Movies and POC liberation, or I want to see success but the silver screen isn’t the gold standard

I am here today to NOT talk about “Wonder Woman.”

OK, to be more honest, I’ll talk about the film, but this blog post isn’t really about it. But hey, context and news hooks and all that…

My daughter saw the movie with her dad and loved it. I’ve seen many women online praise the movie for having a strong woman character, and certainly it’s been a huge success of a superhero movie with a female lead and a female director—something we don’t really see in Hollywood. I’ve seen others criticize the movie as a bad example of feminist ideals. Heck, I’ve even seen think pieces of what it means (or doesn’t) to Black women.

So, as a woman, the talk about “Wonder Woman” is nice, but it’s not my thing (fantasy/sci-fi/superhero genres almost never interest or engage me, no matter how hard I try at times). So, I won’t see it. But it did get me to thinking of female representation in films and that, frankly, got me to thinking about representation of POC, especially Black people, in films. And so, here is where I wave goodbye to Wonder Woman (and by extension to Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins).

I am a big fan of representation of POC in films and television (and in Oscar awards and Golden Globe awards and financial success and stardom), be they Black, Latinx, Native American, Arab, Asian or any other non-white group because Hollywood is hellaciously white and white-centered (and male-centered) just like most of everything in America. I am a huge fan of “Scandal” and its Black creator and actors (particularly Shonda Rhimes and Kerry Washington).

I loved “Hidden Figures” for highlighting Black women with historical impact (and big brains) and made sure my co-parent took our daughter to see it since I couldn’t see it with her because of timing issues (even if there are historical inaccuracies…but that always happens in these “based on real life” films…and even if white guys are thrust into heroic/inclusive acts that didn’t really happen).

I loved “Moonlight” for giving us a non-cookie-cutter, heartwarming, tough, quirky coming-of-age film featuring Black people front and center. Before that, I loved “Beasts of the Southern Wild” for many of the same reasons and made sure to see it with my daughter given the young girl who was the lead (yes, I know, that movie has modern fantasy themes and isn’t my “genre”…hey, I break out of my comfort zones at times).

I loved “Get Out” for being a thriller that not only tackles some significant racial themes but also where we don’t have to watch token Black people die in the first third to half of the movie so that a white person can be the sole survivor.

I love that we have blockbuster-level films (whether they actually end up being blockbusters or not) coming soon, like “The Dark Tower” and “Black Panther,” because they will have Black leads (not just prominent supporting roles as in several Marvel superhero movies of late) and, in the case of “Black Panther,” large amounts of Black casting in general. Sadly, I probably won’t see either because they are really, really not my genre thing. Which is too bad, because…well…Idris Elba and Chadwick Boseman, respectively.

But even as I look to past movies and television shows (and not just the ones I’ve mentioned) and to future ones as giving Black people and other POC places to shine and succeed (and to see them appearing at a greater pace and level of prominence even when they aren’t attached to Tyler Perry or the “Barbershop” franchise and such)…well, I don’t see this as a path to liberation.

That doesn’t mean I don’t see value.

Beyoncé’s success in music, for example, didn’t lead to liberation or even the start of it. Certainly, many of us reveled in the release of “Lemonade” and her 2017 Grammy performance, but we’ve had a plethora of Black stars in music and they’ve often drawn unfair fire (or even in a few cases been uplifted by Black people despite being heinous humans) and their success doesn’t really undermine white supremacy. If anything, as we have seen with both of the Beyoncé blockbuster activities recently, sometimes they earn more pushback from white people, especially the police.

No, liberation will come from hard work and lots of painful effort. And lots of back-and-forth and even big steps backward, as we see now under Trump. Liberation will come when we have more of our people in positions of power and influence and some kind of critical mass of white people who are willing to strip away at institutional racism and systems of white supremacy.

But I will still look to the movies and television and other prominent places for Black faces (and other POC) and for their success. Because while it may not bring liberation and while it may not even give much momentum for it (maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t; I don’t know), I revel in being able to say to a white-centered nation (that has way too many non-white people in it to justify being that way) that we will insert ourselves into every corner of society because we deserve to be in those places. We deserve to be recognized and we deserve whatever success and gains we can get. We will celebrate them, because they are what we are owed, and even now, the debt is far from paid off.
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