Posted by : Halima Khait Monday, February 11, 2013

You know what?? It's time for us to address the misperception of the happy slave.

I watched Alex Haley's Queen this weekend for the first time since its release in 1993.  I was lightweight outraged.  The way slavery and the post-reconstruction era were portrayed was distorted, to put it mildly. 

Because the story is about a mulatto ex-slave, Queen, it focuses on her struggle to find acceptance.  This is something to which a majority of people can relate.  Unfortunately, the truth specific to black people in this era was lost.  For instance, the viewer is confronted with Queen's friend who speaks her mind to her masters with no repercussions, Queen, who simply walks out of the big house's front door, twice, to escape slavery and a group of sharecroppers who go on strike.  Not only do they go on strike, but the only member of the group who faces consequence is the leader, Davis, who happens to be the father of Queen's first-born son Abner.  Davis was lynched for his revolutionary role in the community and this unfortunately, provided the only realistic portrayal of what was largely happening in the South during this era.

Twenty years after Queen, Django comes and demonstrates America's memory of black history has deteriorated even more.   Can I just say, they got y'all when they marketed Django as a movie about slavery??  Slavery in this context was used as the backdrop to a story and was used to draw an audience Quentin Tarantino wouldn't normally attract. 

In spite of all the violence and blood in the movie, the most horrific scene we witnessed that directly addressed slavery was four scars on Kerry Washington's back and the 'r' brand she received for running away.  Yes, the fact that a husband and wife were sold apart was sad, but it was part of the love story that fueled the need for the bloodshed that is classic Tarantino.

The other portrayals of slavery in Django were less than realistic: slaves swinging on a tree swing and fixing their hair while another slave is about to receive a beating and slaves leisurely strolling around the plantation when Django arrives on his first bounty hunting mission to name a few. 

Let me be clear, I'm not looking for more graphic footage here.  In fact, in the case of Django I'm glad there wasn't more blood in relation to slavery.  If there had been, I feel it would've gotten lost in Tarantino's signature exploding body parts and simply become part of the entertainment. 

What I'm asking for is an accurate portrayal.  Something that shows what most black people in America were going through during these eras, not just the stories the majority can relate to - a struggle for acceptance or coping with the loss of a mate.

I think this change of perception starts with who we permit to tell our story.  In the case of Queen, it turns out Alex Haley died before he completed the novel.  Because of this, David Stevens, completed the book and put it on screen.  David Stevens was born in Tiberias, Palestine.  And Django, written by a Italian/Irish filmmaker.  Not saying these men can't appreciate black history, but they overlooked key cultural pieces.  It could have been because they couldn't grasp their importance or it could have been for marketing reasons -  trying to sell a story that would appeal to a greater audience.  Whatever the reason, by continually allowing others to tell our story, we risk having history further rewritten.  We simply can't allow this to happen.

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