The American Identity #11: Cultural dares and cheer leading.

I have an anecdote that reflects my annoyance with the way we approach issues.

When the movie Red Tails came out I was excited in anticipation. I love HBOs version, The Tuskegee Airmen, plus a strain of my heritage runs through that campus.  I left the theater disappointed and innocently expressed my view through various channels. I was taken aback by the backlash. I was simply giving my review and unbeknownst to me, committing some faux pas.  It seems I had missed all the hype about how important this film was, and by the way it was marketing genius—well on 2nd thought, not really, the buttons are pretty easy to push-just frame it as someone didn’t want you to make it, all the trouble it took to get it made; as though it was Melvin Van Peebles in 71′. Never mind that there exist, Spike, Bill Duke, Eddie Murphy, Ernest Dickerson, Mario Van Peebles, etc., etc., and the plethora of “Black themed” movies. Still, that old frame help jump-start the hype and those starving for “positive images” on the big screen or the tell our story watch dogs went into effect. Whatever, that’s their thing.  But sometimes it becomes a cultural dare.  I dare you to go off script but any innocuous comment can get you in trouble.   And my comment was simply:  just in the genre of War stories there’s, Glory, A Soldier Story, The Tuskegee Airmen, Miracle at St. Anna; so there’s at least a base level standard.
My sensibilities were offended by the movie and all I heard was cheer leading.   I understand the difficulties still exist (in Hollywood) but that’s no reason to settle for a crappy film.  More to the point, if you don’t get many shots and you’re having trouble producing something, then it damn well better be really good when you do. I’m a big fan of the genre, the War stories about Black American soldiers, and as a consumer I wasn’t satisfied. Then what happened? Protecting it from criticism and going to the box office to show Hollywood, became more important than the Airman’s story. And there’s no way in hell, that same old “they don’t want us” angle is more interesting than the Tuskegee Airmen!
They didn’t do justice to the story and there’s no reason for that because it’s such a rich story, dripping with all kind of metaphors, Democratic ideals, staking one’s claim in a new nation-so many themes to play on.

Anyway, people were saying how important this movie was to Blacks and encouraging Blacks to go to the movie theater.  Look I’m a movie buff, I love being in the theater and like most people have sat through many bad movies.  This isn’t a horrible movie and for the cause I was going to drop $10 anyway.  But my point in all of this is that Red Tails was hailed as such an important movie for Black people. Then these things become some sort of moniker, indicator, signal and turns into a cultural dare.  Towing the line for the sake of towing the line has always felt cheap.   The importance of the movie, I thought that was a gross overstatement.  And besides, it isn’t even the best movie on the subject?

So really, most important, given how the subprime mortgage crisis affected Black Americans, isn’t Inside Job a more important movie for Black folk?  I think so for a few reasons and the lack of interest speaks to an unhealthy preoccupation with and belief in currency of image. Or more to the point, the belief that one can move the needle to a point where it has a real impact.
So this, fall in line cheer leading, is fine to a point, everyone else does it why not us. But I’m not wasting that cache on a not so good movie or as Kris Broughton of BrownManThinkhard wrote in a blog, “the most expensive after school special ever made”.

Provincialism is the new cultural deprivation and information has much more value than affirmation.

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