Janks Morton is attempting to do what some would deem impossible—and he is succeeding. The charismatic 43-year-old filmmaker has set his sights on improving the black community through dialogue and collective action. His first attempt, the documentary film What Black Men Think has been a resounding success, earning accolades from the NAACP in the process. In 84 minutes, Morton manages to confront various myths and fallacies about black men that persist in society. Amazingly, he manages to do this without engaging in the tired “battle of the sexes” style rhetoric that always seems to appear within discussions of the black community.
Ever opinionated, Morton pulls no punches in regards to his views. His views of the government are fairly damning: “At this stage in our history, if we did not learn our lesson from Katrina, when it comes to delivering goods and services to [blacks] then we are falling into the definition of insanity. They are going to come up short when it comes to delivering solutions for our people.” He has also come under fire for knocking some of the best loved pet causes of the black community. Check out his take on reparations:
“Before he passed, Johnnie Cochran did a full examination of the case for reparations, the potential for a legal movement on behalf of an aggrieved people, and basically walked away and said ‘It ain’t gonna happen.’” One of the greatest legal minds in our example says it isn’t gonna happen—so all the rest sounds like false hope. If Cochran says it’s not gonna happen, why are we talking about it?
It’s a wasted discussion, it’s a waste of focus, it is a waste of energy. We have too many other pressing issues to move forward with—it’s just not going to happen!”
While his views may incense some, the overall message is stunningly effective. Utilizing clear cut questions, easy to follow analysis, expert commentary and spoken word, Morton’s documentary should be in the DVD collection of every black household in America.
Clutch caught up with Morton via telephone as he is currently touring to promote the film. Over the course of two hours, he offers his thoughts on the making of the film, the feature of the black community, reparations and how to move forward.
Q: What were you trying to accomplish with WBMT?
It’s a docu-logue—a documentary designed to create dialogue. And it’s doing exactly that. It was designed to provide a springboard for the conversations that a lot of black people are having, but just aren’t being heard.
Q: Why did you choose film as the medium for your message?
I was watching Michael Eric Dyson and Juan Williams debate on C-SPAN. A week later, I was watching a movie with Kevin Spacey in it called Beyond the Sea. In the movie, Spacey’s character is transitioning his career, and he said, “People hear what they see.”
There’s nothing really new about [my] movie. A lot of the things that are being advanced in the film have already been written about in books, newspapers, in op-ed and [talked about] at the barbershop. But in this 21st century, to capture an issue you need it on film. Film really gets this message moving forward.
Q: Has your film found its audience?
It’s kind of like the life cycle of a product. Right now, we’re in the early adopter stage. Those are the people who see it and want to run out and do something about it. I really believe that once some of the large black media begins to pick up on this—we’re talking the Harveys, the Joyners, the Basidens—that’s when the second phase will begin.
Q: Why are there so many conservative perspectives in the film?
I’ll preface this answer with this: I asked everyone—and I mean everyone—I could get my hands on. Skip Gates, Michael Eric Dyson, Cornel West, Julian Bond. Probably a few other names. I was going across all political spectrums because I believe if you are talking to Dr. Alvin Pouissant or a Dr. Shelby Steele about our situation, our history or their 12-year-old boy who just came to the door with their pants hanging down, they are going to sound alike. Just give me 90 minutes to just strip away the political dialogue so we can get down to our situation.
If you look at our history, as you look from Booker T. to WEB DuBois, from Malcolm to Martin, from Langston to Fredrick Douglas, we have always had this dichotomy in the community. But their ultimate goal was the advancement of the community.
When the politics are stripped away, these men will sound about the same. Because they are black men.
Q: What do you think is the connection between black leadership and politics?
It seems that if someone falls on the right side of the spectrum as opposed to the left side, it means that they are not really speaking on behalf of African Americans. What do you think?
Where are we in the 21st century when we will alienate or ostracize any dissenting voice? I am critical of some of the voices we have in our community, but I would never ostracize them. And that is one of the challenges that we get into—and it is not unique to blacks—you have to differentiate between arguing and fighting. Not many people know the difference. Arguing is debating a difference, and that is what I am advancing in the film. Fighting is to win and defeat. You’ll hear language from some people on the left that blacks of a certain viewpoint have been dismissed.
And I want to know, by who?
There have always been competing ideologues in our history. The ultimate goal of those voices was the advancement of a people. We thoroughly dismiss anyone that does not ascribe to whatever the current definition of black is and I think that is a mistake. Right now we have some critical issues that have arisen over the past 40 years that need to be addressed. I don’t care who is talking about it. As a black man in this country, I will listen to them all and I will try to fairly represent them in the film.
Q: Do you believe there is a class divide in the African American community?
I don’t buy into that at all. That war, the classism, the sexism, all of the isms . . . it’s not our war. We’ve adopted it, and we espouse that language, but it is not our war. The way we overcame was because we came together. The divisions these things perpetuate among us, I believe, is by design. I think in our hearts, we really want each other—other blacks—to be their best.
Q: You recently partnered with Tim Alexander to partner to promote your film and his film. Why did you chose to partner with Tim Alexander [who is the creator of Diary of a Tired Black Man]?
The real reason was . . . well, we’re both up for NAACP Image award together. If you look at his film, Tyler’s [Perry] work, [Bill] Cosby’s work, my film—they are all explorations of our relationships. The NAACP is really trying to address our image and where we are right now and how we think about ourselves. There are some independent voices like Tim’s out there. I am an independent voice. We are providing an alternative message to what you are traditionally seeing from Hollywood, from the mainstream media and from the 6 o’clock news. So in order to qualify, we both had to screen our films for one week in either New York or Los Angeles. Even though we have two completely different movies, it made more sense for us to screen the films together and provide Los Angeles an opportunity to see both films from two up-and-coming independent filmmakers.
You don’t have to agree with us, but it is different. I will say that his view of male and female relationships is a bit different from mine.
If you are going to link the two of us, the main link is that we are two black independent filmmakers. That’s where the synergy is between the two of us. We are telling two different stories but we are telling them devoid of the typical Hollywood machinery. We are two filmmakers with two different messages who provide two case studies to learn from: it can be done if you stand up on your own feet and believe in what you want to do. We can do it. We can take some power back from that monstrous machine that has denigrated us for so many years.
Q: So where in this is the black female perspective? I am not saying you have to solve all the world’s problems in one film, but I guess we are looking for balanced perspectives.
When I lecture in public I talk about this. Black men and black women have been vilified, demonized, denigrated over the past 40 years. I am not going to fight for the title of “doormat to society.” I will say as a black man, I have a more personal attachment to black men than I do to black women’s issues. And I do believe that we have gotten a little shorter end of the stick than black women have when it comes to our images and portrayals. You guys have got Essence and Cosmo and all kinds of things that have been discussed for the past 40 years.
I’m not asking to start a network for black men, just give me 90 minutes to start the conversation. Just to talk about the more venomous stereotypes about black men. Let me start with those. Then if the conversation goes the way I see it going, the restoration of black men would also lead to the restoration of ways in which we should treat [black women]. As we move forward, if we are treating you better, then I won’t have to do another movie about the stereotypes facing black women – it will be because we stopped treating you that way.
I know that this war [between the sexes] between us is a money making cow. Corporate executives can take this war all the way to the bank. They are getting paid. I am trying to wake the community up. If we are going to play these games, we need to know the rules, and who is really winning.
The tag-line of the movie is, “There are people and principalities with a vested interest to misinform you so they can mismanage you.” And our mismanagement has led to our division, and that division has led to a very large profit line. For somebody.
Q: What do you want viewers to take from the movie?
I say two things in the movie: ask the right questions and be better informed. If you are going to argue (or even fight), do not go into there half-loaded because you will lose. If you look at our situation over the last 40 years as it relates to our families, we have lost. We have made great educational strides, we have made economic strides, we have made great strides in corporations, we are everywhere. We are [in] places our grandparents couldn’t even dream of being. But we did it at the expense of our families. And that is the relationship between men and women and our children.
Q: Some people have disputed your explanation of the statistics, particularly in reference to the “more black men in college than in jail” interpretation and definitions. Why do you think people would want to challenge your explanation of the myths surrounding black men?
That person who quickly ascribes to the worst in us . . . well, I’ll make this parallel, and I am a man of faith. Martin told us 40 years ago we will get to the promised land. And if you look at the children of Israel after they left the bondage of Egypt, they had to wander in the desert for 40 years. They did two things while they were out there: they built a nation and they purged themselves. And those who followed the old ways got left behind. If you read your bible it will tell you, can’t everybody go. Those who hold on to [the worst in us] and bury us by ascribing to the worst in us are going to get purged. It’s just where we are in our history.
And I’m not preaching nothing new. This is just what is happening right now.
To those people who will fight me over a lie, I see you for who you are. And we will move forward without you.
That’s just what I feel in my heart.
Q: Why do you think people are willing to believe the lies that are perpetuated about us in the media?
For 400 years, someone has told my people that we are less than. That we do not measure up. And it is their responsibility to make us whole. We believed that! Up until about 40 years ago, we overcame in spite of that message. Now we choose not to overcome because of that message.
If you look at the part of the film where I explore the late 60s, they told us that they were going to make us whole. If you buy into that—if you buy into the problem—then you have to purchase their solution. Part of the problem says “you are not good enough.” The solution says “you will go to jail before you go to college.” It just makes sense. It’s the natural, logical progression of disenfranchisement. We thought that we weren’t doing well. I am telling you that the investment from the government, the public schools, the black leadership is to tell you that black people did nothing between Harriet Tubman in 1865 and 1965. But I will tell you, as a black man who knows his history, we handled our business and we handled it with our families.
We owned businesses. We stayed together. We raised our children. We built communities. Go rent Rosewood again. That story was replicated too many times in our community. It wasn’t an exception. It wasn’t an anomaly. That’s what we did until about 1965.
Q: Anything else you wanted to add before we wrap the interview?
Yeah, I’m back on the market again, you know if I could just get a wife . . . just kidding.
Clutch: We’ll put you in the Why Are You Single? feature . . .
Put the comic book shot on me. I’ll hold up some numbers. “I’m single because . . . ”
To learn more about Janks Morton and to purchase the documentary please visit WWW.WHATBLACKMENTHINK.COM