Thursday, December 4, 2014

Thursentary: The Watsons Go to Birmingham, etc.

(Note: Thursentaries are actually going to be more “commentary” now, or I’m attempting it, so we’ll see how this works out. Be sure to tell me what you think about this sort of thing, suggestions. I do actually want to be interesting and things.)

Photo Credit: CFDb
Last month, November 8th, my sisters and I watched The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963, and I was fascinated.

On the one hand, it astonished me: this was fifty years ago. FIFTY YEARS AGO.

People were getting turned out of restaurants because of their skin color, children were killed in bombings, peaceful men and women were getting sprayed with fire hoses and attacked by dogs for publicizing their beliefs.

And maybe what’s worse, the same sentiments haven’t been extinguished completely today.

See, I’m familiar with a history of dead white guys.

Which isn’t untrue—a lot of times rich white Christians were the only ones permitted power, and so they were the ones who signed the bills and issued the taxes. Other people still existed, of course, but we don’t hear about them that much.

SURPRISE: they had lives too! Lives, and stories worth telling.

Hollywood begins to tell them now; I for one hope it continues.

I watched The Watsons Go to Birmingham, and Lee Daniel’s The Butler, and Twelve Years a Slave this year. All good movies? Yes. But do they cover the half of it? *scoffs* No.

Historically, we should talk about this more. Yes, it is good for us to have heroes and villains of all different colors and creeds—but did you ever stop to think that these stories might actually be INTERESTING, too?

Our social responsibility to share the past is there, and I don’t want to undermine its importance, but I’d also like to point out that there are senses of humor out there that we haven’t explored. Adventures, recipes, ideas, tears, laughs, joys, screams, chains, keys, walks of life that deserve our attention and haven’t been mentioned.

I mean, if someone can find time to make something like ten different versions of Pride and Prejudice I’m pretty sure that there’s enough time to find a way to market a movie about Sojourner Truth, or Harriet Tubman, or Frederick Douglass once!

And, also, we need more movies that extend beyond the cultural norm. I don’t mean this in a sense of making money, or the idea that we have to RECONCILE ALL THE MOVIES WE’VE NEVER MADE ABOUT CULTURALLY UNREPRESENTED PEOPLE EVER RIGHT NOW BEFORE THERE’S A RIOT.

But as a matter of integrity to a story and to a movie.

The Butler is a decent movie, I enjoyed it. It’s only loosely based off of a real man, Eugene Allen, and the facts of his life aren’t the highest priority of the movie. Which happens all the time, I understand that. But without pinpointing facts, I came away from the movie also feeling like I had seen something cluttered.

It was as if they had a checklist of everything that was required to exist in that time frame.

KKK attacks? Check.

Martin Luther King Jr.? Check.

Peaceful protest? Check.

Black Panther Party? Check.

Vietnam War racism? Check.

Disco? Check.

And it isn’t that I don’t want these things to go unacknowledged—but wouldn’t it be better to give each idea its own movies and its own voice with its own perspectives, then simply list them off as important events?

Because I’m pretty sure each one of those things (with the possible exception of disco) merits its own two hours to be explored with its own characters and their own tragedies. It was the style of the movie, I know—but I also felt like it was a little unrealistic for Cecil’s family to be directly involved with every one of those things; one doesn’t spend time as MLK’s best friend one day and then turn into a Black Panther the next.

But I digress.

Watsons was good—I liked it. I can remember having it read to me the first time six years ago. My only complaint is that it was a Hallmark movie, and that was a little condescending. Twelve Years a Slave was intense, but it also told the story of a man who was freed. Maybe it’s because we live in a fantasy of people who went on the Underground Railroad and were free—but I want to know about the slaves who lived and died under someone else’s authority. I want to know about the bad masters, the good masters, what was human and what wasn’t.

It’s not that I want to hear stories about losers—but not everyone escaped one day. Enough with the happily ever afters.

There are a lot of stories and people that we ought to commemorate. Give voice to. Think about. Heck, I’m okay if we even make movies that have a few errors so that someone gets mad enough to make a furious blog post about it and share what really happened. Someone can make a better movie. Someone can write a book series.

I’m realizing that the fact that I will sit and watch a movie and go, “Oh look, there’s the black guy.” is happening way too frequently, and it’s getting old.

Hit me up, Hollywood. I’m ready.

Um, I don’t know if I really want to know what you think or not. Soooo. *cough* Thoughts?


  1. You are not the only one! I want what is real, and I want a variety of points. I think that Schindler's List was moving because it didn't paint a very happy ending. It painted reality.
    I, however, haven't seen any of these movies, so I cannot comment on them :)

    1. I haven't seen Schindler's List, but it's good that there are other movies with historical realities.
      If you decide to watch any of the movies, be sure to let me know what you thought!


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