I’m sorry Mr Jackson…

Did anyone else hear the distant rumbles of disquiet emanating from the world of the perennial fake smile, also known as Acting?  If not, have your cups ready, because I’m about to serve, not Lovely’s piping hot tea, but a witch’s brew.  So apparently someone has like finally decided to say something about America’s involvement in the mass importation of foreign born Black Africans Actors; more specifically those from Britain.  That someone was Samuel L. Jackson, and I believe him to be…how shall I put it?  Displeased.  His gripe is, that much like America’s car industry, many of Black Hollywood’s meatiest roles are now being outsourced to cheaper foreign counterparts…or something like that.   With the the ‘facts’ out of the way (sort of), let me get right to the serious and sticky business of my thoughts on the matter…

While the stormy and difficult plight of the overprivileged nearly always rates highly on my personal barometer of concern.  The sympathy box, which I store right behind the last can of My heart bleeds soup; seems to be running curiously low.

For the record, as a Black Brit, the success of my peers across the pond, made me feel nothing but pride and excitement.  Until 12 Years a Slave…  That, is when I believe, I first thought that those in film were beginning to make bizarre and ultimately jarring choices behind the scenes.  Here we had two Brits one of Nigerian and the other of West Indian descent and a Kenyan born Mexican taking centre stage in telling the story of the African American experience.  While it is clear to me that (sadly) the common threads of Colonial Rule, Subjugation and the struggle for Autonomy run through the entirety of the African Diaspora.  The scars that have been etched on to our souls all differ slightly.  In truth, when I saw that Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta, would be played by British actors, I was deeply disturbed.  Europe seemed an awfully long way to go, in search of actors capable and willing to tell the stories of individuals, so deeply woven in to the fabric of Black America.

The question is; was Samuel L. Jackson right to call this out?  I’m going to say no and here is why.  Jackson has fixed his ire at Jordan Peele’s casting of Daniel Kaluuya in the masterpiece that is Get Out.  However the Hollywood fetish for exotic negroes, did not begin in Black film, and here I think Uncle Sam is guilty of being disingenuous.  Jackson knows very well that he, like many others who frequent the highest echelons of Black Hollywood, made a fatal mistake.  It is the same mistake made by every house negro that ever there was; believing that the preferential treatment he  received stemmed from a place of genuine regard.  That is the real problem here; the elites like no one, and foolish is the Black Actor who fails to realise that the exchange of African Americans for Black Brits is nothing more than a game of power.  Hollywood’s key players are much like slave owners who thought that an auction would be the best way to deal with a slave who got too big for his boots.  Their continental casting choices should serve as a reminder to Black Thespians everywhere, that Hollywood is not in fact ‘our’ house, but ‘theirs’.  It is all very well for John Boyega to brush aside Jackson’s comments, but my hope (though it is a vain one) is that he will come to the conclusion that if America can turn on its own, it will surely not spare the rod when it comes to outsiders.

There is another reason why Jackson’s comments trouble me.  They are a clear indication of the unhealthy dependency Black’s have on the elite.  Jackson is essentially saying that Massa is doing him wrong.  Hello, Massa has been doing the same thing for 400 years, and it pains me to hear a grown man whining.  Mr Jackson I put this to you, instead of relying on the very people who have shown nothing but contempt and disregard for you; start a revolution, start a production company, start a studio, start a film school.  Yes, I hear you, it won’t start out as big or as shiny as what they have over there.  But I can tell you one thing Mr Jackson; it will be ours…

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The Beautiful Black Man and the Beast

 

Without giving too much away, I’m now at the age where the group of friends (call it a pool if you will) I once had in my twenties, has now been whittled down to a puddle subjected to a Sub-Saharan summer’s day.  With the majority of my girlfriends having succumbed to the casualties of marriage and babies, I feel as though I have been left as the proverbial last (wo)man standing.  While I wish my friends nothing but the best, I can’t help but crave to have my own ample slice of the pie we call happiness.

Growing up in a quiet mostly White Middle Class suburb, I, along with my friends, hit life’s key markers.   University, travel, decent(ish) job, but as the token only Black girl in our group I seem to have taken home the coveted prize of also-ran in the game of love Monopoly.

The dearth of ‘Good Black Men’ and its effects on ‘Good Black Women’ is oft spoken about, and has (almost) become part of African Folklore.  Edging out ancient African proverbs espousing the wisdom of ‘de lion’ come new sayings speaking of the pain of ‘de single Black woman’!  Okay, I’m erring on the side of silly but you catch my drift.   To put it plainly; I simply cannot kiss anymore frogs.  The road to becoming someone’s better half has been pathed with rogues and vagabonds.  One experience in particular with a rogue (or was he vagabond?) disturbed me so deeply, I feel that I must share it.

I am certainly not in the habit of man bashing, but in the last few years I have developed a growing awareness of a mutant strain of men.  Their emergence seems directly linked to the popularity of one A$AP Rocky.  The men in question are defined by their aesthetic charms, the fitness of their bodies, the acquisition of stylised designer clothes, the delicate form of their features and to all this they add a generous sprinkling of self-absorption.  Even Narcissus would have to fight to get hold of a mirror in their presence!  Sound familiar at all?  Yes, my date had all the symptoms of one suffering from what I like to call Beautiful Black Man Syndrome.  Disclaimer:  my date, (let’s call him John) artfully concealed his true nature, in our earliest encounters.

I should have known that a romantic liaison with John would have been a miss- step of gargantuan proportions after our first (almost) date. A text sent kindly requesting he meet me at a location closer to my home town (I have no car) and a little further from his, was met with this response verbatim:  ‘I could but, I think it would be cheaper to have drinks here.’  I know right, hardly the stuff fairy tales are made of.  Make no mistake, I made sure that he felt my ire and for obvious reasons I declined his enticing cut price offer.

A later chance meeting in the office kitchen, meant that the wonderful John was able to explain away the many (many) faults of his text.  Inwardly I thought how many single, childless black men, holding a BA and a Masters with their own flat (and own hair) are there left in the world?  Of Course I caved, and I stood in line, like a dummy, for a second helping.

At his suggestion, I agreed, though unwillingly to meet at his local pub.  The pub was part of a chain, nation renowned for their cheap prices and sterile atmospheres.  In short it was the McDonalds of the beverage world. (Oh Coran, Coran, Coran).  A promise was made, that our next date would be of the extravagant/salubrious kind and since I didn’t have a car, John would foot the bill for my taxi home. His offer had all the appearance of what they call a ‘win, win situation’, or so I thought.

The evening began with an explosive and emotional foray into my date’s disappointment at a recent, but unsuccessful job interview.  With scenes rivalling that of a Greek Tragedy, arms flailed about the table as he repeatedly asked me ‘Do you know who they picked?  Do you know who they picked?’  Later he looked me dead in the eyes and uttered the following words: ‘I’m very fragile you know’.  Who doesn’t want a partner who leads with the masculine trait of fragility?  But don’t worry it gets better.  Apparently a great believer in the virtues of self-promotion, John felt no hesitation in telling me of his conviction that he was in fact the ‘total package’ and that though I had seen pictures of his six-pack on Instagram, it was ‘even better’ in real life.  Other high points included him calling me ‘not very bright’ asking me ‘what makes me moist?’ ‘Did I remind him of Jean-Michel Basquiat?’ and the question that every woman wants to hear on a first date ‘do you want to make a baby?’  I won’t even bother mentioning his mid date declaration of: ‘I really want to go and smoke weed’.  Of course I was invited back to his flat to partake of the illegal activity, but I took this final insult as my cue to exit.  My carriage awaited me, or so I thought.  John in the highest (or lowest) form of flakery now asked that since I had gotten paid on that day, and he didn’t get paid until the next month, could I now pay for my taxi home, and he would refund me the cost at a later date. There really are no words.  No like really, there are no words.

I’ve never been one to shy away from a little self-deprecation and though many laughs were had owing to the overwhelmingly bizarre nature of the date, as I settled the fare for my taxi ride home I could not help but feel an intense wave of sadness sweep over me.  Ignoring his obligatory ‘I had such a good time’ evening text it dawned on me that this man, beautiful as he thought he was, felt so comfortable and confident in offering me, this woman, absolutely nothing.  He wanted me to play the role of a sponge, soaked and stained in his own misery, frustration and delusion.  His declaration of fragility, obscured and overshadowed my femininity.  If he as the man in our union had committed himself to weakness, then by default I would have to draw on a strength that would sustain the both of us.  With strength bestowed unwillingly upon me, his natural conclusion was that I of course could fend for myself, hence the self -funded drive home.  My date had decided that he would play the part of one to be objectified, admired and fawned upon.  This would be his sole and meagre contribution to the evening; and in that moment I realised that the roles of Black men and Black women had been cruelly inverted.  He would not provide, nor would he mark himself as a pillar of dependency.  His frailty would be my burden to carry and protect, with his aesthetic raised above on a pedestal for my worship. In short he would take up the woman’s helm and I the man’s.

It was the bitterest of pills to swallow, but I suppose these are the inevitable results of a generation of men parented by MTV.  Clearly they have not yet received the memo that ‘cool’, as far as I’m aware, is a non-tangible asset.  As for me the search goes on…and on…and on.  There will always be a line around the block of frogs waiting to be kissed.  Only next time I’ll be sure they have my cab fare ready.