After thoroughly enjoying Django (twice), I started reading critic and movie-goer reviews. Some folks seemed to be “outraged” by the use of the N-word or so they said on twitter and in the comments of blogs. I immediately dismissed it as fashionable disapproval of a controversial topic, but began thinking about the films that actually had a negative impact on the ever-changing direction of African American Culture. Here’s my top ten list:
1. Superfly (1972) -[the cool drug dealer] This was the first mainstream movie to glamorize the idea of the cool Black drug dealer. He as tough, well dressed, pretty women like him and the movie ended with him unscathed by his “haters.”
2. The Mack (1973) – [the pimp] Like Superfly, the Mack glorified the life of a pimp. This film was widely popular and has affected the minds of men for generations since it’s release.
The day after seeing this movie in high school, I applied some of the “lessons” learned about controlling women’s minds. Needless to say… it worked. What should be mentioned is that years later I had to unlearn that crap to have healthy relationships with respectable women.
3. Scarface (1983) – [the god of gangsters] The idolized thug maxim, Scarface is about a immigrant who took no guff from anyone in his ruthless conquest of the Miami drug trade. The ideals in this movie have been romanced in popular Black culture to a near religious degree.
I can envision a young underprivileged teenager watching this film and seeing it as the blueprint to a better life. I can’t prove it, but I’m pretty sure this movie has lead a lot of young men straight to prisons and funeral homes.
4. Birth of a Nation (1915) – [the savage] The undisputed most racist mainstream American film ever created. I don’t know where to begin… white actors in black face, the black characters are mindless rapist, the Ku Klux Klan are the heroes, and the movie was seen as a masterpiece at the time. It was the first motion picture to be shown at the White House and President Woodrow Wilson supposedly said the film was “like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.”
5. The Madea Collection (2005) – [the buffoon] It’s popularity is what makes it dangerous. If a robust variety of mainstream Black films existed, Tyler Perry’s movies would simply be an easily ignored or privately enjoyed sub genre of lighthearted buffoonery. Unfortunately, few Black movies have the impact and national distribution of Tyler Perry movies. I liken it to the difference between when a family member laughs about his/her family dysfunction versus when an outsider laughs.
6. Soul Food (1997) – [the big mama] Soul Food is about a black grandmother, aptly named Big Mama, who demonstrates her love by feeding herself and her children unhealthy southern style food. After losing her leg to clogged arteries and eventually dying from her eating habits, her family reunites for a Sunday dinner to eat the same food that just killed Big Mama.
No lesson was learned and no one thought to change his or her diet. The end… of us.
7. Hustle and Flow (2005) – [The rapper] This movie is sort of a modern combination of all the above films in an award winning burrito of stereotypes. I think the most detrimental part is the ending. Djay brutally assaults a popular musician, empowers one of his prostitutes to market his song “by any means necessary,” and becomes a hood legend / successful rapper for it. And the saga continues…
8. Precious (2009) – [the dysfunctional family] I think the chief film critic of The New York Press and the chairman of the New York Film Critics Circle said it better than I ever could. “Not since ‘The Birth of a Nation’ has a mainstream movie demeaned the idea of Black American life as much as ‘Precious.’ Full of brazenly racist clichés (Precious steals and eats an entire bucket of fried chicken), it is a sociological horror show.
Black pathology sells, It’s an over-the-top political fantasy that works only because it demeans Blacks, women and poor people.”
9. Gone with the Wind (1937) – [the mammy] Another award winning travesty, the film features the quintessential broken grammar, dim witted, happy to help, subservient slave-like worker. In his Autobiography, Malcolm X notes the deep shame he felt as a child after watching this film. This stereotype has been repeated many times since in films such as Driving Miss Daisy and the more recent film, the Help.
10. Dangerous Minds ( 1995)- [the uneducated] In this film, a white savior comes to the ghetto to civilize some uneducated Black and Latino savages. It’s a tale of racial inferiority and the inability for urban Black kids to compete with their suburban Caucasian peers. Hollywood has since made dozens of films just like this one to re-emphasis the stereotype.
Did I leave any films out? Do you disagree with my choices? Let me know.