courage that the Black characters portrayed in the face of injustice.
Nevertheless, the criticism that the film has received from Black audiences is similar to the criticism that Tyler Perry films receive and is indicative of why there are so few roles for African American thespians in Hollywood.
Black criticism of what seems like all Black films usually leads to those movies performing poorly at the box office, giving Hollywood the belief that Black films do not sell, which translates to fewer jobs for those in front and behind the cameras.
I recently spoke to a graduate school class about magazines and somehow the conversation turned to Perry and his films. While most of the students appreciated his art and his practice of hiring African Americans at his production studio, some saw him as playing into the White man’s hands because he emphasizes stereotypes of Black males.
While people like Perry and other Hollywood giants with a platform have a responsibility, Black criticism of these individuals is totally unrealistic. We should stop the belief that one person has to save the race or the world because that is impossible. Furthermore, we need to stop thinking that every piece of art that a Black person releases has to have our individual approval.
Some Black criticism of The Help centers on the fact that the film is written and directed by a White filmmaker but we still criticize Hollywood when they do not make films with Black actors in prominent roles.
While I would love to see more Black filmmakers given a chance to succeed, an opportunity Perry is giving to others, the African American story is a part of the American story as a whole and we do not have total ownership of that story. The racism in the South affected all races, and all races have the right to tell the story from their vantage point.
I often say that we are our own worst enemy, and Black criticism of other Black people is proof of that. Sometimes entertainment is just entertainment and Perry’s films are successful because they entertain and uplift people.
Some movies like The Help are made to educate and enlighten us, and luckily all can be educated from the stories of Black maids during the Civil Rights Movement.
Black criticism of other Black people has been a sad reality of our condition since slavery, but it is time we stop shooting each other in the foot with the false notion that we individually have to like everything that a Black artist creates.
Perry, nor Spike Lee, nor Viola Davis is the savior of Black people or the spokesperson for all Black people. They are simply artists who tell or act out stories from their perspective.
Unfortunately, Black criticism will never cease, but it is time we let our people tell their stories, and not tell them which stories are off limit.