Black Movies Matter Because Black Lives Matter

movie Us 2019

Black movies matter. Black art matters. Black photography matters. Black theatre matters. Black literature matters. Black poetry matters. Black music matters…

Black lives matter.

I just want to be solidary, but I’ll tell you the truth – I feel strange writing all this. Because you know what? To me it sounds so redundant because OF COURSE they matter. It’s like saying that the Sun is necessary. That water is wet. It’s like saying that fire is hot. That stones are hard. It’s like saying that …. Well, I hope you got the point.

But I have to tell myself, over and over again, that not everybody thinks the way I do. Sounds obvious? Well, I guess I’m a little bit slow on this.

Just like I had to learn that I live in a sexist world, I had to learn that we also live in a racist world. Both of these realizations came much MUCH later into my life.

It took me a long time to realize that people think according to their experience, their environment, and their level of consciousness. Even now I struggle switching up perspectives to try to understand those that don’t understand. But I try, I do, nevertheless.

Perhaps my inflexibly tolerant thinking is due to my autistic characteristics or perhaps I was raised in a much more comfortable environment than I dared to believe. But the equality of all people would always come as common sense to me. For better or for worse, if somebody did something wrong or wasn’t living up to their full potential or thought themselves being above others, I would always try to find the reasons why instead of attaching these traits to the person. I’ve always felt that in the depths of our core being we humans are all the same if not ONE and the same.

So I thought I’d chip into this massive discourse of black people’s rights with my own opinion, coming from the fields that this online space is all about – the human condition and cinema. So I thought I’ll talk about Black people’s cinema, Black directors, Black actors, Black screenwriters. Something along those lines. And I thought I’ll go through the Black movies* that I’ve recently watched and tell you something about them.

But guess what…

I went through my list of films that I’ve watched in 2018, 2019, and 2020 and was absolutely shocked by my own shameful ignorance…

It turned out that in 2,5 years there were only five movies that I’ve seen created by and about Black people.

Five.

Those movies were these:
Black Panther (2018) by Ryan Coogler,
12 Years a Slave (2013) by Steve McQueen,
Us (2019) and Get Out (2017) by Jordan Peele, and
The First Purge (2018) by Gerard McMurray.

So how come out of 192 movies I’ve watched in 2,5 years only 5 were what one would consider Black movies?

Who’s fault is that?

Hollywood’s?

No, I think that the fault is all mine.

If I call myself a movie buff and a responsible human being concerned about human rights to all people, I should know better than to rely on the white propaganda that’s been pushed all over the place.

12 Years a Slave
12 Years a Slave (2013) by Steve McQueen

I remember when a few years back I was frowning upon an International Women’s Film Festival in Lithuania called “Šeršėliafam” that focuses solely on the movies directed and written by women with storylines about women’s lives and issues. I called myself a feminist but frowned nevetheless because I couldn’t see how is this a feminist act if we exclude female filmmakers from their male counterparts. It took me some time. Again.

Because here’s an intriguing question for you: how many actresses do you think would have gotten an Oscar throughout the whole history of Academy Awards in the categories of the best actor and the best supporting actor if males and females were nominated together? Here’s an example: in the category of Best Director only 5 women filmmakers were ever nominated and only one – that’s right, one! – actually won the Oscar. This is no news to me but I still got the shivers all over my body writing down this fact.

In the category of Best Director only six Black people (men, to be specific) were nominated (first one being as late as 1991, John Songleton) and none won. In the category of Best Actress there was only one Black winner – Halle Berry in 2001. In the category of Best Actor in a Leading Role – 4 Black winner.

Sometimes only by separation and isolated focus we can appreciate a particular group of people, their talents, and their work. #OscarsSoWhite turned a spotlight to the obvious lack of black talents in the nominations for the Oscar – in all categories – and posed a question that perhaps people of color should also have their separate categories? How many subcategories should one category have to include all the genders, races, and age groups for everybody to finally feel represented and being part of this mad game of public recognition?

If we just consume that what’s been given to us by default, we risk of being closed off from the truth. Just like being trapped in our own social media bubbles, if we don’t actively seek out diversity in the books, magazines, and blogs we read, in the music we listen to, in the artworks we go to see, in the films we watch, we might believe it’s all there is.

But I have to say, for someone who was born and raised in a very white post-Soviet Lithuanian society, I’m curiously open-minded towards the people of color. We fear that which we don’t know. And yet. Even in such a homogeneous society I still managed to be exposed to people of colour, even if indirectly. Yes, you guessed it right – I had indirect contact with them and peaked into their (be it fictional) lives by watching Hollywood movies and TV shows (and oh, the music channels!) ever since I can remember being alive. Even if oftentimes those representations in themselves were racists or stereotypical at best, not to mention the one-dimensional token black characters, it was enough of a seed to plant in my subconsciousness to at least know that somewhere in the world there are people who look a little different than me but behave and feel just like me and those actually around me. So I guess it’s true when they say that any publicity is good publicity. Right? Kind of. But still.

So there you have it, such a turbulent and mind-boggling topic of racism and even I, a Caucasian young female digital nomad from Northern-Eastern Europe, had a thing or two to say. ‘Cause you know what? We are all humans and we all have a thing or two to say if we bloody dear to.

To all the white people: we are privileged in this world, whether you like it or not, whether you’ve been aware of it or not. So fight this discriminatory privilege by using it to speak up for those that are silenced or underrepresented. Mass media is still one of the main sources of social education for many but it doesn’t have to be like that. While we wait for fair representation of all minorities in cinema and such, let’s educate one another on a daily basis face-to-face. We all carry responsibility not only for ourselves but for humanity at large.

Black Panther, 2018
Black Panther (2018) by Ryan Coogler

*The definition of a Black film is pretty vague but it usually means a film that has a Black director, Black screenwriter, Black crew, and Black cast, focusing on Black people’s stories, issues, and concerns, and mainly aimed at Black audiences. Some critics, such as Sergio Mims of the African-American-targeted newspaper N’Digo, argue that all of these elements are necessary to call it a Black film while others believe that one or two of them is enough.

Featured image: Screencap from the movie Us, 2019.

Images: Film Grab

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