Sunday, April 22, 2007

"Whatcha Think Is Gonna Happen Here?" Oh wow, we already know. Dang.

From Dangerous Minds to Freedom Writers, we're all used to glorified white savior movies. Kids of color who just cannot seem to get their act together until, blinded by the white, they are given a new vision of promise, courage, and success.

Sometimes, I feel as if my white friends blankly nod along when I rage against movies like these. I suspect they don't understand my critique or they feel compelled to hide their secret desire to change the world one Vanilla Ice impersonation at a time. Honestly though, I am not against white helpers. While a white person will not escape my loving critiques when helping out people of color, I will still respect him or her for identifying a need and responding to the call (not anymore than a person of color though; no more white privilege for you!). However, movies like these perpetuate the stereotype that black uplift always needs white strings attached.

It's a shame movies like Akeelah and the Bee are rare events while a film like Freedom Writers is so trite that even MadTV takes advantage of its foolishness. Yet, Freedom almost doubled the box office gross of Akeelah. Like usual, we cannot just point at a black status symbol and be content with some form of progress. The studio system needs to change by hiring more black talent behind the scenes to change the stories that get told. Doug Atchison, the white writer of Akeelah, is great, but we need to share our visions with each other while asserting ourselves and our stories into the dominant framework with the hope that we can becoming an original source of transformative energy for a broken system.

On the side note tip, the Yale community has been subject to some really poor attempts at satire this past year. As a result, a lot of these "humorists" are convinced that people of color don't have a sense of humor or hypocritically indulge in satirical humor privately. I think this sketch is an example of responsible satire, a term I'd define as "explosive with a ready made clean up crew." You've got to be ready to heal the hurt you're about to expose (not necessarily cause, there's a difference). There are devices for this effort, and I think this sketch uses them wisely. Note the African-American woman who fleshes out the problem in her monologue to the "nice white lady." Or even the fact that although she introduces herself, her whiteness is what we are supposed to notice; therefore, it is her title as well. Besides the creepy and lingering domestic violence "joke," the sketch did a good job at presenting the problem and allowing us to laugh at it while not disparaging the students of color or even the white teacher. I had been sleeping on MadTV. Not anymore.

Edit: After Naima wisely tempered my excitment, I'll keep one eye opened, one eye closed. Good lookin' out.


Naima said...

i don't think one good sketch redeems MadTV. they do plenty of satire that isn't responsible or thought provoking.

i would encourage you to feel free to continue sleeping on it.

Joshua said...

LOL. Yea, that's my youthful optimism getting to me. MadTV stays on the yellow. Until the light changes, I'll continue cruising with the plays of Elizabeth and Melay.

Anonymous said...

I emailed this clip to my brothers/cousins and my cousin wrote back, appropriately:

"You can count on MADtv to come through every once in a blue moon with something clever. The rest of the time it's like your TV vomiting
inside itself."

ha, so TRUE. but optimism is always good too :)

Anyway, re: Freedom Writers... what I found also interesting was how the kids turned around in it only via a connection to a (seeming) white experience (i.e. the Holocaust was used as a vehicle of understanding rather than for these students studying their own histories... of U.S. slavery, the violence of colonization and border creation, etc). Of course, the Holocaust should be studied but should be done in its own right, just as we should study the lived experiences of youth of color in the U.S. in our classrooms too.
.... & we saw this in the classic white savior movie Dangerous Minds too with the readings of Dylan Thomas (I mean, are there no poets of color that would connect to these kids' experiences?). Tangentially, I think this raises larger and important questions on inclusion/exclusion of material in our curricula.

Another aspect: it frustrates me how you're always made to sympathize with the kids in these movies but never with their parents ... people who are stuck within the same structure of racism/classism. If there were just room for a bigger narrative.... sigh.

Naima said...

anonymous, i completely agree with your observations about the strange place of parents in these narratives. it's a vaguely neo-con angle that these films take:

the parents are part of the problem, reproducing urban depravity, unable to achieve and lift themselves out in the way that their children ars, sans systemic reform.

these films are onto something we seem to have forgotten though that african american women reformers certainly new at the turn of the twentieth century:

education is the real grassroots.
it's where we organize and build consciousness, community.

time TO WAKE UP!