Here’s what trips me out. Why is it that every significant Hollywood movie about Black people can’t just be about the Black people? It’s got to be about the White people who saved the Black people and showed them how to be human beings of worth. Glory, Mississippi Burning, even Biko. Come on! Stephen Biko is reduced to a supporting character in his own biopic! Well, at least that’s better than poor Medgar Evers. Apparently his life story was about the battle between Alec Baldwin and James Woods.
The one movie I can point to in recent memory that gets it just right isn’t even about American Blacks, although African-Americans are the ones who should be crying out the loudest about this cinematic injustice. The movie that gets it right is Hotel Rwanda. The movie is not about U.N. forces come to save the poor non-self-reliant savages. It is not (thankfully and surprisingly atypically) about the intrepid young White American reporter who brings the plight of the Tutsis to the attention of the (White, Western) international community, thereby saving the helpless Africans while at the same time securing the heart and loins of the White British humanitarian aid worker.
No, the movie was about Paul Rusesabagina and how he helped to save thousands of Rwandans from genocide. The movie has plenty of White characters, but they are neither portrayed as the saviors nor as the villains of this piece. They are, as should be the case with any pic about Black folk made today, integral to the story (Hutus and Tutsis would not have even been driven to those ends without the influence of White European settlers) but tangential to its telling (best embodied by Nick Nolte in, sadly, his most substantial role and capable performance in years). Even my seven-year-old son was enthralled with the picture.
We need more films like Hotel Rwanda and fewer of the typical Hollywood fare concerning Black stories, typified by the dreaded Tarzan syndrome. Whiteboy gets dropped into the heart of deepest, darkest Africa and ends up running the continent. Not only is he better than any native-born Black African, but even the animals defer to him. Edgar Rice Burroughs would have us believe that not only is Caucasian genetic material heartier and more adaptable than anything that could come from a Negroid, but also (and here’s the real slap in the face!) that even apes are more effective parents than Blacks.
I’d love to see a mythology built around a young African orphan raised by mountain goats and growing up to be the revered and undefeatable barefoot-skiing protector of Switzerland. Unfortunately, Paul Mooney was right. I am in my lifetime more likely to see the mega-budgeted film The Last Nigger On Earth starring Tom Hanks.