The Shame is Not Ours
“The shame is not ours, Kunta,” Silla Ba Dibba (Derek Luke) told his nephew Kunta Kinte (Malachi Kirby) while the two struggled with their new reality aboard a slave ship, far from their home in Africa.
Kunta felt shame because as a Mandika warrior he had failed to protect himself from invaders and felt embarrassed as a man.
Many African-Americans like rapper Snoop Dogg feel anger, shame and bitterness when Hollywood sheds light on the horrors of slavery like in the remake of the classic “Roots” TV show or miniseries.
Snoop Dogg wrote on Instagram, “I’m sick of this … How the (expletive) they gonna put ‘Roots’ on Memorial Day? They just going to keep beating that (expletive) into our heads as to how they did us, huh?”
However, like Uncle Silla said, the shame is not ours when it comes to slavery. It belongs to those who owned Black slaves.
The only thing we should feel shame, anger or bitterness for is the stuff that we can control.
And while as an artist myself, I do not believe in censoring artists, some of the lyrics that Snoop and other rappers said back in my younger day does make me angry and ashamed.
The mentality of Black men being gangsters, pimps, misogynists, or drug dealers, often glorified in Snoop Dogg’s lyrics and by random people in the hood, is more offensive to me than glorifying the strength of my ancestors who survived slavery and the Middle Passage.
I am proud of the Kunta Kinte’s of the world and am proud that they are being glorified by Hollywood.
I am ashamed of those who think being a real Black man means being ignorant or criminal.
Snoop Dogg believes that African-Americans should boycott the latest version of the “Roots” TV show because he is tired of seeing us portrayed as slaves.
While we do need more films that focus on us being kings and queens like Nick Cannon once suggested, the problem in Hollywood is that networks and studios are creatively bankrupt like the original adult Kunta Kinte, John Amos said.
Hollywood’s creative bankruptcy is why there are remakes of the “Roots” TV show, “Prison Break,” “Lethal Weapon,” “Uncle Buck,” “Taken” and other classic films and shows.
Because there are so many more networks now than there was when the original “Roots” TV show debuted in 1977, Hollywood has run out of ideas for content.
To solve that problem, Hollywood needs to do a more thorough job researching history.
There are many more stories of those who fought back against slavery that have not reached the big or small screen and that need attention also.
How about a film on Frederick Douglass, who along with many other African-Americans fought back against the evils of slavery?
According to The African American Encyclopedia, “Douglass recalled after a series of floggings from a slaveholder, ‘I had made up my mind that if Mr. Covey tried to beat me in spite of my best efforts to please him, I would defend and protect myself to the best of my ability…I was no longer afraid to die.’
“When Covey tried to whip him, Douglass fought him to a draw. ‘This battle with Mr. Covey was the turning point in my life as a slave. I was a changed being after the fight.’”
How about a film on the slave revolt in St. Domingue in 1793, which led to the creation of the independent nation of Haiti in 1804?
What about a film on Denmark Vesey who found influence from the St. Domingue revolt to plan his own slave revolt?
Before Vesey’s failed insurrection, “He won fifteen hundred dollars in a local lottery, bought his freedom, and opened a carpenter’s shop with the balance. Denmark then became one of the hundreds of free Blacks in Charleston (S.C.),” according to The African American Encyclopedia.
Or what about a biopic on slave revolt leader Cato?
Cato, born in Angola and brought to South Carolina, pulled off the first slave revolt.
Based on a promise by the Spanish to free slaves who were able to reach St. Augustine, Fla, Cato “led a group of about one hundred slaves who broke into a storehouse to obtain weapons and killed more than twenty White people as they attempted to make their way south,” according to The African American Encyclopedia.
Despite Hollywood’s obsession with remaking classics like the “Roots” TV show, there is hope for diversity in the films about slavery that show the strength of African-Americans.
The Nat Turner biopic “The Birth of a Nation” comes out in October.
And in 1999, we had “Amistad” about the revolt on the slave ship led by Joseph Cinque.
These films showed, and will show, that African-Americans have nothing to be ashamed about because of slavery.
If told in a diverse way, these films will show the beauty, resilience and courage that we as a people possess.
Therefore, the ancestors of slaves should not feel shame but pride.
The shame, however, belongs on the other foot, not ours.