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News & Views of Phillips Since 1976
Sunday May 19th 2024

Something I Said: September ’23

Black Women Changing the Narrative on Film


a photo of the author
Dwight Hobbes

Perception may not be all but it is important, and black girls need to perceive as positive a self-image as possible. Not that they are any more special than anyone else. They just face their own set of circumstances.

You’ve got reality shows about as far from real life wives as here to the moon, attitudinal self-absorbed glamour gals who think they do the world a favor by breathing. You’ve got dumb as a bag of rocks ghetto-style gals on stereotypical sitcoms. At length, entertainment media has a serious lack of role models that inspire personal strength. Those that come along are few and far in-between.

For instance, The Woman King is based on Africa’s actual amazons, never mind Wonder Woman. They comprised the Agoji, an elite Dahomey fighting force formed in the early 1700’s. No sooner was it released than nay-sayers carped that it wasn’t wholly accurate. King Ghezo, unlike his depiction in the script, wasn’t morally opposed to slavery. So? This is like being given water to slake your thirst for knowledge and complaining about no ice. Yes, he was, like most kingdoms, prone to war and trafficked in slavery. For that matter, the Agoji didn’t have brown skin with Caucasian facial features but were coal-black with broad noses and thick lips. None of which weakens The Woman King’s undeniable strength. It envisions black women in a positive light as soldiers on whom the kingdom depended well beyond the fighting abilities of men. The real beauty of the story is that girls – and anyone else – can go research this piece of Black History school books left out. Accordingly, there are few films set in Africa since the old blatantly racist Tarzan movies. Gina Prince-Bythewood (director) and Viola Davis (co-producer, lead actor), whom Hollywood Reporter’s Rebecca Keegan noted, fought like hell and “have spoken out about the obstacles [they faced] pitching a historical epic centered on strong Black women.”

For another instance, Cadillac Records is Black woman power at work. It is less a matter of whether Etta James was a role model and more about an indomitable spirit and the creative team that made them aware she existed. Those whose curiosity is piqued can hit the books and see that not only was James a determined survivor, she profoundly prevailed. Just a few of her honors include induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Again, gratitude is due behind the scenes – to Beyoncé Knowles (executive producer, lead actor) and Darnell Martin (director, screenwriter).

Then, there’s Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland, documenting Black men’s lives aren’t the only ones that matter, imperiled by police enforcing and courts dispensing injustice. It honors a personable and smart, outspoken woman passionate about making a difference through her “Sandy Speaks” video blog. Regrettably, it also is testament that social progress in the “woke” era has a long way to go. This wasn’t even an in-your-face activist defying law and order. She was simply driving when a Texas State Trooper stopped her for failing to signal and decided to bully her because he felt like it. Which wound up costing her life in a jail cell. For no other reason than that she had more self-respect than lawful racism allows.

Three points in case.

Dwight Hobbes is a long-time Twin Cities journalist and essayist.

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