Burn Hollywood Burn
By Solomon Comissiong
Originally Posted March of 2010
Another Oscar (Academy Awards) season has come and gone and so, too, with it another year of Hollywood subsidized racist imagery. Hollywood, like many American mainstream institutions, has the ability to socially condition a great deal of the populous and therefore society. This social conditioning has, by design, far researching ramifications, especially for people of color. African Americans, for instance, continue to bare the brunt of Hollywood’s perpetual racist social conditioning. The American film industry has a long tainted history in depicting black people in the most negative manner. Their motives, in general, are rooted in nothing short of institutionally racist and white supremacist themes. Films like D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” often serve as a point of reference in highlighting the American film industry’s repugnant and racist past. However, structural racism within Hollywood, as with America, is alive and well in 2010. The racist nature of the US is manifested throughout every corner of the country; Hollywood is merely one of those places.
America is a paragon when it comes to institutional racism. This country could give a damn what kind of longstanding impact its debilitating system has on people of color. In essence, America has no conscience regarding its inherent bigotry. Institutional racism and white supremacy are so tightly stitched into the flawed fabric of America that it has become virtually undetectable, much like carbon monoxide, until the fatal damage is done. Police brutality and gentrification are two of the more deleterious forms of institutional racism, however even in the world of “entertainment”, where racism is frequently marketed, racism has long been fashionable. Movies like “Precious” are heavily promoted because they reinforce common racist stereotypes of black women that much of white America enjoys believing in. The fact that some black people, who have long prostituted themselves to white America(e.g. Oprah), underwrite these types of films only it makes it easier for the white dominated film industry to market to the masses. Films that feed into the most destructive stereotypes are no less racist simply because they are made, endorsed or supported by black luminaries. Were early 20th century minstrel shows any less racist because they often featured black people within them? Unlike many of the African Americans who were forced into those roles, people like Oprah seem to enjoy “tap dancing” for white people. As a matter of fact the institutionalization of these stereotypically racist films (Precious) is exactly what makes them so dangerous in the 21st century—their racism is virtually unnoticeable to the media-illiterate mind. America’s atmosphere of racism is so smothering that many people of color have subconsciously absorbed it and redirected the bigotry towards themselves, as well as their communities.
Hollywood and white America, in general, enjoy rewarding black people who are willing to perpetuate racist stereotypes that denigrate African Americans. This is why white owned media corporations (radio, television, record labels) love to promote the most racially stereotypical images in Hip Hop, all the while methodically repressing the most talented, progressive and resistance oriented black and brown skinned rappers. There was no need for a term such as “Underground Rap” until these nefarious white corporations began to buy out everything from the record labels to radio stations, thus suppressing the empowering messages of Hip Hop’s “Golden Era”. Rewarding black people to promote their racist beliefs of African Americans saves them the limited public rebuke, and hassle, of having to do it themselves—all the while making them money. It makes them feel as though they have no blood on their slime laden palms. Meanwhile, the cognitive decapitation goes on without a hitch. On March 5th 2006 the “Academy Awards” rewarded the African American rap group Three 6 Mafia with an Oscar for best song for their hit, “Its Hard out here for a Pimp.” As the progressive Boston based rapper (Akrobatik) said in his song ‘Front Steps/Tough Love’, “They shut down the conscious rastas but talk about being a pimp, you’ll win an Oscar.”
As long as Hollywood and the film industry are predominately controlled by so-called liberal or conservative whites, progressive images of blacks will always be filtered down. America, in general, is a nation unwilling to face up to its ugly truths about the past, as well as the present. And because of this, America’s future regarding institutional racism has no end in sight. The United States would rather spend billions of dollars falsely promoting itself throughout the globe as some kind of utopia for all people regardless of their backgrounds, rather than doing anything constructive—such as dismantling its systems of structural racism and ubiquitous white supremacy.
While the US attempts to psychologically manipulate people into believing that they do not systemically oppress people of color, tens of millions of people of color are being systematically oppressed, starved, warehoused and ultimately killed. And the US believes it has the moral ground to lecture Cuba on racism? The inherently racist American propaganda machine has no limits—the Hollywood film industry is a vessel used to regularly carry out their reprehensible campaign. Hollywood and corporate media are used to tame, obfuscate and socially engineer Americans, whether they are black, brown, red or white. Knowing what we do about Hollywood can we really expect them to produce more films that are socially conscious, culturally edifying, historically accurate, or dare I say—not virulently racist? With movies like “The Blind Side”, the answer should be as clear as day.
The Blind Side the classic racist white paternalistic thrash that Hollywood frequently puts out. It is a movie that features Sandra Bullock as white southern woman who takes in, along with her opulent family, a large homeless African American teenage male from the “wrong side of town” (always the black side). Throughout the movie she and her family “nurture” and build up the young man into someone they now feel is ready for society and who has lived up to his “full potential”.
With the help of these “white people” the young man soon becomes a standout, on and off the football field. This movie is apparently based on a “true story” but do we ever ask ourselves why these types of “true stories” always make their way to the “big screen?” It always has to be a white “savior” saving the black and brown kids from themselves and their neighborhood. Never will one find a movie where the black and brown kids are trying to save their communities from the constant onslaught of American institutional racism. If America was a socially progressive society these types of films would be a lot more balanced and therefore more accurate. People of color (especially those with progressive ideologies) would have much more say and control of their images, and stories, throughout Hollywood and the media. As it stands, Hollywood actively recruits, promotes and rewards as many socially malleable blacks as they possibly can. Until progressive and historically astute African Americans fully control the creation, production, and distribution of its images Hollywood will always produce and support factually limited and inherently racist imagery of blacks. A planned lack of accuracy and context within most Black “History” based Hollywood films purposefully confuses moviegoers with little point of reference to begin with.
Instead of factually and socially misleading films like Invictus there should be films called “Spear of the Nation” that chronicle the military wing (Umkhonto we Sizwe) of the African National Congress beginning in the 1960s. However, Hollywood, and white America, wants nothing to do with images and stories of Africans resisting (through armed struggle) the evils of white supremacy and European colonization. Whether in Zimbabwe or Angola, black Africans resisted European colonization tooth and nail. Black people should never rely on to tell their stories, especially those of resistance and struggle. Hollywood’s role, like America’s, is to mollify any notion of black resistance. Therefore films like Invictus only serve as models of pacification while taking attention away from the fact that whites in South Africa still enjoy the “fruits” of the land they stole from indigenous black Africans. Invictus makes sure the viewer thinks nothing about the majority of black South Africans who, to this day, live in devastating poverty. Invictus creates the illusion that blacks and white in South African live in equality. The safe image of Nelson Mandela in 1995 is as nonthreatening to the white power structure as Barack Obama was to many of the white liberals who voted for him in 2008. Invictus also uses the backdrop of the 1995 Rugby World Cup to create the false impression of unity and equity in South Africa. That notion couldn’t be further from the truth! Progressiveness and equity continually evade Hollywood as they do US society.
Unfortunately Hollywood (and America) is far from being socially progressive. However, if it was, we might see movies like, “The Life and Times of Nat Turner”. That would certainly be a movie that I would love to watch, especially the action packed last 45 minutes as the protagonist (Mr. Nat Turner) exacts his justifiable revenge. I would relish seeing many movies in which Native Americans soundly defeat every group of thuggish white cowboys (thieves) trying to encroach on their land. And instead of movies like “The Blind Side” there would be movies featuring titles like “The Right Side”. This movie would detail the life of a poor white teenage boy who grew up in a trailer park amongst an openly racist community and within a broken and extremely racist family (this is a true story replicated throughout America). The young man wanders onto the “right side” of town (in this case the black side of town), where he is taken in by an African American family that teaches him civility, justice, resistance, and humanity. The author would also gladly pay to view multiple films featuring black educators going into predominately white schools to help properly socialize the white students to live their lives free of the racist and xenophobic poison their parents (and America) tried to systematically feed them.
Finally, there would have to be movies that exposed the vile and racist nature of policing in America. However, justice was ultimately achieved when a group of racist white cops found guilty in a police brutality case are sentenced to life in a privately owned prison. The ultimate icing on the cake for this masterpiece shows a portrayal of a prison system consisting of 70 percent white men. Rotting in those prisons would be the cops who murdered scores of black and brown men like Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, and Timothy Stansbury. Unfortunately movies like those do not exist, at least not in Hollywood. More importantly, reality and justice like this does not reside anywhere within the fabricated borders of American society. Until they do the fight for equality must continue and the resistance to white supremacy must remain ceaseless. Tangible justice and equality will only be achieved if we remain consistent in our collective fight. Until then, as Chuck D, Ice Cube and Big Daddy Kane figuratively said, “Burn Hollywood Burn.”
Solomon Comissiong is an educator, community activist, author and executive director of the Your World News Community Media Collective www.yourworldnews.org and www.yourworldnews.org/blog.