Since the beginning of our presence in the United States, Black Americans have been characterized in hurtful, harmful, denigrating ways. From the Mammy to the Jezebel, the Brute, Coon, and more, we have been perceived and depicted as less-than-human.
What damage is done when a Black person isn’t allowed to play a “Black” character?
One of the first instances of this is the film Birth of a Nation, directed by D.W. Griffith. This 3-plus-hour film portrayed Black men (who were actually white men in blackface) as predatory savages with a thirst for white women. This was just the beginning of what would become national and global beliefs about Black people not only in the U.S., but around the world.
We have been depicted as promiscuous or asexual, dumb or too smart and sassy for our own good, violent or docile, sweet or evil and countless other ways that display us on opposite ends of a spectrum, but rarely as fully complicated, nuanced human beings of value.
For Us, By Us
Unless, of course, films and television shows are created by us. When we tell our own stories, some of these caricatures lose their power and we are able to see the characters as people, first and foremost. This is what we need much more of.
If your desire is to reclaim the narrative of the Black woman, man, child, binary, human – especially via video or visual means – then this short documentary, titled “Blackface and Hollywood” is a must-see. In it, experts on Black imagery in entertainment explain blackface’s harmful history and how its usage has been damaging for Black representation.
If we want to be sure we are creating images that value our beings and lives, studying those that have demeaned our humanity is necessary? What do you think?
Photo Credit: Canva