For Colored Antagonisms: Tyler Perry and the Propaganda of Film
by BAR editor and columnist Jared A. Ball
Much of mass popular culture in the United States is genocidal in intent. Worse, the manufacturers of racist films and other media products have enlisted the perverted talents of greedy and shameless Black operatives such as Tyler Perry. “This is all done to preempt any attempts at raising popular criticism of structural inequality or from ever popularly asserting the humanity of Black people at all.”
For Colored Antagonisms
by BAR editor and columnist Jared A. Ball
“Lionsgate and Perry have again come through to satisfy the national need for Black pathology to be displayed absent any appropriate context or history.”
All one of my Black female students would say after seeing Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls was, “Who would want to be us?” It was really this question that finally made me go see the movie and having gotten to it so late let me just say this about it: Ishmael Reed is right. Lionsgate Films has found a partnership with a nominally Black man to make anti-Black films which are made for and marketed to White audiences. And worse even than the pro-Nazi propaganda films preparing Jews for death camps twice now in back-to-back films, this one and Precious before it, this team has depicted Black people engaging in the ultimate taboo of incest. This is all done to preempt any attempts at raising popular criticism of structural inequality or from ever popularly asserting the humanity of Black people at all.
The film is of necessity anti-Black. It focuses blame only on Black men and women and completely absolves White supremacy and capitalism as permanent structures of violence waged against their victims. The only good Black man in the movie is a New York City police detective which as an anti-reality cinematic trope is only outdone by the broader two hours of non-stop psychic abuse waged against Black people. One trauma after the next; from rape, to incest, to babies dropping from windows. And, like Reed has said of their previous releases, Lionsgate and Perry have again come through to satisfy the national need for Black pathology to be displayed absent any appropriate context or history in order to justify the dominance of the Settler, the Master, of White society itself.
“This team has depicted Black people engaging in the ultimate taboo of incest.”
One day when we return to our previous battles between those we consider “people’s historians” and those we castigate as “establishment courtiers” we might do so on the basis of how they use their sources. When last Henry Louis Gates appeared in the New York Times it was to attack the notion of reparations for enslavement. To make his point he referenced historian David Eltis whose work on the numbers and specific origins of African people shipped to foreign lands Gates could re-work into an argument that some Africans benefited from enslavement to the point that reparations are simply not due. However, more recently, in his book Red, White & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms professor Frank Wilderson references Eltis’ work for quite another reason, one which is far more compelling and accurate. While Gates sought to use Eltis’ data to make silly claims of African culpability Wilderson brings us back to another more important aspect of Eltis’ work, one ignored by Gates: That Europeans could have made more money and been more effective in developing their empires had they enslaved fellow White Europeans rather than spending so much time and resources on going to Africa for captives and then shipping them abroad. Gates as a courtier cannot include or follow this logic and it is why Wilderson, working for the people, must.
“Films like these work to prevent popular and radical challenges against the very nature of the state.”
Wilderson’s point in citing Eltis is that this need of Europeans to solely attach Black to Slave and, therefore, to non-Human has formed “the founding antagonism,” an antagonism that shows up time and again in popular culture, in particular film. This is why popular films cannot display a Black humanity which White society cannot afford to acknowledge. In other words, slavery is not simply a relationship of labor or servitude. Slavery becomes an irrevocable condition attached to the people themselves, people who are actually never to be Human. Quoting Orlando Patterson, Wilderson explains that, “Slavery… is the permanent violent domination of natally alienated and generally dishonored persons.” This is why Gates must attack reparations as a concept primarily because simply acknowledging the humanity of Black people threatens the very existence of the United States and the West themselves. Ironically enough this is why Wilderson and others challenge the concept of reparations from the far Left point of view. For them, reparations reaffirms the rightfulness of the state from which those reparations would come and, therefore, would reaffirm the permanency of Blackness as Slave or non-Human.
Ultimately though, films like these from Lionsgate and Perry work to prevent popular and radical challenges against the very nature of the state. Worse still, they prevent us from even debating among ourselves or with potential allies what a newly created world would look like because, “who would want to be us” quickly becomes, “who would want to be with us?” And in each case it is precisely the same no one who is coming to help us now.
For Black Agenda Report, I’m Jared Ball. Online visit us at BlackAgendaReport.com.
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