Should White Filmmakers Tell Black Stories?

by Britni Danielle

An interesting thing happened in the comments section of the post in which I shared the short film, The Strange Thing About the Johnsons. While many were (rightly) disturbed by the film, others wondered why the filmmaker, Ari Aster—who is apparently White—chose to cast a Black family in such a controversial story. Some wondered if the filmmaker was playing to the common stereotype of Black men being hypersexual, aggressive, and abusers.

One commenter, Mkazi, questioned the representation of the Black family in the film, saying:

“If we DIDN’T live in a world where black men are constantly criminalized and hypersexualized by the media, in a world obsessed with showcasing all kinds of dysfunctional black families, a world that constantly rams these things down our throats, then the fact that this film (written and directed by a white man) focuses on a BLACK family wouldn’t matter to me.

“BUT unfortunately we do live in a world where all of these things exist. The fact that this white director chose to have this highly dysfunctional family be BLACK is no “accident”, even if he didn’t consciously make that choice (though I’m sure he did). Especially since there are so few fictional representations of black families to begin with. There is not a lot of work for black actors out there, and when there is, it’s usually sterotypical [sic] roles.” 

Another commenter, Cree agreed, wondering why abuse seems to be a popular meme among directors.

“This is the thiird film in the last six months posted by Clutch that poses black men as the abuser. Of these three films posted, two of the directors were white males. 

“I ask, why is this such a popular premise for white and black directors alike? What does it mean when films with black casts have to be centered around stories of abuse? When the majority of films showing black people are crafted this way?”

Others, pushed back against the notion that the film was pedaling in stereotypes, and even questioned if race always in play when the cast is Black.

Deech said, “It’s important to see black actors is roles that will take them out of the stereotypical box,” and Timcampi took the argument a step forward, wondering if “darker,” more controversial roles were off limits to Black actors simply because of the way in which Blacks have been stereotyped in the past.

Timcampi wondered, “It’s like darker roles are untouchable because of ‘the way black men are commonly portrayed.’ Wtf. It’s insulting.”

She continued, “Also to me it’s still insulting to say that these actors are doing nothing more than adhering to some BS stereotype. There’s a lot more going on in the story than one realizes at first glance. It’s pretty brilliant. To me it wasn’t a black family with some kinda dysfunction. It was just A FAMILY dealing with a rather private and emotional dilemma.”

The argument around whether or not White filmmakers can accurately capture “the Black experience” (whatever that is) on film has been debated before. Spike Lee was extremely critical of the decision to tap Michael Mann to direct ‘Ali’ the film about the legendary boxer’s life, noting that he—a Black director—would be able to tell Ali’s story more effectively. While others have hailed directors like Steven Spielberg (“The Color Purple”), Norman Jewison (“The Hurricane”), and Taylor Hackford (“Ray”) for being able to authentically capture an “authentic” experience on film.

So, should White filmmakers make “Black” films, especially those about controversial topics? And is race always at play when the cast is Black?

Let’s talk about it!

  • FIlmFatale_NYC

    I watched “Strange Things About The Johnsons” last night. I won’t lie–I almost stopped watching 4 minutes into the film, but it turned out to be a very dark and effective drama. To me, I saw the story of how abuse is cyclical–the victim was now the perpetuator. I didn’t see this movie as the “Black Experience”, it was more a story with universal themes–that just happened to have a cast of color. Honestly this storyline could have easily played out on an episode of “Law & Order: SVU”–think of how many episodes they had dealing with incest and molestation.

  • sunday

    I suppose the history of what “race” means in America is what makes questioning the relevance of white directors directing black films legitimate. Most disturbing is I’m never completely sure if the white directors understand the gravity of what they’re doing. It doesn’t matter if they don’t have a racist bone in their body, they’re still influenced by mainstream culture and I believe that necessitates a conscious effort to make sure they aren’t giving to stereotypes or any other sort of negativity.

    After looking more into the director of the movie short, I was even more bothered by the movie than after initially viewing it–if that was even possible. The fact that he sees this as a dark comedy lets me know he is completely clueless about the portrayal of blacks in media. Does he think “The Color Purple” was a comedy too? Does he think it’s oh so hilarious that black women are ran through the mud in just about every Tyler Perry film, or that black male buffoonery should be his next topic to tackle?

    I used to question our (I’m a black woman) sensitivity to these issues, but honestly, you can’t tell a people not to question these sorts of things when stuff like this continues to occur on a regularly basis. I believe the very last of official Jim Crow laws didn’t disappear until the 60s or 70s (correct me if I’m wrong, it’s been a while!), meaning someone born in those times are only in their 30s and 40s–case in point, asking us to chalk it all up and smile is asking for quite a bit, considering what precedes that is hundreds of years of second class citizenry.

    I’m writing a book so I’ll stop here, but hopefully my drift has been caught!

  • SAA

    Race is most definitely always at play when the cast is Black and it always will be because I feel some African Americans racialize EVERYTHING, examples of this can be found on nearly every single post on this website of topics similar to this. It’s getting very tired. I’m waiting for someone to wring The Help through the loom. Every piece of media that depicts an image of African Americans/ Blacks is not always a stereotype or racist or bigoted. So because someone doesn’t share your “racial” group they can’t depict it in any type of media? What is this over-sensitive P.C. bullcrap?!

  • Timcampi

    Ugh I sound like a completely dofus at night time, lmao. Let me expound my thoughts in a more articulate fashion. I’m not used to being so passionate at such a late hour. I think many people ignored the premise of the short film you posted yesterday in favor of focusing on race. But, I will try to be more respectful of the opinions of those persons haha. This will be my last rant about this:

    There are cases in which directors will genuinely exploit the common interpretation of the black experience in order to demean us as a people. This was not the case. If you listened to the lines you could clearly see this wasn’t a story that was playing off of racial stereotypes. First, let’s look at the movie description: “An AFI Thesis film. A dark domestic melodrama/satire about the ties that bind, and the ties that REALLY bind.” Not comedy. Satire. Satire doesn’t always mean funny. In fact, the correct definition is “the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc”. When you realize that the father is the most unlikely victim because he is BLACK, MALE, and THE PROTECTOR it movie’s use of irony becomes evident. It is in the son’s ghastly and twisted understanding of love the dilemma is exposed, and it is in the mother’s pain and regret in the final scenes where we see this family’s folly/vice.

    There’s a whole ‘nother paragraph to be said about how this all takes place inside a house. It’s very inside. A house shelters, a house protects, but here it is used to hide shame and confused/misplaced intimacy. The father’s autobiography is called ‘Cocoon Man’– which directly translates into his character: Docile. Ineffective. Hidden. But that’s a discussion for only a person who is interested :’D

    But, once again you cannot decide based on the race of the directors or the cast if a movie is racist or not. Not every opulent Caucasian man is out to abuse the wholesome visage of the Black race. Think of it this way: if the parts can (seamlessly) translate into White, Asian, Hispanic, biracial actors then it’s not racist. However, this is just my opinion…

  • Timcampi

    Also everything else I wanted to say was beautifully stated by Tina on the short film’s comment board. Pg 2.

  • BeautyIAM

    I remember a similar question was asked on Racialicious. However, the question had to do with white authors being able to write about characters of color.

    I have to say that white people have not had the best track record when it comes to portraying people of color. So I understand how people of color become skeptical of a white director focusing on black characters. However, I don’t think that color should have to always limit you on what you can and cannot talk about as an artist.

    When I watched The Stange Thing About the Johnsons, the race of the family wasn’t my main focus. Moreso was the fact that the family was really screwed up. Like someone already mentioned, this short could have featured anyone one from any race and it still would have been insane.

    I do get annoyed of white film makers that put characters of color in their movies, but want to dodge any critical questions regarding race.

  • sunday

    Read the article and comments. No one said a white director can’t direct a movie with a black cast. In fact if you read my comments, I switched from being neutral on the subject to questioning the intent of the director. Read/watch interviews of him. No one is calling for political correctness either, in fact even if the director came out and said “Yep, I hate black people!” political correctness is irrelevant.

    This isn’t a race friendly society, so topics like these will always come up. You cannot ask a people not to think about or discuss something that’s a part of their daily lives.

  • sunday

    I don’t know about other commenters, but the question of the directors motives only came into play after reading and watching his interviews about the movie. He a good director, but leaves me asking several questions. I was actually neutral to racial undertones until I saw the director speak elsewhere.

  • Timcampi

    @sunday

    I haven’t seen the interview. Please link it.

  • Legallylove05

    There are some legitimate criticisms of white screenwriters and directors telling black stories. We all know them, so no need to go into them. Having said that, I don’t think “The Strange Thing About the Johnsons” is a black story. Yes, the characters are black, but the story could have be told in the exact same way if the family were Asian, Latino, white, etc.

    A few days ago, I was having a discussion with some friends who are writers and directors about the lack of diversity in Hollywood (precipitated by Steve McQueen’s comments here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/17/steve-mcqueen-its-shamefu_n_1099740.html). One of the things we agreed upon is that there are plenty of race-neutral high-concept films that could actually be cast with actors of color in any role. I think this is one of those pieces. I won’t say race couldn’t be relevant to the story, but that’s just not the direction it took.

    I’m as critical as the next person about representations of race in film and literature. However, I think sometimes we want it both ways. We want more meaningful representations in entertainment; however, we complain when they’re not to our liking. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t complain about being typecast and stereotyped. But, as a film snob, I thought this story was extremely compelling and I’m glad that the director made the choice to cast black folks because it’s refreshing to see black faces in a well-acted and interesting piece that doesn’t involve Tyrese, shuckin’ and jivin’, church, slavery (need I go on?).

  • Trini

    OK. So let me see if I got this straight. We complain about NOT seeing black actors in deep meaningful roles but when one comes along we STILL complain because the role falls into somebodys idea of an offensive stereotype and to add insult to injury, the filmmaker has the audacity to be white. Oh dear God the nerve!

    *SIGH*

  • d_nicegirl

    Exactly. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t complain about the lack of mainstream roles for Black actors and then racialize every role a Black actor portrays.

  • Timcampi

    @Trini

    Oh gosh, the way people talk about white directors and their inability to ‘properly’ handle black characters is borderline racist. What makes a role uniquely black? What the hell is ‘handling’ black actors? I just don’t even…

  • WhatIThink

    Hollywood is all about telling stories and pushing propaganda. Unfortunately, since the very beginning these things have been used against African Americans, starting with “Birth Of a Nation” the nations first feature length film.

    But the question asked by the article is really a round about way of getting to the core issue. Namely, is Hollywood still pushing stereotypical images and propaganda against African Americans. The answer is yes. White directors are not necessary for this to be true as black directors follow the same trend. And the problem is not the directors so much (it is a problem…. but) as it is the people who go see such crap. If black people stopped going to see this stuff and touting it as somehow uplifting to always see black folks in stereotypical fashion, then people would stop making such films. Hollywood is also a business after all.

    You can clearly see that most black oriented entertainment is stereotypical and following a pattern of propaganda in the following facts: When was the last time you saw a movie about rape and incest featuring an all white cast? When was the last time you saw a movie about wife beating and abuse with an all white cast? And if you did see them, what percentage of films with all white casts have such themes? Now compare that to those for African Americans…..

  • Timcampi

    “When was the last time you saw a movie about rape and incest featuring an all white cast?”

    I can count ten without even blinking; starting with the Hills Have Eyes. Seriously, do you even watch movies or do you like imagining that white people are fairy creatures that can do no wrong?

    “And if you did see them, what percentage of films with all white casts have such themes? Now compare that to those for African Americans….”

    African-Americans are rarely portrayed in films if at all. So of course the number is going to be skewed -___-. But if we’re going to talk about black movies in general, you need to hop over to Nollywood and get your fair fix of awesome black acting. Have you seen Lumumba? I believe that was filmed by a white director and it was a brilliant movie.

  • edub

    Yep, it’s much easier to complain. Quite frankly, I’m so tired of it. Put up or shut up. If you want a more FUBU film industry, invest in it, otherwise, STFU.

  • WhatIThink

    The hills have eyes was a horror flick and only one movie. Where is the equivalent of Precious or The color purple with an all white cast? Mommy dearest is about the closest example I can think of. But such films are in the minority.

    That is not the case for most black films. The point being that there is not the depth and breadth of themes covered in films targeted for black audiences as there is for the mainstream.

    Part of it is because most of those targeting a black audience seem to feel that only certain themes are going to be popular or “realistic” as representing the “African American” experience. But that makes it easy to pander to stereotypes. To me a black film is simply a film with a majority black cast and can be any kind of film and doesn’t have to fit into any specific categories.

    You shouldn’t have to go to Nigeria to find directors and writers who can be more creative when it comes to films targeted at black audiences, regardless of the color of the director.

  • http://www.clutchmagazine.com Clutch

    @WhatIThink

    Just FYI, many films with all White casts have dealt with issues of rape & abuse. Just off the top of my head I can think of…

    Monster
    A Clockwork Orange
    Hounddog
    Boys Don’t Cry
    The Accused
    The Last House on the Left

    and many, many more…

    I just wanted to inject a bit of “fairness” in the discussion, I don’t want folks thinking that Black movies are the only ones that deal w/ rape and abuse.

    Good discussion!

    ~britni

  • Timcampi

    @WhatIThink

    I totally agree with your first post in some respects so excuse me if I repeat everything you’ve already state aha.

    “[...] Mommy dearest is about the closest example I can think of. [...]”

    That You Can Think Of. Do you want me to give you a list? There’s more than fifty. This is so easily google-searched… Also The Color Purple with an all white cast? That’s like saying let’s have Glory with an all white cast… which is essentially what Braveheart was. If you’re trying to find movies that involve whites being enslaved, you’re probably SOL unless you take a look at Scottish/Irish conflicts with Britain. So the comparison there is unfortunately irrelevant. Movies that run in the vein of Precious? Any movie about poor white trash really. Which there are plenty of.

    Here’s a small list of crudely depicted rapes and incest movies very few of them concern an all minority cast. Upon them are Apocalypto and The Joy Luck Club. Lastly, incest and horror go hand in hand. Every movie from the Texas Chain Saw Massacre to Rosemary’s Baby has implemented it’s use. To ignore that would be disingenuous:

    http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080209183922AAAaIBP

    And a list of rape and revenge films… which is a whole sub-genre of white women getting raped and getting revenge on white men of which seven contain any minority castings at all. :

    http://www.imdb.com/list/AG_O12R_Qd8/

    I don’t doubt there aren’t more movies that perpetrate the black stereotype, but the movie discussed in this article is not one of them.

    “You shouldn’t have to go to Nigeria to find directors and writers who can be more creative when it comes to films targeted at black audiences [...]”

    You’re right. You shouldn’t have to. But it’s not like Blacks in the States support their own media. There are plenty of indie films with black casts and directors. They are not hard to find. But no one wants to. It’s very lazy to complain about how media portrays black people when you don’t take the time to uplift those who get it right. ABG is a huge success because for once, some people took the time to make Issa Rae known.

  • miql

    Current “Black” movies are too caught up in its own blackness to tell a coherent story.

    I’ll have more faith when there’s less posturing and portrayal and more of a focus on actual storytelling.

    There are many issues with white folks telling black stories, but we really need to get over ourselves.

  • Timcampi

    Oh darn, forgot my link about incest!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incest_in_popular_culture

    And there ya go. Mostly white. Just like the media.

  • Trini

    @d_nicegirl
    @Timcampi
    @edub

    Glad to see some sanity in the comment section! Your comments are truly a breath of fresh air and much appreciated.

  • Trini

    @CLUTCH

    Thank you for taking the time to “inject a bit of “fairness.”” It certainly is needed in this post!

  • jamesfrmphilly

    white filmmaker – bad black people, black filmmaker – bad black people.
    it seems that film is for the purpose of making black people look bad.
    maybe that’s why i have stopped watching?

  • WhatIThink

    Thanks for the list. I wasn’t aware of those. But to be fair while there are movies that are in the mainstream about incest and rape, only two movies focus exclusively on characters that are continually raped and abused as children and their fate: The Color Purple and Precious. There is no movie set with primarily white characters that comes close. Most films speak of rape and abuse in a past tense and them move on, but these two are focused on it from beginning to end and feature children as the main characters. Houndog is similar but the rape is not by a family member and the abuse is more verbal and not necessarily sexual.

    Now keep in mind, both of these were originally books written by black authors. So in reality this is not purely a race issue. It is an issue of what defines “black cinema”. And after all, Precious was directed by a black director.

    I think the main issue is one of clout and power. Do black directors and producers have the clout to put on stories that are important for and to black folks? But that implies that the current crop of black directors actually wants to do exclusively black oriented films, which is not necessarily true. Some just want to be known as good directors, period, which makes a lot of sense. But at the same time, if there are projects and stories that some feel should be told and told in a certain way, then of course there is more than enough talent and money among black entertainers to get them done theoretically. Now whether they do or not is a whole different story.

  • chanela

    yes! *sigh* indeed! it doesnt even make sense. no wonder why people dont put black folks in movies in the first place.

    “why the light skinnededed girl gotta be the lead?” “why the dark skinnededed man gotta be the villain?” “why they gotta be in a interracial relationship?” “why the black family gotta be dysfunctional” “why the black family aint got no problems?” “why the black family gotta live in the ghetto! we dont all live in the hood!” “why the black family gotta live in the suburbs? are we supposed to be ashamed of living in the hood?””why the black folks gotta use slang?” ” why the black folks not usin slang? its our culture” “why the dark skinnededed females not in the music videos? we’re not pretty enough?” “why they always gotta have the dark skinndeded black females shakin they booty? we have degrees blah blah blah”

    ^ i see this in nearly every article. STOP IT! SHUT UP! figure out what you want, because apparently its damned if you do and damned if you don’t when it comes to the black community. SMH

  • WhatIThink

    Just to emphasize the point that this isn’t about the race of the director, since you mentioned Nollywood, most of their films are about the same kinds of stereotypical topics that we are talking about in America: cheating boyfriends, cheating wives, baby mama drama, baby daddy drama, with some sort of “redemption” at the end a la Tyler Perry plays of the 90s. There aren’t many white folks involved in Nollywood.

    Prime example: black berry babes

  • chanela

    thank you! we can never have a movie with an all black cast without having “being black” as a subject or substory. we can never have a movie with a black and non black couple without that being mentioned in the movie/tv show. its pathetic and i wish it would stop. everything isnt about race!

  • Beautiful Mic

    I think they should, just going by some of the past black cast films directed by whites: Feat of All Saints, Color Purple, Conrack, Amistad, Roots, Sarafina…these films had very distinct black cultural settings that were well portrayed.

    This film by Ari Aster did the same thing. It was very thorough in it’s depiction of culture and time. It didn’t even show Blacks in the usual cultural setting

    Many films by black filmmakers get caught up in contemporary, black popular culture, cliches and they lack depth. I, honestly, will say that most of Tyler Perry’s films lack this type of depth, with the exception of a couple. However, he seems to be getting better a film director.

    Spike Lee achieves depths in his films, for example, in “Crooklyn”.

    Daughters of the Dust was another well done film by a black a black filmmaker, Julie Dash.

    We need objectivity in that area, because not all black filmmakers do a great job in portraying, fairly, the black experience. Every filmmaker has their bias – Spike Lee has his own bias in portraying black people. Some black filmmakers also engage in perpetuating negative stereotypes of black people in their films, some don’t. White filmmakers offer the same in their portrayal of blacks on film.

  • Whatever

    @ Trini

    “OK. So let me see if I got this straight. We complain about NOT seeing black actors in deep meaningful roles”

    These roles were “deep and meaningful”? How?

  • Whatever

    Too bad the interview with Ari Aster describing the film’s premise as a “JOKE” has been removed from youtube (things that make you go hmmmm). Anyway, now he can pretend like this film is actually “thought provoking” “meaningful” “deep”, or truly deals with the issues of abuse, incest and rape… and at the same time get black people on board with it. Because after all he is showing a black middle class family and not some hoodrat ish or country shucking and jiving. He has cast black actors in “serious” roles. Good for him and bravo. When we say we want to be portrayed differently and not like the stereotypes we see on reality tv this is clearly what we mean because of course this must be the only other option. Rolling My Eyes

    There were plenty of examples of other films listed above. Can anyone find one of a dysfunctional Jewish family written and directed by a black man/woman? Happy Hunting… when it comes to Hollywood, clearly race never plays a role.

  • Trini

    @Whatever

    When I used the words “deep and meaningful” i wasnt referring to the roles in this film. I was referring to what is often said to be lacking in black roles.

  • Whatever

    And let’s be 100% real here, race ALWAYS plays a role because we are constantly being misrepresented or underrepresented in the media. Therefore, there is not a d*mn thing wrong with us being critical about the way we are portrayed on film. “The Strange Thing About the Johnsons” is ONLY being discussed on Clutch because the cast is ALL BLACK. Had the family been white I highly doubt there would even be a post about it.

    We are in a constant battle to have our voices heard by Hollywood which is why there are sooooo many posts on Clutch alone about reality shows, Tyler Perry films (and the way they portray black women) and what’s missing in TV/Film. So no matter whether the director is black or white we all have the right to question and critique…

  • miql

    Can we just admit that black movies generally add a syrupy, drippy cornball layer that white folks don’t/can’t?

    *opening scene*

    *middle aged Black woman Sr. Executive Director of marketing firm drives in her Audi*
    (remember, kids, she’s a Black woman and she’s successful!)

    *pulls into her ultra modern, de stijl designed house w/ sleek lines and minimalist furniture*
    (and she has style)

    *she rambles on her smart phone about how hard it is to find “a good Black man” because she’s so successful*

    *she dates a dark skin dude w/ muscles (enter Tyrese/Bokeem Woodbine/Mekhi Phifer look-alike #731) licking his lips*

    *each transition has 3rd-rate r&b/neo-soul/re-hashed hip hop beats*

    I mean…come on!
    Negroes are corny behind the camera.

    But we’re worried about a shortfilm where the family just happens to be Black?
    Whatevs.

  • African Mami

    shout outs to my girl Timcampi, girrrrrrrrrrrrl u’z a starrrrrrrrrrrrra! Brit mentioning you and shit!!!!! can I gets an autograph?!

  • Perverted Alchemist

    I remember when Spike Lee had posed this question 20 years ago when Norman Jewison was asked by Warner Bros. Pictures to helm the “Malcolm X” film- and he raised holy hell about that, if anyone is old enough to remember. He insisted that a White filmmaker wasn’t in a positon to deal with a film of that magnitude, mostly because they were never really a part of Black people’s culture to fully understand it.

  • Srenda

    @miql This right here. You nailed it! lmao

  • luminous

    @WhatIThink, The Unsaid (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0258967) is a movie with an all white cast about mother/son incest which focuses on the child.

  • rw

    color blind me didn’t give a damn who the director was of “the strange truth about the johnsons’. cinematography was great, internet quality film was amazing, i was on the edge of my seat, actors chosen were perfect for roles….. ya the subject was haunting
    but why Ari Astor gimme more!!!!

  • Kaydee-P

    It’s kind of wild how people are railing against this movie when this is exactly the kind of film we want to see more black actors and actors of color in- a film that pushes buttons, explores new depth, tells a story, and….could easily have been cast with all white people. As black actors and actresses, we want more than the stereotypical roles. You want textbook angry abusive black man? You will find that faster in a Tyler Perry flick than you will in The Strange Thing About the Johnsons. This isn’t a period piece, or a critical race piece, or even a popcorn flick where the simplest characters of color are grossly mishandled. Now, disagreeing with the subject matter is one thing. But equating your dislike with disrespecting the Black Experience or typecasting is another. It’s also wrong.

  • luminous

    @WhatIThink, Bastard Out of Carolina (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bastard_Out_of_Carolina_%28film%29) is another film with an all white cast about a girl that is sexually and physically abused by her stepfather just like Precious and Color Purple. It is also based on a novel.

  • luminous

    @WhatIThink, Bastard Out of Carolina is another film with an all white cast about a girl that is sexually and physically abused by her stepfather just like Precious and Color Purple. It is also based on a novel.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bastard_Out_of_Carolina_%28film%29

  • Pseudonym

    “yES!” to the Clutch comment. Honestly, when I saw the film I thought of it as an “American Beauty” with an all black cast.

  • http://mydoubleconsciousness.wordpress.com/ Alexander Allen

    Being Black doesn’t make you an expert on the Black struggle. Being white doesn’t cripple you from knowledge of Black history and nuances. With that said, white filmmakers should be allowed to tell Black stories. Race wouldn’t be an issue if Tyler Perry directed it. We’ve become well adjusted to Perry’s cinematic marginalization of people of color. What if Ari Aster directed “For Colored Girls”? Would race change it’s meaning?

  • Timcampi

    @African Mami

    Ahaha =P Gosh golly you know how to make a chick feel special.

  • B

    “So, should White filmmakers make “Black” films, especially those about controversial topics?”
    *Nope. The days during which we needed them to tell our stories are over. No one can tell our stories like us, because no one can understand those stories better than us. We are responsible now. And if those stories are not being told, it is our fault and no one else’s.

    “And is race always at play when the cast is Black?”
    *Yes. And race is also always at play when the cast is WHITE (of course, white folks like to think of themselves as raceless), when the cast is Latino, Asian, etc. Blacks and nonwhites aren’t the only folks who have a race.

  • http://@clnmike Clnmike

    True but Malcolm X was a race movie from the perspective of a black man thats why a white director wouldnt be qualified to direct it. The story in this film to me was race neutral, it’s open game for anyone.

  • Simone L

    I’m doing a paper so I don’t feel like writing much. If they can do it with dignity, yes. Black directors can make black actors look like fools in a damn minstrel show. Is it okay then, because the director is black? If he were white, we’d want him crucified. I was proud when I first learned “The Color Purple” was by a white man, director Steven Spielberg. Tell the story, and tell it right. I don’t care if you’re purple with a green penis…bring dignity and respect for the story. At the end of the day, I feel black people will bitch about anything.I’m black too, so let’s put the truth out there.

  • chris brown

    White film makers have no right telling black stories to begin with. The amount of lies that have been told to us and still told to us to this day i think its time to stop. I agree, no one cannot understand real black issues and black problems much less tell black stories other than a black person. PERIOD. I can’t tell anyone else about being white or telling white stories about having white privileges, or never experience racism, or police brutality, how the hell can anyone relate that are non- black? my point exactly and the answer is a big NO!

  • chris brown

    Besides, if the story is coming from a white film maker, we all know which ever villian or bad guy in the movie is gonna be a black man. The ish is so damn obvious.

  • Oh bother

    +1

  • E.M.S.

    While race is often played in many aspects of our societies, it isn’t always. Sometimes it’s we ourselves who play the race card and then get upset. Stop and think about these situations from all angles before you decide that just because blacks are involved, there’s racist undertones.

    I’m not sure how I feel about it one way or the other, but I do feel a lot of black people pull the race card on their own.

    More importantly though, I think society as a whole needs to stop making such a big deal out of race. It’s one part of your identity, but it doesn’t define the rest of you. The color of your skin should be no more significant than whether you’re a Lakers fan or not.

    If that were the case, nobody would get all huffed up over things like this.

  • Usagi

    Co-signed. I think alot of African American movies try too damn hard. Just make a good story with characters that just happen to be black. Also, please write something other than drama or comedy.

  • Usagi

    I would love to see a well-written awesome black villan. What’s wrong with that ? Why does everything have to be so PC with you Americans ?

  • Sheerah200

    Can Spike, Tyler, Jon, or Lee direct every single script about blacks that makes it to their desks? So why shouldn’t white directors tell black stories? They are often written by black writers and God bless them if they can sell a screenplay!!

    As a black woman, I must confess that though there are many good black men out there, there are also many who see themselves as “players” who use and abuse women as a lifestyle, never marrying, and after a quick wine, dine, bang, bye, they move on. I don’t think it is realistic to demand that for the sake of political correctness, the stories of the women “left behind” bruised and broken shoud not be told!

    Most stereotypes have their genesis in our every day experiences, and good or bad, they make us look at ourselves in the light of someone elses scrutiny. We should accept that.

  • Rachel

    Black movie producers have been around for a long time, as far back as silent picture era, they weren’t mainstream they were community sponsored. However majority of the mainstream releases in the past 90 years that had anything to do with blacks were written and directed by whites. The end result were comfortable images of blacks for the white masses, in a nutshell the movies degraded the black image and played up illiteracy, stupidity, animal lust, poverty, and general happiness being a lowly negro all for the entertainment of whites. So this is not a new phenomena of white directors on black movies.

  • AariDani

    (baseball mitt in hand) I caught the drift! I agree with everything you said! I don’t know if you watched the interview with Ari Aster, director of the short film, but he seems pretty chill about the movie. The guy who interviewed him was like “Oh yeah! This is a great film!” and he had a big smile on his face. WTF? I don’t get it. Things like that make me think that they don’t take us seriously at all.

    I was going to post the interview up but they took it off of Youtube for some reason. Sorry.

  • http://www.naki-o.com Naki O

    I think people can share stories not tell them. There is a distinction. Sharing a story means you’ve had contact with people who represent (deeply) the character of the story. Sharing means you will get advice on story arc and character development so that you are presenting as authentic a story as possible. Sharing also means you understand the power, racial and economic dynamics at play. So to answer the question, I do believe white people can share Black stories but not by themselves.

  • http://www.naki-o.com Naki O

    I think people can share stories not tell them. There is a distinction. Sharing a story means you’ve had contact with people who represent (deeply) the character of the story. Sharing means you will get advice on story arc and character development so that you are presenting as authentic a story as possible. Sharing also means you understand the power, racial and economic dynamics at play. So to answer the question, I do believe white people can share Black stories but not by themselves.

  • fuchsia

    We absolutely can have white directors for black stories. Was the story wasn’t written by the white director as well? All he can do is his best job at directing. I actually appreciated the fact that the cast was black. Of course the film was very disturbing, but it would have been equally disturbing no matter what the race. In fact, I would go as far as to say that although I wanted to stop watching I more than likely would have stopped watching sooner if it was a white family. I would not have been compelled to finish it because my bias wouldn’t have let me. It was probably a very smart decision by the director if he wanted to pull a Black audience. I can see them remaking the film in many different cultures, languages and with different races of characters.

  • fuchsia

    *Was the story written by the white director as well?

  • BleuMorpho

    “Should white filmmakers tell black stories?” It all depends…. if they’re gonna do it, then do it right. Don’t put what THEY want. Sugar coding it. Hollywood is good for doing that especially to black films. And one more thing. It really piss me off when they don’t match people up better then that in the movie. I mean what I like most about TP is the way he cast everyone. Like for example, Kimberly Elise and Cicely Tyson was a good match as mother and daughter. And so on…

  • D-Chubb

    David Simon is white. I didn’t hear any complaints about “The Wire.” Besides, instead of worrying about the image of black males as abusers, we should be more concerned about the near epidemic proportions of relationship violence. Especially among Black teens. There’s a real problem that needs to be solved.

  • http://www.fromraewithlove.com Rae

    Sam Greenlee said in an interview once that we should be able to tell and create our own stories. “There is no excuse for black people not to be making their own films.”

    However, this issue has been debated in many ways before. White writers able to write from a black perspective. White directors making movies about blacks.

    Here is a great interview with Greenlee. Say what you want, but it makes you think:

    http://youtu.be/p3lq2XI0egs

    I’m truly a fan of his because he really gives a damn about what people think. His art is done on his terms. He provides amazing lessons in these 8 minutes. We should all take note.

  • Jill

    As long as it’s done well, then why the hell not? My bottom line would be, “Quality art is exactly that.” I mean, if we put out that kind of a limitation, where would it end? The beauty of someone who writes fiction (and I say this as a writer), is that our imaginations oftentimes allows us to walk in shoes we’ve never been in, and will more than likely never be in. Directors as well–they too tell a story. It’s funny that this article used a still from TCP–

    “Before production, Steven Spielberg felt very insecure about being director of the film. In fact, his initial response to Quincy Jones’ request was no. Spielberg felt that his knowledge of the deep South was inadequate and that the film should’ve been directed by someone of color, who could’ve at least related to the struggles faced by many blacks living in the old south. Quincy Jones then argued, “No, I want you to do it. And besides, did you have to be an alien to direct ET?” Spielberg appreciated his friend’s logic and decided to take the role as director of the film. ”

    And if I had to choose between oh say Spielberg and Tyler Perry directing a movie…gosh, that’s like a joke. No contest. Spielberg everytime; hands down.

  • Cree

    I was quoted in this article. I did not see it until now so sorry for the late response.

    All I have to say is, a good story is what makes the director, for me. I saw that the director was white and I assumed he had no black ties. That was the terrible, flawed assumption I had.

    I have no problem with a white person casting black people, even if he wants to tell a story that actually DOES address black issues. Does no one notice that in my original comment, I said white and black directors ALIKE are often pumping out abuse stories? My concern is film makers denying us chances to do things we aren’t given the opportunity to do on film.

    My argument is that why are black stories, particularly dramas, only relevant when abuse is a factor. Or some idea of victim is portrayed. I was perturbed that white people made these stories. Yes, I was.

    But OVERALL I think it is time to see some drama, some heart, some story where it’s not about beating/f*ckin somebody up. We learn from the human experience. Abuse is a part of the experience that should be told. It is not the ONLY thing that can draw out emotion. However, it is the forerunner of premises when black dramas are presented-whether the director is black or white.

    And when the director is white, I think certain issues are at play. I could be right, I could be wrong. Just like when the director is black, I think certain issues are at play.

    To me, this movie was not a work of art. It was not done well, in my opinion. So I thought the guy must have been banking on some old, black stereotype to draw in viewers/add meaning to the story. The stereotype of us as tragic, or violent, or even perverted that people love to downplay.

    Apparently, this guy did not even think about race. Now if we throw out the fact that I think this movie was GARBAGE, I do not think it is wrong for a white person to tell a legitimate, unique, story with an all-black cast.

  • Cree

    Also, it is not that black men should not be abusers in stories. The issue is that why are they often abusers for no apparent reason? Why does the abuse angle negate the fact for a complex character to be involved? Usually when it’s a black man who is a villain, he is just a villain. Maybe he has some pride thrown in there. But complex? No.

    I think you guys are backing me into a corner here. For example, I have not ever viewed Training Day, but we all know the controversy surrounding Denzel’s Oscar win. I could actually appreciate Denzel winning that Oscar, apparently his character was fantastic. Now, if I watch the movie and find out his character was FLAT and not well developed, I would not appreciate the win. But if it was a well thought out character that didn’t demonize black men, I have no problem with it. Same with Halle winning the oscar, too. What you guys fail to understand is I am arguing (at least my intent is to argue) for black people NOT BEING PUT IN A BOX. We have a plethora of human experiences.

    Darker roles are sometimes the best roles in a work of art. Black people don’t have to be saviors. But they shouldn’t be one-dimensional villains either. We have enough of that.

  • Cree

    I agree with Miql…I disagree with Chanel.

    Honest story telling about black people is the only way to resolve this issue. Don’t pump out more “black” films. Tell a story. Believe that black people have stories. Some stories are stories BECAUSE we are black. Some stories have black people in them but could be ANYBODY’S story.

    I think these people who are getting angry and irritated when others “bring race into everything” are also denying that hey, maybe in some ways, a story could be about a black experience. Black people are not wholly summed up by their black experiences. But we are not enslaved to our black experiences either.

    We simply are. But sadly, our stories simply are NOT.

  • Cree

    Miql…I agree with you. The sad thing is, I was commenting on ONE film, one genre, that had one subject in it that irked me….especially since the film itself wasn’t even good or racially relevant. Of course I had to wonder why the cast was black. I had many valid reasons for posing the question. The question was simply, why is abuse so popular an element when black people are on film?????

  • Cree

    I am not an advocate for barring white people from making good films with black people. They most likely have readily available resources to do so in the first place.

    What I do NOT stand for is white people using black stereotypes to gain legitimacy, and producing stories with no real substance. Even if the story has no cultural relevancy (which is all subjective) but is a GOOD STORY with GOOD WRITING AND CHARACTERS I would love it. Love it!

    My issue was the story was whack in my opinion, not well done, and I thought there was a motive for having the cast be black. Apparently there was no motive.

  • mikel

    I agree with cree, If the story can be expressed with a level on integrity and accuracy then by all means. However falling into these stereotypes that conote black inferiority are not welcomed here. Aside from that we as black people need to be telling more of our own stories and not waiting for white people to tell them for us. This is not a militant stance nor is a decree for segregation, this is more of the realization that we need to tell our own stories. If were tired of being berated in the media and misrepresented, we need to inform those who dont know about us exactly who we are. People only allow themselves to do what you let them. We (black folks) spend 3 trillion dollars annual on entertainment and media. I think we can honestly make a point that we should have a say so in who controls our image and how its represented. I I also must disagree to those who hold onto a post-racism stance on America. Everything is still very much so about race, this does not refute the idea that we can all work together. We most certainly can, just understand that in a day and age where our president is black, our first lady can still be described as uppity. So while that rift in society still exists, yes things are still very much so about race. Just look at any forum that is not black-owned an operated. CNN for instance, I cringe whenever they release a story about african americans, good or bad, because i know there will be at least 40 comments that are racist. It never fails. Yet were suppose to believe we live in a society far removed of racism?

  • mikel

    ” The beauty of someone who writes fiction (and I say this as a writer), is that our imaginations oftentimes allows us to walk in shoes we’ve never been in, and will more than likely never be in. ”

    Right but this movie isnt being depicted as a fictional tale. The director is stating that this is something that is real, this is something that is true. This works if its marketed as fiction. Its not.

    “Before production, Steven Spielberg felt very insecure about being director of the film. In fact, his initial response to Quincy Jones’ request was no. Spielberg felt that his knowledge of the deep South was inadequate and that the film should’ve been directed by someone of color, who could’ve at least related to the struggles faced by many blacks living in the old south. Quincy Jones then argued, “No, I want you to do it. And besides, did you have to be an alien to direct ET?” Spielberg appreciated his friend’s logic and decided to take the role as director of the film. ”

    And if I had to choose between oh say Spielberg and Tyler Perry directing a movie…gosh, that’s like a joke. No contest. Spielberg everytime; hands down.”

    The thing is, Spielberg does his research as seeks out those who are experts in specific fields that he wishes to document. Spielberg was absolutely right in his assessment, i am not versed in this subject matter, let me go and seek council from those who are.

    This article isnt about Spielberg so much as its about a low level hack of a director creating a film about the a facet of the black experience without consulting those who a versed in the subject matter. This doesnt mean every black person knows about slavery this doesn’t mean every black person knows about rape. However you do need a director is who is going to educate himself, do the research and portray the black experience accordingly. The reason why the article asks, should white filmakers tell black stories is because with the exception of a few movies, black people have been getting thrown under the bus by white directors.

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