By Nick Chiles
Let’s call it the Black Solidarity Backlash. In response to a wave of community exhortation and pleading for African Americans to go out and support the movie “Red Tails” on its first weekend, I’ve detected an undercurrent of resistance. On websites, blogs, comment sections, some black people are proudly proclaiming that they won’t go see it because they don’t think the movie looks very good and they won’t be guilted into supporting it. One popular blogger even said he has no particular need to see black faces on the big screen.
To these dissenting voices, I plead: could you please keep your ignorance to yourself? The rest of us are still fighting against oppression and hatred in a world where calling Barack Obama the “food stamp president” barely raises an eyebrow. The movie made $19 million its first weekend—numbers that definitely got Hollywood’s attention. I guess I should be happy that the community responded. So far. But something about this backlash bothers me. And I want to talk about it.
There is nothing quite as blissfully ignorant as the arrogance of youth. Or nothing as infuriatingly selfish. To be a smart, educated black twenty-something in 2012 apparently means that you can ignore history, turn your back on consequences, give a finger to solidarity. After all, you went to college. You can dissect the intricacies of fine cinema. You are too brilliant to be bothered with some feel-good Negro foolishness.
There was a time when being twenty-something and black meant being angry, militant, always down for the cause. It meant forcing the world to hear us, to take notice. When I was a twenty-something, we couldn’t wait for the next offering by Spike Lee or John Singleton so that we could run to the theater and show our support. We understood the power of numbers. If Hollywood only cared about the bottom line, we wanted to make sure we beat the hell out of the bottom line. Of course, this was only a couple of decades from the days when the sight of a black person on TV would prompt folks to run up and down the street in the black community, yelling out, “Colored on TV!”
I’m 46. In the mind of a twenty-something, I’m old (mind you, not too old to whup a twenty-something’s ass if I have to), I’m corny, I’m out of touch. I get that. I can still remember my youthful arrogance, my feelings about those old folks trying to harken back to the good old days.
But young doesn’t necessarily mean smart. If you decide you’re not going to see a movie precisely because many people are telling you that you should, you know what that makes you? An immature child. A five-year-old.
So let me put this in language these young folks might be able to understand: Hollywood is disrespecting you. Hollywood thinks you’re stupid. Hollywood knows that you will not go to see anything that contains positive black images. So Hollywood doesn’t care to make anything that contains positive black images. You say that you don’t feel compelled to see some mediocre black flick with mediocre writing, less-than-impressive acting, laughable special effects? Well, guess what? If you turn up your nose at movies like “Red Tails” or “Jumping the Broom”—my wife and I heard similar comments about that movie from the twenty-somethings around us—you’re never going to get high-level black flicks with top actors, scintillating writing and impressive effects. Those movies won’t get made because Hollywood will think you won’t show up. It’s a simple proposition. Going to see a movie like “Red Tails” means that, for once, you have to step out of yourself and think about somebody else. Think about the future of your community. Think about that ten-year-old black child who wants to one day make Hollywood movies.
I don’t know, maybe you have to have kids before you start thinking and caring about things like that. Or maybe you just have to be equipped to act like a grown-up.
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Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.