This time last year, #OscarSoWhite was a trending hashtag on Twitter that led us into a long, deep conversation about the Black presence in movies and award shows. A big part of that conversation centered on the fact that when Black people are nominated or do win awards it’s usually for stereotypical performances that show them as slaves, mammies, whores, thugs and “magical negroes”.
But the films we are featuring here are very Black and and are must see films, for both you and your students. We’ve spoken extensively about I Am Not Your Negro and Birth of a Nation. And now we want to encourage you to make space and time to engage your yourself and your students in watching Fences, Hidden Figures and Moonlight.
It’s one thing to go see these films and use them as inspiration for our students. We can tell our Black girls that they too can be scientists. We can engage in conversations with our Black boys about the complexity of Black Masculinity. And we can talk about the power of forgiveness and Black family healing. And that’s lovely and appropriate…for the Culturally Responsive light educator and you may miss a rich opportunity for deeper engagement.
But if you wanted to go deeper and be a OG CREAD Educator then you would take a critically conscious eye to these films and move the conversation from a dichotomous black and white, good vs. evil and “love can conquer all” perspective and think about the following:
- What problem does this film reveal and/or solve?
- How does this film invest in our students emotions and positive racial identity development?
- How does it reveal or speak to the brilliance of our students .
- How do these films present a hybridized Diasporic identity?
Hidden Figures is based on a true story but the truth is not necessarily revealed in the film. And listen, the entire time I watched the film I was questioning the role of black men in the film. So, against stereotype they are loving and kind, affirming and protective. What they are not, is intelligent, in the sense that there are no Black men working in Nasa in this film.
For me, it was the blatant lack of representation of black men as intelligent and brilliant. It also represented the way white supremacy and patriarchy allows room and space for black women to gain career access and achievement in white spaces and ensuring black men do not, unless they give up their Blackness.
Fences, featuring Black Excellence Ambassadors, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis is the film adaptation of August Wilson‘s play. And from the opening scene it slaps you in the face. Denzel’s big ass personality suffocated the hell out of me…and that hurts to say, because I love him. But I hated him. I hated everyone for allowing him to to suffocate us all. I hated Viola for sticking around and being a good Christian and a solid version of Rita Marley and accepting and raising this outside child.
For me, it was a representation of the heavy weight of white supremacy and the ways it ensures that our dreams stay deferred. Troy suffocated himself, his sons, his wife, his friends, me. And how many of us are suffocating under the weight of structural and institutional racism.
Moonlight is a visually stunning film that explores black male identity and the factors that can either nurture or crush that identity. The story unfolds the “chapters” in the life of the protagonist, Chiron, from his boyhood to an adult. Three different actors embody this one person, yet each offers a beautiful and at times heart-breaking glimpse into the same soul. As an educator, you cannot help to but recognize the Chiron who sits in your class now, or perhaps, he may be the one with low attendance. I know you know who your Chiron is.
This film, its director, Barry Jenkins and its outstanding cast deserve all the the accolades and recognition. Last night actor, Mahershala Ali (Juan) won the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award for this role in the film. His acceptance speech, I believe, touches on one of the core tenets of CREAD: Know your students. As I listened to him, I thought of how his words expand on this idea: Take the opportunity to “uplift our children”…and “see the texture” of them and who they truly are.
One of the things that we know is that the more conscious you become, the less enjoyable mass media becomes, because you can see right through the empty rhetoric, the stereotypes and the bias, the attempts to erase and “other” the less powerful or less privileged. These films and many others shed light on the stories, experiences and perspectives that would otherwise go untold and ultimately be forgotten. It is our hope that you don’t just show students a film to fill up time but rather to move a bit closer to knowing who they are. We hope that the next time you plan a trip to the movies that you consider how it can reveal deeper truths, ignored perspectives and greater love and humanity in us all.
Peace and love good people.
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