Missing Black People In The Media

When Spike Lee asked why Clint Eastwood’s movie Flags Of Our Fathers had no black people in it, Clint Eastwood responded with anger saying that ‘a guy like him should shut his face’.

According to Clint Eastwood, there were indeed a few black people there in Iwo Jima, but they didn’t raise the flag (which is apparently the film’s focus). He then goes on to say that he made the film based on “… the way [he] read[s] it historically, and that’s the way it is”. Well, Mr Eastwood, that’s precisely the point Spike Lee was making – maybe how you see it isn’t actually how it is.

Spike Lee’s comments are not about tokenism, nor about equal opportunities. This is about the role of movie makers in documenting historical truth, not just ‘as they see it’ but as it actually is/was. In writing black soldiers out of war movies, film makers such as Clint Eastwood are actually re-creating their own – inaccurate and distorted – version of history and passing it off as fact.

Mr Eastwood is not the only war film maker to write history from his own perspective, a perspective which does not include any people of colour. Black soldiers appear in very few Western war TV series or films despite the fact that they fought on the front lines for Western countries in sizeable numbers.

Do you know that at least 16,000 black people from the Caribbean fought for Britain in World War I and at least another 10,000 fought for Britain in World War II? In America, close to 200,000 African-American soldiers fought in the Civil War. You probably don’t. And why not? Because those people are the missing black people – rarely spoken about, and rarely depicted in TV or film – which happens to be one of our most prominent mediums for the reenactment of history.  Why is their presence not deemed important enough to be included? Not just in Eastwood’s film, but in any war film? Why should Spike Lee be accused of playing the ‘race card’ just because he is pointing out that films about war without black soldiers are factually inaccurate?

Clint Eastwood’s response to Spike Lee was not suprising. It is hard for people who are in a dominant position in society to look outside of that dominant viewpoint and see that their view may not be representative of the entire picture. However, a person of colour drawing attention to that fact is accused of seeing everything along racial lines, therefore having their argument reduced to being the view of someone who thinks only in terms of black and white.

Considering how much emphasis is put on war heroes and commemorating the lives of those who died for their countries, it really is sad that the lives of black soldiers who fought and died for countries that they were not even from seem not to be worth remembering. 

This Eastwood/Lee argument is actually about much more than Eastwood’s film. It’s about the role of the mainstream media in general in story-telling – or story re-creation. People question the role of black-orientated media, such as black news sites or black magazines because they cannot see how skewed mainstream media is towards representing one, dominant point of view, that is believed to be all-inclusive, but is in fact very one-sdied. Like in war films, black people and black stories are often hidden or missing from mainstream media stories (or presented negatively if they do appear). and OK folks, before you say it, let’s keep Obama out of this. He is one man!

African-Americans are often shocked to hear me – as a black person – speak with a strong English accent. Their shock is not simply a matter of ignorance, it’s also because they see very few, if any, black British people on TV or in films that come out of England. Yes, over the years there have been some black musicians who have come to the fore, but in the visual medium, in the main we are hidden. I remember many black Brits asking why the film Notting Hill had no black people in it, when Notting Hill is an area of London is well known for its large number of black residents. Some people would say – well, black people in Britain only make up 10% of the population.. just as Clint Eastwood said that there was only a small detachment of black soldiers in Iwo Jima at the time in which his film is set. But so what?! Small numbers does not mean that those people are not relevant or were not there at all.

This is why I am a big advocate of black media. It is necessary, in order for the past and the present to be an accurate representation of life. Can the Clint Eastwoods of this world be expected to represent anything other than his world view? It may be that a small number of black people in a war film is not really important or worth putting documenting to him. This doesnt make him a racist, it just means that he has one way of seeing the world. However, to black people like Spike Lee and myself, the stories and lives of black soldiers are just as important as everyone else’s and deserve to be part of the documentation of war. Hell, we deserve to be part of the documentation of mainstream life, as it is today!

Obama Wins Democratic Nomination – what next?

I’m proud to be here in America during this historic election period. Well done to Barack Obama for running an excellent campaign so far and for becoming the first ever African American Democratic nominee…Not many black people thought they’d see this in their lifetime.

So what’s next? A year ago, the media and even most voters had no idea America would end up where we are today. Questions such as ‘is Obama black enough?’, ‘can he appeal to white voters?’ and ‘is America ready for a black president?’ were all asked and used to justify why people thought Obama had slim chance of beating Clinton. How things have changed.

However, the questions are still pertinent… Is America REALLY ready for a black president? The votes of Democratic supporters are not the only ones that are taken into consideration in a general election. Most of Obama’s supporters are educated white people, African-American and young people – what about the rest of the voting population? How will they vote? Are they prepared to vote for a black man? What about Hillary Clinton supporters, a number of whom have said they would rather vote for McCain than Obama? What about middle America, and the blue collar workers who kept Hillary going?

Although Clinton has not yet conceded, there is talk that she may join forces with Obama, running as his vice president. Would this be a good move? Some think not. If anything, it could be a good way of stopping her supporters from defecting to McCain.

How much of a role will race play in the battle between McCain and Obama? I believe that it’s in the Obama v McCain contest that we’ll see how Americans genuinely feel about race. The fact that some Clinton-supporting Democrats have said they’d rather vote for McCain than Obama hints at that. Will Obama talk more specifically about the problems within the African-American community and what he intends to do about them if he’s elected, or will he continue to avoid that in order not to be pigeon holed?

What will be Obama and McCain’s achille’s heels in the next few months? Will the media dredge up anymore figures like Jeremiah Wright and John Hagee? Will McCain’s age prove to be his downfall? And will Obama face his critics who have said he is nothing more than a great marketeer with a slick tongue?

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Let me know!

The soap opera is only just starting!! I can’t wait for the forthcoming episodes!

Sean Bell: 18th May 1983 – 25th November 2006

May 18th would have been Sean Bell’s 25th birthday…

As a fitting tribute – and a reminder to us all to continue to act against police brutality – documentary filmmaker Byron Hurt has put together this short, yet very powerful, film.

Let’s all make sure that Sean Bell’s death – and the deaths of other innocent young men and women of colour – was not in vain.

 

The Audacity of Hope in Hip Hop

I’m going to write some more on this topic in due course, and I have a Guardian piece coming out soon talking about Obama and the hip hop generation, but for now let me post this video of Senator Obama himself talking about his love of hip hop and how he thinks it needs to look forward and inspire as well as stay rooted in the realness of today…

Civil Disobedience For Sean Bell Justice

I felt very proud to see people of all colours out on the streets of New York last week taking part in well-coordinated civil disobedience protests in support of the Sean Bell movement. Or should I say in protest at the acquittal of the 3 police officers who killed Sean Bell.

I have to admit I wasn’t there although I really wanted to be but hey, I’m not an American citizen and I don’t want any reason to be deported. lol. I’m serious! I can just imagine some police man saying “who is this journalist chick out on the streets of New York causing disobedience!? Send her home!!”. Reverend Al Sharpton was very good in issuing guidelines for those who were involved in the civil disobedience acts to ensure that nobody ended up in the slammer for real.

Rev Al Sharpton, Nicole Paultre Bell, Sean Bell’s friends, family and thousands of other outraged New Yorkers peacefully brought New York traffic to a standstill. Targetting rush hour traffic by protesting on the main bridges that lead into and out of the city, Rev Sharpton brought home the point that any of those motorists, sitting peacefully in their cars, could have been Sean Bell.

I was also glad to see the impact that people can have when they decide to protest peacefully. When people are oppressed and feel that their voices won’t be, or aren’t, heard, violence is often considered to be the only viable course of action. Sure it makes people listen, but for the wrong reasons. New York definitely sat up and took notice last week.

I can’t wait to find out what else is planned. Hopefully this time I’ll be able to join in.  

 

The Global African-American influence

Prior to living in America, I had already visited the country a number of times. But that’s not how I am able to sing RnB songs, or how I’m able to rap full verses from artists like Common, Jay Z, Biggie and Tupac or even much older hip hop groups. It’s not how I understand African-American slang or can do certain dances in clubs. I know all of that because African-Amerian culture is broadcast into homes around the world. Despite growing up in the UK, I have been exposed to many aspects of African-American culture throughout my entire life, as have many other black people around the globe.

It can be hard for African-Americans to get a grasp of just how pervasive and global African-American culture is and has become. When I lived in Johannesburg in South Africa, for example, I was at times amused and at other times disturbed by the adoption of African-American language, fashion and music by young South Africans. I used to go a particular club that could have come from a Beyonce video. You would have thought you were in New York or Atlanta rather than Johannesburg.

People always ask me ‘how do you know these songs?’ and ‘how do you know about that, how do you know about this?’ and I tell them I know because I have been massively exposed to it all throughout my whole life. America, and by extension African-America, is constantly shown to the world on a huge scale.

Now, I wonder if African-Americans realized this, they would also feel more responsible about what they put out. I’m talking here about people like Nas and his new album, I’m talking about BET and the type of content they put out, I’m talking about all of those people who insist – through various media – in showing the worst aspects of African-American life. Not only is that stuff released to America, it is released to young impressionable black people around the world who look up to African-Americans as a beacon of success and progression.

I was reminded of this by a blog I came across in which the writer said he’d come across a shop in Malawi called ‘Nigger’ (see picture above) and how proud the owners were of their shop’s name, thinking that they were somehow in touch with African-Americans that they looked up to.

Nas is releasing his song Nigger not only to his homegrown community but to the global community. What will the effect be on the young kids in the townships of South Africa, for example, who don’t really understand the significance and nuances surrounding that word? What about the black kids in the inner cities in England who have only just, in the past 10 years or so, started calling each other ‘nigga’ – just because their favourite black hip hop artists have made the word seem cool – and who now believe that they are ‘niggas’?

The global influence of African-American culture is huge. It affects black people all over the world. This can of course be a great thing. It has unfortunately also been a negative thing. I just don’t think people get how far the reach of African America extends… If they did maybe people like Nas might really think hard about how they use that influence.