Whip Appeal, Weals & Oscar Nods

2014/02/02

Thumbnail for version as of 21:10, 30 September 2006


In case you’re wondering:  Who the hell is this guy?  Well, I’ll just have to keep you in suspense, since I love to do that in my short fiction.  I can’t write “hold you captive,” with all these slave movies coming out one after another and so much so that I’ve been kidnapped in my nightmares and whipped with and without a soundtrack playing beneath the rhythms of the lashings and the counterpoint of my screams.

 

Fickle Focus on Existential, Epic Slave Flicks

 

Are you feeling whiplashed between slavery flashbacks?  If so, the last sentence of the previous paragraph probably was traumatic for you, too.  Matter of fact, my digits are still twitching, and welts are rising on my back.  Wait, those are weals from all the b.s. over the latest slave saga, to which I’m severely allergic. It soon will be 40 years since the debut of “Roots” and the concurrent cornrowing of my hair to Mount Kilimanjaro’s elevation — the source of lifelong scalp irritation — and my baby hair still hasn’t grown back.  Maybe I could add to mine from Ginuwine’s.  Or dare I ask “good”-hairy Chanté:  “Puis-je couper, s’il vous plaît?” and risk getting cussed out in the whistle register.

No bones or afros to pick on this captivating subject — I’m just being cheeky.  Hey, you.  Eyes up here or else you’ll get flash-flogged after supper.  I believe in spare the crop, spoil the sub.  Oops, wrong movie.

Of course we need films such as 12 Years a Slave by Steve McQueen!  (If we’re on the same bat channel, you know that I’m referring to the Academy Awards contender, the Black Brit filmmaker, not the legendary star of BullittThe Getaway and The Thomas Crown Affair.)  With 12 Years receiving nine Oscar nods, director McQueen might wind up pumping more than a few of those golden nudes like irons in the fire of controversy.  Now that he has risen above the flames — that is, the hellish heat sputtering from mouths of pitchforked tongues belonging to unseen but heard gremlins in the room, namely the Edison Ballroom in Manhattan — his regal voice will silence his detractors.

Here, I gesture with a peace sign, minus the forefinger, to Slavegate, which got swinging with the stench of “strange fruit” when morons heckled McQueen — a groundbreaking, visionary filmmaker — at the New York Film Critics Circle’s awards dinner last month.  Roast chicken may not have been on the menu at the NYFCC function, but I’m flipping the bird also at the dimwits who continue to whine: “But he’s [McQueen is] British; what does he know about American slavery?”

Most of the whiners have a heap of melanin, so, ironic though the following may sound, I’m not playing “the race card.”  What I am doing is charging them, the whiners, with ignorance in the first degree because they’re uneducated about their own history; for the trans-Atlantic slave trade — which we all know now was operated with some complicity by Africans — benefited mostly non-African economies around the globe and, thus, distributed African peoples everywhere, possibly including some of Steve McQueen’s own ancestors.

Beloved ver2.jpg12 Years a Slave film poster.jpgWhat I’d like to know is:  WTF took so long for McQueen or anyone else to adapt the Solomon Northup’s poignant memoir into 12 Years a Slave?  Did we really have to endure Quentin Tarantino septic music video, which served for some to placate their minds to the extent that they were horrified at the pop-unfriendly scoring of 12 Years a Slave?  I mean, really.

BelovedNovel.jpg

We — and not only Black people — are experiencing short-term memory loss in overlooking the excellent and haunting film Beloved (1998) starring (who else?) Oprah Winfrey.  The Jonathan Demme-directed epic film was based on the novel Beloved (1987) by Toni Morrison, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Morrison’s novel was inspired by the real-life story of Margaret (Peggy) Garner, who reached freedom but then was abducted and forced into slavery. Not too long before Morrison’s novel was published, there was a little-known indie film (so limited in distribution and promotion that I can’t recall its title or director) that starts out in contemporary times and involves a Black female protagonist who is abducted by white slavers and forced back through the centuries into slavery in the South.

And although the 1991 indie film Daughters of the Dust, by Julie Dash, didn’t deal with slavery, it’s the only film by a Black female director who address Gullah culture from Gullah people’s perspective.  It even features dialogue in Gullah Creole.  In her poetic film Dash tells the story of three generations of women from a family that lives on St. Helena Island (among the South Carolina Sea Islands), but from the Unborn Child’s P.O.V.   It’s the turn-of-the-twentieth-century, and the sistren are about to depart from their ancestral homeland. (Gullahs are predominantly of African heritage; enslaved Africans working the rice plantations in the Low Country were able to outsurvive the white slavers, who succumbed to tropical diseases, and so they broke free and made the marshy land their own.  Some say Gullah people are descended only from West Africa, but I am part-Gullah, and my fam has ancestors from the Congo, too; which means I have distant cousins among Black people in Brazil, many of whom derived from the Congo and Angola.  Hmmm … could that be why I’m always drawn to capoeira?)  Through stunning visual imagery, the unusual narrative of Daughters of the Dust shows us the women’s meditations about their family’s journey North.

Maybe Daughters of the Dust will make you think twice the next time you’re at a resort, trying to get that ace in the hole at some golf course on Gullah turf in the Sea Islands of South Carolina or Georgia, hunh?  So check out Netflix or go geechee yourself to a Black film festival when one comes to your town.

*   *   *


“Racial Ambiguity:  Take One”

 

Only in the United States, where, historically, the powers-that-be have brainwashed many citizens into thinking along the racial divides of black/white (f/k/a  nigger/white, colored/white, negro/white), because they were/are short in gray matter, does the term racial ambiguity gain any kind of currency.  Just as I abhor the terms black community and African American community, I detest racial ambiguity.  For the remainder of this essay — the first in an irregular series — I will be capitalizing the “b” in Black. and the “n” in Negro.  If I ever need to use the epithet nigger in a scholarly context, it shall remain lowercase because it is a trigger word that belongs in the gutter.

If the word race is a social construct, let’s not deconstruct it. Let’s destroy it … now!  To do that, we need to begin in our minds.  The preceding statement refers to the minds of all citizens of our world because, at some point, a person comes in contact with U.S. social pathology through the media.  There is only the human race.  We don’t need genetics testing to prove that there are so few “pure Black” / “pure African” people in the U.S. and the world at large because miscegenation went hand in hand with the Trans-Atlantic slave trade — just as for aeons, pillaging of foreign lands and the female bodies on them (and of the psyches of those conquered people) was rampant.  In the U.S. alone — which had far fewer enslaved Africans than, say, Brazil — if white slaveholders hadn’t raped so many enslaved African women in a savage form of breeding for profit (and, sure, lust on the part of the colonies-sanctioned rapists), there wouldn’t have been enough slaves to build industries in what is now one of the most industrialized and <cough> civilized nations on earth.

Having said all of the above, how a person self-identifies is at her or his discretion.  Through history, the descendants of enslaved Africans — no matter what “percentage” of European admixture and/or any other admixture (remember the U.S. “one-drop rule”) — have decided to forge ahead in spite of but in full pride of their complexion; pass or pass on passing despite looking like today’s Wentworth Miller  (sorry, can’t use everyone else’s usual target, Mariah Carey, here because, IMO, she looks like she ‘s got that one drop) or the late TV writer David Mills.  Mills wrote many episodes for various critically acclaimed dramatic series, from “Homicide: Life on the Street” and “The Wire” to “ER,” and he collaborated with David Smith on the defunct and underrated HBO series “Tremé”.

Therefore, the term racial ambiguity is being used and perpetuated by people (no matter how much melanin be in their skin) who believe that one requires external validation of their existence within social and socioeconomic contexts.  I plead guilty to dumping, not in person but in certain essays, on people who self-identify as Creoles.  So here I apologize. Let’s be fair, however.  As Steve Zahn’s “Davis McAlary,” a loudmouth liberal deejay on “Tremé,” once said about the continuing mixing of “races” in the U.S. (and here I paraphrase):  “We are a Creole nation!”

In closing, I turn away from the idiot box and toward literary history to highlight a person of African and European descent who conscientiously honored his Blackness in his native France and throughout the world.  Although his family was of the aristocratic class due to his father’s paternal bloodline, the legendary writer Alexandre Dumas, père (pictured at top), decided not to pass in toto.  (The père following his name  distinguishes it from that of his son:  Alexandre Dumas, fils)  Take a good look at his hair alone; he couldn’t, really.  Nevertheless, he could pass in authorship in much the same way that, today, any of us writers can disguise ourselves by gender, “race,” ethnicity, etc.  And the gentleman — and I bet he was gentle, fathering so called (at the time) natural children with as many as forty mistresses — was wittily confrontational when he felt he needed to be.

Author of The Count of Monte CristoThe Three Musketeers and the much-less-talked-about outside of literary circles, Georges — in addition to myriad other books as well as plays — Dumas was the son of a multiracial father born in Saint-Domingue (n/k/a Haiti):  Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, produced from the union of a French nobleman, the marquis Alexandre-Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie, and an enslaved woman (rumored to be Creole), Marie-Cessette Dumas.  The literary Dumas inherited his father’s revolutionary spirit, famously replying to some idiot who had made a disparaging remark about his African ancestry:  “My father was a mulatto, my grandfather was a Negro, and my great-grandfather a monkey.  You see, Sir, my family starts where yours ends.”  (Source:  Wikipedia; boldface emphasis: mine)

Alexandre Dumas’ comeback may not have been subtle but was erudite.  A dollop of anthropological wit with a dash of wise ass.  In contrast, someone calling another “racially ambiguous” is courting verbal whup-ass and is a nitwit and a misanthrope.

 

CUT!

 

 

 

This has been a Black History Month moment.  We now return you to your station in life.

 

 

© 2014 Chantale Reve

All Rights Reserved

 

Photo Source (Alexandre Dumas):  Wikimedia Commons

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