The Modern Day Minstrel Show
May 28, 2004

Today marks the national opening of the suprisingly non-controversial movie Soul Plane. If you've even seen 30 seconds of the film preview, it is clear that the folks at MGM took a double dose of plain, old, ignorance when they conjured up this one. You might as well be watching a music video on BET. This movie offends on so many levels, I don't even know where to start. It's hard to even point the finger. Who should we be upset with for perpetuating such stereotypical garbage? I recall a time last year when actor Will Smith was quoted as saying something rather prolific about the film industry, "Hollywood isn't black or white. It's green." My family and I managed to have quite an interesting debate about this statement alone. What is it about the movie industry that fuels such ignorance, complete irreverence, misogyny, and stereotyping?

You often hear people say things like, "Hollywood is racist". Generally this comment is directed towards the fact that people of color are underrepresented in film and television. I've never been in Hollywood so I am in no position to comment on a struggle about which I know nothing. What I do know is that the number of people of color in leading (and edifying) roles has been low in the past. Things have definitely changed since the day black actresses were only relegated to roles as servants or maids. I still say there's more honor in that than some of these roles certain black actresses are taking on these days. I wish I was blogging back when Halle Berry won an Oscar for her "riveting performance" in Monster's Ball because I would've had something to say about that. Hattie McDaniel has one over Halle Berry: she didn't have to take her clothes off to win an Oscar.

Then there are those who claim, "Hollywood isn't racist. It's all about money". I can agree with this more and more as the days go by. However, at what point are we the viewers, the ones buying the tickets, held accountable for what we sow into? Hollywood isn't going to produce something that they don't think people will watch. For this very reason, every major media conglomerate turned down a partnership with Mel Gibson when he was shopping around his little ole' Jesus movie. So when we buy into stereotypical junk, now who's racist, the producers or the viewers? Or both?

Back in 2000, Spike Lee, perhaps one of my least favorite filmmakers, piloted a movie that I thought had the potential to completely rip the covers off the adulterers in bed with the television industry, Bamboozled. The film essentially centered around a television producer who wanted to air a modern-day minstrel show starring a tap dancer (who happens to be a personal friend of mine) and other black actors in black face. As with all things Spike Lee, the film was an attempt to address some racial stereotyping and deeper psychological issues that have been rampant in mass media. Sounds nice right? Too bad the film was crap. Too many mixed messages, too messy of a plot. The film was conceptually brilliant, but over-zealous Spike was his usual confusing self.

The whole idea of the modern-day minstrel show isn't too farfetched. Movies like Soul Plane banter around with trite black/white relations commentary while completely trouncing upon any prior work of reputable black actors to establish integrity and respect in an unforgiving business.

Bill Cosby's words concerning education and priorities couldn't have come at a more opportune time. Much of black culture has managed to perpetuate the notion of "excess" and "ignorance" to a place that is making many uncomfortable. Moreover, the NAACP does stupid things like awarding Queen Latifah an "Image Award" for best female performance in the movie Bringing Down 'Da House, an equally stereotypical embarrassment to common sense.

Younger black actors continue to accept these stereotypical and demeaning roles one would never see someone like Sidney Poiter play. Whether or not the stereotypes are true, at some point or another they become so because we have confused real and fake and many people are simply a product of what they've seen on teleivision. We're so confused, actually think we are "the maid".

Audiences and movie critics laud these performances as though they are great advancements in our cultural history. The trouble is, much of the black community is too brainwashed to recognize they are being made fools on the big screen. So we just keep smiling entertaining. Meanwhile, white people (and all people) will go in droves to see a movie like Soul Plane. They'll laugh at it too because it's funny and it's not too far from the truth. It's a snapshot of a generation who's lost track of priorities and perspective. As far as I'm concerned, D.L. Hughley, Mo'nique, and everyone else who stars in Soul Plane may as well have on blackface because that's what this: a modern day minstrel show.

Posted by Ambra at May 28, 2004 9:48 AM in Culture ,Race
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Ambra, I agree very much with your assessment.

About "Bamboozled," I personally liked the movie. I'm probably more of a Spike Lee fan than you are, although I admit, some of his movies are crap.

But you might want to see another movie that is similar to "Bamboozled" in terms of the plot, if you haven't seen it's called "Dancing in September." It's a fictional, yet realistic behind the scenes look at the devolution of a Black sitcom. That movie is definitely clearer than "Bamboozled," and it's a clear illustration of how Blacks are portrayed in Hollywood.

Aw man, you missed your chance!
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