Monday, February 27, 2012

Joyful Hating on The Help's Oscar "Success": At Least I Made the White Lady Eat Doo-Doo

The Oscars were a bit lifeless. We had a good opening montage, some bad audio (am I the only person who heard the feedback that sounded like a cell phone ringtone?), a failed effort by Robert Downey Jr. to break the fourth wall, and lots of Hollywood navel gazing and self-congratulatory rhetoric. At least the public was treated to a performance by the amazing Cirque du Soleil.

The politics of black respectability and representation in relationship to
The Help have been the subject of much discussion. Ultimately, the dialogue has boiled down to one tried, true, and still unresolved question which black cultural workers have had to struggle with for more than a century: what to do about the white gaze? Are there roles that self-respecting black actors ought not to take because they validate white racism, and are too close to such perennial stereotypes as the mammy, buck, Sapphire or coon?

People need to eat, so I will not judge actors who take roles that I find distasteful. Ironically, black Americans are in some ways far removed from the era of Mantan Moreland and Hattie McDaniel. In other ways, those archetypes still hang over black cultural production. In all, perhaps we have reached a moment when there is not an overriding sense of linked fate, and where black folks are not obligated to support African-American cultural workers out of a shared ethic of race pride or belief in a common destiny?

To point, I engaged in a little radical autonomy last evening as I booed any mention of The Help and actively cheered against Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. Ultimately, white folks got their cathartic moment as the latter won an Oscar for best supporting actress. But, Meryl Streep's Iron Lady put The Help to sleep. I will be happy with small victories.

The child actors in the Kids Reenact the Oscar Nominees got it pitch perfect. Those white folks who love The Help get to embrace a racism sanitized story that is validating and ego gratifying in the service of the white racial frame. In contrast, African Americans get to make a white person eat doo-doo in a movie. Sad indeed is the state of the Black Freedom Struggle in relationship to the arts in the year 2012. Paul Robeson would be proud...yeah right.


Anonymous said...

Unlike you I don't give quarter to Black actors who parrot the racism of many Hollywood scripts...

I refused to reward those who shrink from their community work. If we expect cops, educators and others to reject racism in their occupations I expect same from actors and others in the creative arts..

Interesting how Viola's appeasement thse past weeks got her nuttin!!!

We all gotta eat but that is never an excuse to be a slave catcher..

chaunceydevega said...

@Anon. What revolutionary fervor. What alternatives do you propose?

Anonymous said...

There a number of options including boycotts to self censorship and codes of conduct and always better scripts.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Viola played the good negro after the insults of Crystal's jokes and his offensive 'blackface" act..

Of course sine jews are now white in America it is never kosher to engage in 'blackface"..They don't get a pass with their racism just because they were once a minority..

parvenu said...

In the history of the motion picture industry there have been TWO HOLLYWOODS.Many of us who lived through one of these periods remember well the days of Hollywood's so-called "BLACK EXPLOITATION" films. This was during the period when Television for the masses first appeared on the American scene, and was passionately embraced by the American public to the destructive EXCLUSION of Hollywood's MOVIES.

In desperation, Hollywood reached out to black movie patrons by turning out a series of all black action films that as a group became known as Black Exploitation films. This in turn paid off big for Hollywood by providing the studios with the much needed cash infusion, which ultimately saved the movie industry until the traditional white patrons returned. The last film in this category was the movie "Superfly". It should be noted here that Hollywood has NEVER NEVER acknowledged black America's exclusive help in keeping the industry from going into bankrupcy. It is likewise noted that the Hollywood of the Black Exploitation period is completely unknown to the American public.

In a sad depressing way Hollywood's misuse of any African American (AA) good will resulting from solid AA patronage at the movie box offices essentially reflects the embedded racialistic attitudes so prevalent in white American society. The racist attitudes of Hollywood as depicted in Robert Townsend's 1987 comedy movie "Hollywood Shuffle" exists today just as it did when Townsend was producing his masterpiece.

Recently I was greatly surprised to learn that the only source for decades for movies shown in the various nations in Africa is from India's Bollywood. This inspite of the fact that very few members of the native populations in these black African countries speak India's Hindi language. Furthermore these Indian movies continue to be extremely popular in Africa today regardless of the international popularity of American made movies on DVD media. Therefore it seems to me that this situation represents a terrific opportunity for African American film entrepreneurs. The main problem associated with such a highly profitable project is the requirement to establish the necessary distribution routes and channels across Africa.

On the positive side of this new potential market African Americans can take full advantage of a number of cultural and racial compatibilities between AA and their African roots to guide the writing and screen play of such movies. For example, it should only take some very minor rewrites to "Africanize" a movie like the "Color Purple", or "Raisin in the Sun". I would urge the current AA film producers to carefully consider the potential of the African market for their future film projects.

fred c said...

As frequently happens, I don't know much about all of that. But I was happy about Miss Viola's hairstyle for the Oscars. She looked great.

Anonymous said...

Crystal's blackface skit sucked!! Apparently he thinks because he is jewish he has some license to inslt Black folks..

He did not have go blackface to do a Sammy Davis impression..

Yet the denial and deflection for this loser is revealing...Fuck Em jewish redneck prick