Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Uncomfortable Truths; 12 Years A Slave: Notes After Reading John Ridley's Esquire essay

Notes after reading John Ridley's essay in Esquire magazine

So, I didn’t watch the academy awards, but I do read facebook so got some reports. Apparently some guy named Matthew McConaughery, who won best actor for a movie called DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (in which he portrayed a guy with AIDS?), gave a very narcissistic self-serving speech. Most people who mentioned his speech tended to contrast it unfavorably with a speech by Lupito Nyong’o, who won the best supporting actress for a movie called 12 YEARS A SLAVE. Her speech was much more generous; evoking the long struggle from which she came and the hopes of the young to realize their dreams.

In addition, several people posted this particular link from MSNBC (the allegedly less right wing network): http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/oscars-2014-best-picture-12-years-slave-lupita-nyongo. This website for instance points out that 12 YEARS A SLAVE is much better than most of the other movies about race, and the history of slavery in particular, such as AMISTAD. Serwer claims that this movie confronts the UNCOMFORTABLE TRUTH of racism in Hollywood. As Adam Serwer puts it:

“Most films that tell stories of people of color are oftentimes movies about the exceptional white people who ultimately triumph against evil, and so people of color become vehicles for white redemption. They are exploited twice over – in history, and again in cinema. What sets 12 Years a Slave apart is that it is utterly uninterested in redeeming anyone, or in making anyone feel better about slavery. Northup, portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor, and the other enslaved persons remain at the center of the film from start to finish. The audience never gets an opportunity to avert its eyes from Northup’s struggle to maintain his sanity and sense of self as he endures the unimaginable cruelty and desperate loneliness of enslavement. The moments of friendship, intimacy, loss and terror shared among the enslaved are paramount.”

So, it sounds like this movie isn’t as ridiculous and white supremacist as Amistad, and there seems like there might be slow racial progress starting to happen in Hollywood, but then I found this other article (thanks Thomas Sayers Ellis) on Facebook written by the John Ridley, the winner of the Academy Award for the “Best Adapted Screenplay,” for the Best Picture in 12 Years A Slave.

This essay tells you about the way Ridley thinks about race. He uses the “N” word to refer to any “liberal” African American who dares disagree with his views (which just so happen to be very similar to the views of the white supremacist dominant ideology of this country. Here’s the link, so you can read it for yourself.

One white person sent this link to another white person on Facebook, and White Person #2 reported it for its offensive use of the “N” Word, and defriended the person without argument.  And, indeed, had a white person said what John Ridley said, there would be much agreement over it being racist. However, this indignant white facebook person was more upset by the mere "N" word in the title and probably didn’t even go so far as to read  Ridley’s criticisms of the black liberation movement in his essay. It is more important for this white person to have her little feel good story bout Lupito Nyong’o, than to truly confront the uncomfortable truths that 12 Years A Slave, and the white liberal media, didn’t address, or try to smooth over.  Serwer implies that 12 Years a Slave speaks for all black people because it was written and directed by black men: “their stories, and the way they want to tell them.” Judging by many black folks I know, who have read John Ridley’s comments in the above article, there is still along way to go. In the meantime, it’s at least important to let people know where Ridley stands on contemporary issues of racial liberation (which of course Hollywood still likes to deny is a valid concern).

 Here are the two links---


Also, see this great rebuttal:

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