Azelia Banks has a point, my Black Story goes deeper than “people fucking whipping people”
Conversations about race and black oppression dominated mainstream ‘Black’ British and American cinema last year – cinema that has gained both critical and audience attention as well as attention from mainstream awards institutions, like the Oscars and so on.
In Belle, 12 Years a Slave, The Butler, 42 and Django Unchained – cinema made by or featuring Black men and women – we find men and women who are continually confronted by racism and oppression, brutality from overseers and officers or what Azealia Banks called “people fucking whipping people”.
When Azealia Banks broke down about cultural smudging or appropriation, many men and women were crying with her. Later on Banks stated that, “I don’t want to see no more white people fucking whipping people in no more movies. Because my black story is deeper than the boat ride over, do you know what I mean?’ Yes. And Banks has a point.
Films like Belle, 12 Years a Slave, The Butler, 42 and Django Unchained are amazing and important pieces of cinema. They’ve catalyzed conversations normally considered taboo, they’ve confronted – brutally in the case of 12 Years a Slave – histories normally forgotten, or if you are British, romanticized, glorified and nudged beneath the carpet and then forgotten. All to widespread and international acclaim and praise.
But, “my black story is deeper”.
Firstly, when talking about 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen explained that “of course it is about race, but at the same time it goes beyond the boundaries of that…in a way that life always does. We always want to put ourselves into boxes of put sort of frames around things. But actually most of the time things break out of those frames”.
These films have been applauded because of their honest and unromantic representations of race in colonial Britain and in America. But McQueen points out the other subtle meanings that are often lost and marginalized by the term ‘race film’.
Secondly, Black cinema doesn’t just show “people fucking whipping people”. But whilst films about black oppression and violence have received attention from across the world, films that are not as informed by race, but nevertheless feature a majority ethnic cast and are made by Black men and women don’t receive the same international attention.
As long as black men and women are denied justice – in the United States, the United Kingdom and across the world – conversations about race and black oppression will continue to dominate black art (and they should). In Selma (UK release date, February 6th) Ava DuVernay chronicles Martin Luther King Jr.’s campaign for civil rights in the segregated south. Fruitvale Station (briefly released during the London Sundance Festival and now available on Netflix UK) recounts the last day of Oscar Grant life before he was fatally wounded by police officers (no less) in California. Dear White People (another brief release at the London Film Festival) becomes another symposium on race, this time on an American college campus.
But the black experience (and these films) go beyond race and oppression. Our discourse goes beyond slavery, police brutality and the so called ‘black on black’ violence. Our black stories go deeper. So many stories still need to be told, still need to be heard or seen and I look forward to the day when they are shown on our screens.