Ricky Gervais delivered on the promise of a no holds barred takedown of Hollywood in his opening monologue for the Golden Globes but one joke got the most attention.
The left called him out for being another white man silencing the voices of people trying to make change. The right loved him for calling out the hypocrisy of Hollywood (without, of course, addressing their own hypocrisy on the right).
Truly the headline on this joke should have read Gervais Compares Disney to ISIS, but our celebrity-obsessed culture, we were more concerned with arguing over who should talk and who shouldn’t talk to get the meta-joke that was more shocking and important than another round in who’s speech matters. Because whose speech can matter when large corporations are not listening to the cries of people for equality and justice, no matter how beautiful that voice for change may be?
Even the most powerful producers and brightest stars in Hollywood, even Bey and Jay are beholden to large corporations who regularly deplete the environment and abuse human rights to get into the black on their books. There is a through-line from children mining Colton to your iPhone to the Apple TV+ platform where your favorite star is employed. There is a direct connection between Disney and the propagation of racism, antisemitism, and sexism that can’t be disconnected from The Lion King or Queen Bey.
And you. Nestled in between the mining of Cobalt and the mining of profit is you–your eyeballs turn the mining of Cobalt into the mining of cash. Your eyeballs are part of that chain of production.
Yes, stars have amazing lives of privilege and pleasure secluded from the daily reality of most people, and they too live within the systems that you do. Powerful celebrities are also negatively affected by the systems we live in, even if in profoundly different ways from the most harmed. Despite having the power and platform to address issues they care about, they still are not free from drinking at the trough of global capitalism.
No matter how luminous your favorite star looks in that pricey Haute Coture, even they have a hand that signs their checks. Their freedom to meaningfully engage in real systemic change is hampered by the very corporations that pay them the money they donate. In this way, like gossip, mags like to proclaim: stars are just like us!
Who holds the power to attack headless snakes, organizations where the power is concentrated but the blame is diffused? There is not King of the North, no Thanos to vanquish. All our superhero stories, funded by corporations that are not people, don’t teach us how to dismantle complex and powerful systems. Infinity stones won’t help us, but neither, Rickey, will telling people to shut up.
We need, instead, solidarity. We need to acknowledge that systems of power and privilege don’t grant full freedom even to the privileged. Using privilege to attack the system that confers it won’t save the rich when we come to eat them. From the most marginalized to the lionized we need to dismantle the systems of power and privilege that keep all of us silenced in a burning world.
The power of the best artists lay not only in their ability to show you the now but their skill and imagination to show us what’s next. There can be no doubt that Lemonade shows us a more sophisticated and woke Beyonce.
Two weeks ago Beyonce released her visual album Lemonade like a Kraken, instantly flooding the interwebs with thinkpieces dissecting everything from the symbolism of Nigerian facepaint to the marriage of her parents. She was even able to crowd Trump out of the headlines for a few hours, and make MSNBC question if they ousted Melissa Harris-Perry too soon.
By the following Monday Lemonade was spiking downloads at Jay-Z flagging music service Tidal. A day later, traditional release of the album propelled it to the top of the charts. After sipping this instant classic for a few weeks, it seems unimaginable that we ever lived without it.
The visual album is an hour-long piece that is more visual poem than music video. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth the time–beautiful, lyrical and rich in every way. It is a full meal, not meant to be captured in a few screen shots, that walks us through the stages of a relationship in crisis from intuition through anger, apathy to hope.
What has made the video such a breakout piece is the powerful pro-black woman story. Rarely are black women represented in complex ways that allow their full humanity to show through.
Following the monster release comes a wave of products, tours and gossip magazine covers. Now we’re left with the fallout, the dregs of the hype, the parodies. This is the perfect time to look at Lemonade not for the hype of what it was to be, but to see what it really was. Pop culture is a dish best served cold.
Beyonce has been a star since she was a child,and her discography as a solo artist has helped her achieve megastardom. She is a talented singer and dancer. Her albums celebrated independent women, then she became Sasha fierce, fell drunk in love, sipped watermelon, and turned into Mrs. Carter in that order. Until recently she was not particularly woke, so even though Lemonade is powerful, and recent times have changed many of us, it’s worth a careful critique of Lemonade before we make Beyonce the head of the black feminist movement.
Lemonade is for Black women
Mainstream media is made for mainstream audiences–and in America, that means white audiences. When we see diverse faces in media, that doesn’t mean that the story comes from diverse voices. Even ABC’s multicultural programming is inclusive of white audiences–think the president in Scandal or the whitewashing of Eddie Huang’s Fresh Off the Boat.
Lemonade creates a space for black women that is about, for and starring black women with tons of diversity throughout the extensive credits for the album. The representation in the video celebrates black women in all their diversity, from the mothers of slain boys to the new breed of pop culture superheroes like Amandla Stenberg. Seeing a range of women like this beautifully and powerfully represented definitely gives me life.
That doesn’t mean that it is ONLY for black women. It may be created for black women but anyone can consume it. Like Vogue, or America for white people. If you want to comment on it, just make sure you check our own privilege (this may be time-consuming if you haven’t thought of it before, Piers Morgan), do your research (I’m looking at you, Fox), prepare for clapback and absolutely avoid telling black women what they should or should not do and stick just to your point of view on the video.
2. It takes a village to make lemonade
The visual album to Lemonade is a powerful and beautiful piece of work crafted by a team of young artist and creatives. remember, even Michelangelo didn’t paint that whole ceiling alone. While Queen Bey reigns as the artist, like lots of famous artists, she farms out the massive work here. On the visual album, Kahlil Joseph is listed as co-director with a classroom’s worth of amazing directors and cinematographers taking on parts of the visual album.
In addition to the music of lemonade, poet Warsan Shire is heavily featured in the visual album. I must admit the most moving words of Lemonade for me belonged to the poet. Her language is powerful and spare, leaving no words to hide behind. Here’s hoping we hear much more from this young lion.
From the streets to the spirits to the days of the old south Lemonade proves the power of Bey and associates to slay…..as long as you don’t want to wear pants, not a lot of pants..just a few, but not really about pants.
Lemonade’s look is a world of black girl magic with nary a press and curl in sight. While many of Bey signature looks are from high-end designers like the Roberto Cavalli Dress, the whole is interspersed with street wear and plenty of African wax prints to render the style her own. Be careful of spreads that promise you the look for less–
Not sure any of these will really give you the look of a $4000 gown. While Bey’s original look is beautiful, like all things associated with Lemonade, this look takes long cash.
3. Lemonade isn’t cheap
As amazing as Lemonade is as art, when we I to check the price tag, I notice committing to Lemonade fully is going to cost you. Lemonade premiered on HBO with solid ratings–though notably behind Dragonball Z. Initially, the album could only be downloaded via Tidal. Guess she wasn’t too mad at Jay to throw a bone to the company the couple took a hit on last year. The album sold nearly 654,000 copies the first week and all 12 tracks made the charts, breaking Taylor Swift’s record. Seems like breaking up is good business for Bey.
The Queen is also launching a 40 city tour with tickets priced like used cars that’s selling out and adding shows. Before the tour gets hot she’s already grossed 100 mil. Can’t make the show? She had updated merch on her website that is sure to sell out just like her athleisure line. All in all, this stands to be one of her most lucrative year in years. Maybe she should be thanking Becky with the good hair. Hmm, is there a Lemonade weave line potentially?
Bey assured us in Formation that the best revenge is getting your paper and she sure seems hell bent on massive revenge. Seems like her fans are willing to pay to make it right. Even Jay-Z will get a cut with his credits and a boost to Tidal. Who said cheaters never win?
4. Lemonade is problematic (great, but problematic; chill please, Beyhive)
I watched the video, and I listened to the album and surprise : they are not the same. The visual album is rich with the words and work of a whole host of people and seems to tell a big story about being a black woman in this world. The musical album, by contrast, seems a more intimate and personal story. Stripped of Warsan Shire’s poetry, and the powerful visuals that call up our ancestors from West Africa and the south, the album is the personal story of a woman scorned. Fox News criticized Beyonce for being angry and militant in her new work but [with the exception of Formation which stands as its own piece separate from the narrative and I think is not part of the visual album. It seems much newer than other work, just tacked on at the end] the album is apolitical. Nowhere in the album are any words that directly address the storms being weathered by Black America nor the women shepherding us through it.
Instead, Lemonade is full of emotions, the pain of love lost, and the fight to get it back. These emotions are deeply relatable for anyone cheated on, not just black women. That’s important because a large part of the buying Beyhive is not young black women fighting for justice. The album speaks to her wider fan base. If you have a broken heart, this will help you for sure. If you are down for fighting patriachal oppression and systemic racism…umm…the vibe is there but the ablum lacks any substative take on today, unlike to Pimp a Butterfly or Talib Kweli’s collective Indy 500. What has been roundly hailed as an ode to black female empowerment seems to contain very little liberation.
In Lemonade, Beyonce tells a story where she discovers him cheating (Pray You Catch Me), tells him he done her wrong (Hold Up and Don’t Hurt Yourself), and goes out without him (Sorry). But then the storm has passed and the rest of the album is devoted to the work of getting back with Jay. All of the righteous anger turns into acquiescence, and acceptance. If even Beyonce puts up with doggish behavior, then what chance do any of us have to be women free from disrespect? Here is the first time in the piece that we see Jay Z, just a hand to cover her mouth, much it seems to her pleasure.
For sure relationships are complicated, and marriages even more so, but young women intent on overturning harmful structures could use a roadmap that includes some truth with the reconciliation. They are looking for new options, not a romantic return to gender roles. Detrmined to have their cake and eat it too, why not use the fantasy of music to show how liberated women get themselvs–and their men, if they choose –free. Romance? Cool, but could you put some respeck on it?
5. Lemonade is supposed to have a bite
Beyonce opens up a can of whoop-ass fueled with the pain of black women only to sweeten it with love songs and finish with sweet love all night long. How is this supposed to gel with the powerful women fighting for freedom that she shows in the film? Should Zendaya look to forgive people that said she smelled like a dirty hippie? Should Mike Brown’s mother’s “torturer become her remedy”? That certainly wouldn’t look like the freedom Beyonce sings about.
Like most stories about revolution these days, the revolution always seems to have a simple happy ending. Nice as that may be to end an album, it does little to help us envision a world where we’re truly free. If we tear down the culture, we have to build something else in its place. If the new something is the same as the old something, then the revolution failed. As exciting as it is to see black women represented in different and complex ways unless we have new endings, its all bullshit.
Black female empowerment isn’t a music video or a gap ad, but a real shift that is going to take a baseball bat to existing structures without a neat end to the love drought just two songs away.
The power of the best artists lay not only in their ability to show you the now but their skill and imagination to show us what’s next. There can be no doubt that Lemonade shows us a more sophisticated and woke Beyonce. Her careful read of her audience and the culture give us an exciting companion to other protest works like To Pimp a Butterfly or Indie 500. Here’s hoping that she keeps developing as an artist and blazes us a trail to better endings full of Freedom instead of swag.
If you think Beyonce was slaying as Oshun in her lemonade video, check out the real deal–Oshun is a hip hop duo out of New York who fully fux with the Yoruba deities. They take not just the look, but the spirit and intention of West African spirituality and infuse throughout their work. Check out their latest video “Protect Yourself” when the gods don’t aim to smash windows but instead take a hit at all that ails the community.
This weekend in an increasingly unsurprising surprise-move, Beyonce dropped a surprise single, “Formation” which was surprisingly woke and, unsurprisingly, Black twitter’s collective head exploded. The video is a beautifully unapologetic apologia of black feminism, full of the trappings of contemporary blackness. And it is dope.
The video is full enough of symbols to bang out a media criticism master’s thesis, but you don’t have all night and I’m not paying tuition so I’ll try to hit the highlights.
The video starts out with Beyonce perched atop a New Orleans police car in a flooded out Nola neighborhood–throughout the song she references her family pedigree so often a video viewer might be forgiven for thinking that she is claiming Nola as her own. A few more establishing shots firmly establish that you are in the world of post Katrina New Orleans–and not the one where people celebrated the rebuilding of the city on the recent 10-year anniversary of the storm but the real New Orleans where both the storm and the regentrified rebuilding continue to slay local residents.
The video pays homage to today’s black radical feminists: born in the wake of a storm, splattered with the blood shaken from cops hands, awake, agitating, unafraid. Unlike Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood fantasy of women who slay, Beyonce shows us how real women slay in a world realer than anyone should want. She shows us sisters with real black bodies moving with power and agency. She shows us flashes of black culture unrecognizable to middle america–not the smiling coontastic network black, or the tear gassed protesters–but a black that exists where white America is not. She showcases a range of black beauty that is existing not in opposition or response to, but out beyond the ideal of white beauty. The press, the illuminuts, the haters, the cops all get zero fucks from the queen.
In the midst of times full of racial tension music has been both call to arms and therapist couch. Questlove’s call to artists to respond to the political realities of black America have seen a Wu-Tang-crew-sized response with artists from Talib Kweli and Killer Mike, to J. Cole and, of course Kendrick Lamar all providing soundtrack to the revolution. With so many women at the center of the movement for black lives, it seems only fitting that the ladies get their own black lives banger, special for the sisters.
Not only did Beyonce make this banging song, and this blazing video, but she also marched out onto the field during the Superbowl halftime show with a team of black dancers complete with raised gloved fists and afros tucked into beret a la black panthers. Yup, sandwiched in between Coldplay and Bruno Mars was a little slice of go-ahead-and-lose-your-mind-white-supremacists. Fox news dragged Rudy Giuliani out storage so he could yell about inciting cop-hate, despite the fact that Beyonce didn’t once reference cop hating–or 9/11, so this is really none of Giuliani’s business.
Beyonce has not typically been one to tread a political path in her music, but these times are making us all more woke than ever. She should be applauded for using her significant celebrity to highlight black women, especially in such a powerful and authentic way. As a mother to a beautiful baby-afro-wearing Blue, who does her own slaying in the video, Beyonce’s evolving black feminism is powerful modeling–of the cultural sense–for women both inside and outside of the black community.
The video to the song is rich with complex and layered symbolism. We see Beyonce in places all cut from the new southern gothic–row houses and interiors cramped with golden southern sunlight and old bookcases, a porch fit for Madame Levaux’s coven of witches in New Orleans. Natural hair, and white lace, Gucci body suits and second line–Beyonce’s evocative imagery represents America’s troubled waters as a proving ground for black girl magic where she is high priestess here to share with you her prodigious power to make America love black women. Like the culture of New Orleans itself, the story of black America she shows us is a layered petticoat of culture and of history.
So right about now, you should be feeling pretty good. Maybe ready to buy the song–but you’ll need to download Tidal because the song is only available via Bey boo’s music streaming service, which last we heard was costing the couple money. But it’s a great song! Maybe you’re ready to go see the Queen herself. Lucky for you, she-surprise!-announced a 40-city Formation stadium tour. Okay, no Tidal, no tickets, maybe just a little merch! We got that too:
At Shop.Beyonce you can cop any of the latest must have accessories to the struggle–perhaps a bag that lets others know hot sauce is inside-cute!-or would you prefer a phone case that says that you that bitch when you cause all this conversation. You can even get a sweat shirt that warns you will Twirl on Haters (wonder how long before Kenya Moore want her piece of the honeypie). Hey, what if you want to be Bey? You can even go to Vogue for a lookbook of Beyonce’s Formation styles.
It all starts to seem like an awful lot of commodification for a protest song. I mean no one’s rocking a Kendrick Lamar Aight trucker hat at martini-brunch. Is this video an authentic expression of Blackness or a carefully crafted product that commodifies the very images of resistance to sell back to the people its meant to uplift?
Last year, Beyonce and her Boo planned a summer tour together–the On the Run tour. The tour materials, complete with Bey in a Vogue-ish ski mask harken back to the old Bonnie and Clyde that had worked so well for the pair in the past. This time, tickets were a tough sell. In the time of Black Lives Matter, thuggin’ it out in between parties at the Met didn’t seem to get the same street cred that it used to. Nor could she go back in time to the Mrs. Carter tour, drenched in Eurocentric finery, and expect the very woke sisters of today to spend their hard earned cash on $100.00 tickets. Embracing the political issues her young fan base faces worked well for her on songs like Pretty, so sprinkling some #blackgirlmagic on her new work was no risk.
If the song pays homage to Beys own blackness and love affair with her people, why not use the more poignant imagery on the merchadise? Instead of having more realty tv twirlers, why not have any one of a number of powerful images from the video the shirts? Black hat middle finger up? First raised (in aGucci dress) on a cop car? Instead, the Formation money shot if you will is of her hanging out of a car window. It seems to beg a who did it better between her and Kendrick Lamar–and the joker.
Berets, afros, gothic, Nola, second line, cop cars, graffiti, flood, black hoodies, hot sauce, big frieda, ghanian chiefs, hot pants, police lines, black boys, hair shops, parasols–it starts to feel a bit like Bey collected everything running through the dreams and nightmares of black women and arranged it–artfully, elegantly–to conjure a sisterhood…and to sell sweatshirts. When she calls on us to fight, I’m not sure we agree on the end game. I think the best revenge would be justice, or maybe a culture shift, even a hint of equity but all she wants to slay for is paper. In fact, she strenuously defends her right to operate as a capitalist in free market economy: you can do that, but I though we were on some black power shit?
And before you tell me what they donate, know that Beyonce has a reported net worth of $250 million dollars. Peeling off bail money is laudable, but not considered to put them up among the ranks of active black philanthropists. It is good to see the couple helping out more after the long standing beef with Harry Belafonte ended just this past fall. The beef started when Belafonte called out Jay Z for his lack of activism. Jay Z’s recent pledge of $1.5 million from Tidal is a step in the right direction, but again, not enough to make them stand out in a field of philanthropists with smaller net worths.
About this time in my love affair with this song, I start to feel little over-committed. Oaky, so it wasn’t really this oh-hey-look-a-song-I-made-! since the world of Formation is way to formed from song to video and tour and live performance and even merch. The song-as-product takes lots of planning, and this one seems like it was carefully planned to push the very buyable world of Formation. It makes me wonder if the perfectly timed Superbowl controversy was about black bodies or green backs. Nothing makes teens loves something more that Fox declaring it demonic.
Is it possible for something to be both amazing and problematic? Yeah, symbolic constructions are often like that. Best believe this song and its video have earned the title instant classic. But the hyper commodification of black power imagery is selling a lot of product–something we are right to be watchful of. In these times we have little more than our own sense of self–we’ve got to guard that–even against Mr. and Mrs. Carter.
But its not too late, Bey, to be that black Bill Gates in the making–remember he quit the business to devote himself fully to charitable work and social change. Think of how amazing you’ll look slaying systemic racism in that Gucci. We’re here waiting for you, in formation.
At this year’s VMA Awards Beyonce was determined to not be out twerked by the pretenders to the throne Minaj and Cyrus. She thrilled audiences with a spangle sparkly-pole-shimmying extravaganza featuring her greatest hits–as opposed to Solange’s greatest hits which took place in an elevator.
In the middle of it all, Beyonce decided her brand would embrace feminism, complete with a flashy animation of the word Framed by her thigh gapand a definition. If only my Powerpoints for class could be so exciting; at least they actually make sense.
She followed this lesson in feminism with a rousing rendition of “Bow down, Bitch!”while leaning on a line of women’s asses. Fantastic!
If you hate feminism, maybe this made you hate it a little less. If you love feminism, maybe you threw up. Either way, all those sparkling leotards have shined a light on redefining feminism for a new era. They also may have stopped bell hook’s heart for a few minutes.
With the angry backlash against women and men having equal rights at #whyidontneedfeminism and the very real push back against women’s reproduction and economic rights, we need more people to sign on to the struggle for gender equity, so thanks, Beyonce, for being my plus one. Now about that definition of yours….
Wu Tang Clan, rap royalty and cultural icons, recently put out their first single in 7 years, Keep Watch. The album is from the promised sixth LP from the group, Better Tomorrow.
If you’re a Wu Tang Fan–and who isn’t–you’re looking forward to hearing some new material. Wu is hoping one fan is willing to go the extra mile to get that fresh stuff.
A second album has been recorded by Wu Tang in secret. While that may have you scraping your bitcoins for a download, chances are you won’t hear it unless you are lucky enough to attend one of the art gallery events previewing the album, titled Once Upon A time In Shaolin, before its sale.
Wu Tang has decided to release only one copy of the album to the highest bidder. Wu Tang has always been enterprising, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that they are thinking about a unique way to distributetheir work.
The reasons for this revolutionary record release are perhaps not (totally)so materially driven as you may think. Hip Hop has been little more than product in America for some time now, and Wu Tang hopes to get people to conceive of Hip Hop as the art that is has been and could be again
“The idea that music is art has been something we advocated for years,” says RZA. “And yet its doesn’t receive the same treatment as art in the sense of the value of what it is, especially nowadays when it’s been devalued and diminished to almost the point that it has to be given away for free.”
But releasing the album to the art world instead of the airwaves means that unless a corporation steps in and snaps up the album to give to its customers for publicity, the album could go to a collector, never to be heard by the public. Neither buyer guarantees elevation of the work to art status. Either way, Wu Tang stands to make millions and challenge the traditional boundaries of the genre. Both ways leave long time fans behind.
Somehow, having a single wealthy collector or worse yet, a corporation owning a seminal masterpiece from a classic hip hop group seems to continue the commodification of hip hop in a new sphere even as it limits its availability to loyal fans.
This is only the last in several experiments in music releases. With digital music threatening the ability of artists and companies to tightly control the sale of its products, artist are getting creative. Beyoncé’s album Beyoncé surprised everyone, while her hubby’s Magna Carta was given as a gift to a million Samsung users.
Do you think Wu’s limited release will spark widespread appreciation of hip hop as art, or will putting Wu Tang on the auction block make it chattel music?
Well, the 56th annual Grammy awards are all done but the hangover. In case you couldn’t stay up to catch them all, you may have missed a few awkward moments, some aging rockers and a truly touching wedding a-la Moonies. You also may have missed these award-worthy standouts. Ladies and gentlemen, the first ever smntks celebration of the Grammys–the Sammy’s!
The Hand That Rocks The Cradle Award
This year’s Hand That rocks the Cradle award goes to Pharrell Williams. He hit the stage so much you might have thought he was escorting the guests…but no, he is stirring the pot of pop music behind such hits as “Get Lucky” and “Blurred Lines” as well as his own “Happy”.
Thong of The Year
Putting to rest the argument about Beyonce being the face of black feminism, Queen B tore open the Grammys with her Drunk in Love Duet with hubby Jay Z. She may not have taken song of the year, but this shot shows she may in fact break all laws of physics…or she has some spanxs like you wouldn’t believe.
Most Awkward Unscripted Tribute
Steven Tyler belts out a few bars of Smokey Robinson’s You Really Got a Hold On Me as Smokey looks on. Maybe it’s that smooth skin you could bounce a quarter off, but Smokey looks less than impressed.
The Kanye Award
Sure she’s a winner…but not last night for album of the year. Taylor Swift had to check herself to not jump up when Daft Punk scooped up for best Album. She would have gotten extra points for actually storming the stage and telling Daft punk that she deserved it.
Best Natural (?)
Beyonce takes a second Sammy for going yaki-free and sporting what looks to be her own natural hair. Now she had a pixie not too long ago as my buddy T pointed out, but until we know otherwise we thank the Queen for showing up with hair that looked real and elegant
Hat of the Night
The second place hat…womp womp
Hands down this award goes to Pharrell for his signature 2013 Vivian Westwood Hat. Madonna tried to make a play for this award at the end of the night, but to no avail. You can hate Pharrell’s hat–or make a funny meme out of it–but you cannot deny that it took a lot of confidence to rock that bad boy all year night.
Did we miss an award? Hit the comments with your best Sammy.
Today is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech. The 50 years since that famous speech stand today as a measuring stick to place blackness in America against. To paraphrase MLK himself, it’s 50 years later and the negro is still not free. Now I can hear you shouting “Black President !” from here, and I’ve seen Obama hanging around, so I know lots has changed. Even with all the change, the needle for black people–and poor people– that the civil rights activists fought so hard to move seems to point to the same old numbers.
By every metric of social well being , blacks lag behind their white counterparts. While civil rights gave legal rights to blacks that were long overdue, the last 50 years has witnessed the slow erosion of these gains. Stop and Frisk, Stand Your Ground, and the Supreme Court’s decision on the Voting Rights act all remind us that racism lives on in the heart of the American justice system, while discriminatory financial and educational policies bring the fight to our homes and schools.
What about in the fantastical world of mainstream media? Surely the media does a much better job of representation now, right? Well……
In 1963 there was not one network show–and there were only major networks and no cable, young ones– that starred or featured a character of color. Films, much the same. This is not to say that people of color were excluded from media. Of course westerns like Bonanza and Gunsmoke filled screens with feathered savages, and there were more than a couple of black entertainers popular that year. The racist show Amos and Andy, cancelled years earlier still ran in syndication in over 50 markets. Whatever popular representations of race there were by and large were would not be acceptable by today’s standards….right?
Fast forward 50 years. We have handfuls of big blacks filling up our screens, and incidentally draining our pockets. Beyonce and Jay Z are the reigning king and queen of a kingdom full of rappers, runners and ratchet weave wearers. We even have some young white ladies who I refuse to name here doing their best to play out their own tilted image of what it is to be black.
There’s no doubt that there are hundreds more black characters in media today, but just as in 1963, media representations show blacks as lazy and crazy, violent and vixenish. When we fight mainstream media for representation, we can’t stop with appropriate quantity. Quality matters. High visibility celebs who push a self-centered materialistic life, and images that reinforce the worst of classic stereotypes aren’t progress.
MLK’s I have a dream speech resonates so strongly all these years later because still we strive to be a better more perfect union. Until the words that echo off the water of the mall are the same that make up the stories on our screens, we still have the fight in front of us. As the old saying goes, we ain’t what we used to be, but we ain’t what we ought to be. Lets not take another 50 years to get there.