Vern’s Venting: Caretakers and Criminals

(L-R) Director Paul Greengrass, actors Mahat M. Ali, Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi

by Lavern Merriweather

Barkhad Abdi, the breakout star and actor of the Tom Hanks film “Captain Phillips”, which is based on a real life incident, is getting a lot of Oscar buzz for his portrayal of a ruthless Somali pirate. In the actual tale, Phillips, once his ship was hijacked, offered himself as a hostage to save the rest of his crew. It was a very harrowing situation that ended in the deaths of the hijackers.

That story, while fascinating, still doesn’t sit well with me, nor does all the praise Mr. Abdi is getting, not because I don’t trust that his acting skills are top notch. I haven’t seen the movie so I don’t know. My issue is with the fact that a young black male is being lauded for playing a bad guy, just like the glorious Chiwetel Ejifor has many in the entertainment media swooning over his performance in “12 Years a Slave” and the fabulous Forrest Whitaker has a number of white folks saying he should win for starring as a servant in Lee Daniels “The Butler”.

Now I adore both Mr. Ejifor and Mr. Whitaker. In fact, I have been fond of Forrest ever since he was in the 80’s flick “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”. However, I am convinced that there are far better and more appropriate roles for their talents than that of slaves and servers. People keep talking about how this is 2014 and we have a black president, but that apparently has done nothing to change the antediluvian ideals that plague white male executives in Hollywood. It’s painfully obvious that while many white folks in Hollyweird speak of progress, they do little to help push it in the right direction, at least not for African-Americans or people of color period. But let that be gay whites, and they will flip the script in a fucking heartbeat.

After Sharon Stone took a lot of heat for playing psychotic, manipulative, murdering author Catherine Trammell in 1992’s “Basic Instinct”, white folks at top levels in Hollywhore have bent over backwards [no pun intended] to appease their gay white movie going audience. Yet, we still get stuck having only roles playing miscreants or the help respectively.

The more high quality parts black people are offered are still few and far between. And don’t talk to me about Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles or Mr. Whitaker as Idi Amin or Will Smith as Christopher Gardner or even Idris Elba as Mandela. Those people are all actual human beings. Not made-up caricatures. So naturally, their focus is going to be a lot more compelling than just being a dude in a tux carrying a tray or a man supposedly free that finds himself once again trapped in the chains of slavery’s bondage.

Although “12 Years” and “Captain Phillips” are real stories about real people, that doesn’t stop this from being done in the most deliberate way possible. That’s another thing Hollyworthless seems to think, that doing a film about dangerous young black males attacking a group of unsuspecting hapless white folks with guns is magically absolved by throwing in the tagline ‘based on a true story’. Well, so are the deaths of Amadou Diallo, Bernard Monroe, James Byrd and the rape of Abner Louima, but I don’t see Hollywood rushing to remind us of their lives or the tragedies that followed.

Michael B. Jordan the star of “Fruitvale Station” has also been lavished excessively with award nomination talk, as has the movie. However, there are several differences. The man at the center of the ship takeover John Phillips is seen by many as a hero played by a beloved hero actor Tom Hanks while Oscar Grant is still viewed by some as a suspicious thug who brought the cold blood killing he suffered all on himself. Oscar Grant is not, and probably never will be, thought of as deserving any sympathy unlike John Phillips.

And Michael, no matter how wonderfully he brought Oscar’s life to life, is a highly unknown actor trying to bring understanding and compassion to one usually considered by the dominant society as a robber or a waiter, pretty much how we are still imagined by white men who run Hollywood. We are either the one you have to clutch your purse because of suspicion or the guy wearing the bright red monkey suit who parks rich folks cars. It obviously doesn’t matter to them that some of those same actors they degrade are rich and can have their cars parked in the valet section as well.

As a side note, it’s the same way that those tea party folks and others don’t give a rat’s ass about Barack Obama’s authority enough to attack him over every little thing that pisses them off. And for the record all you stupid black folks who call him Barry; his name is B-A-R-A-C-K! Not anything else. I’m not trying to get off the subject, because in a way it all correlates. You can have money, fame and success or even the highest job in the land, but as long as you have black skin, the one thing you are never afforded is respect.

I recall vividly when the late Harold Washington was running for then-later-became mayor of Chicago in 1983. Many aldermen as well as the greater public of that city felt that they could address their issues or grievances however they damn well pleased. Regardless of how you feel about someone in charge, he is still the one in charge, the same way that an actor who is above playing your fucking errand boy should be getting much better parts.

And no! Don’t expect me to play devil’s advocate by saying that a lot of black people, particularly black males, put food on their kids table so there is no sin in being a domestic even on the big screen, because this is some straight up bullshit! Nobody hired Forrest Whitaker to play a bunch of white men’s little boy, because they are trying to present a servant’s struggles in a dignified way. Not hardly. This is just more old boy, Hollyweed network, racist agenda nonsense. Keep them firmly under foot, or in this cas,e keep them in roles where they will always be thought of the way they want, not as equals but forever at our beck and call, or the guy you watch out of the corner of your eye because he might be up to something.

I applaud the making of the Oscar Grant movie. Yet, I can’t help but feel a lot of the negative imagery perpetuated by the very same folks touting this film contributed to that asshole cop thinking it acceptable to rectify that situation with violence in the first place. They should just come right out and say those people can’t be trusted, especially not around our womenfolk. It sounds like an old-fashioned, out dated mentality, but that’s exactly what they live by.


21 thoughts on “Vern’s Venting: Caretakers and Criminals

  1. Excellent analysis of what is coming out of Hollywood. Everything is profit driven as most big name studios seldom want to move away from money and into informative trend setting ventures. Hollywood run by return for investment money entrepreneurs.

  2. They want to control which black stories are told and how they are told. I have not seen any of these movies but I know that fruitvale doesn’t get as much attention and praise as 12 years a slave and the butler. Hollywood loves showing black males in certain roles, being feminized and wearing a dress, being a thug or villain of the movie, being a player, and being a butler or a slave.

    I noticed when the butler came out a lot of them were going on about it, but once 12 years a slave came out they really were going for that, I guess the only thing better than a black man as a butler is a black man as a slave, can’t get more subservient than that. Fruitvale doesn’t get much praise compared to the others because it shows a black man being human, making mistakes and trying, and being a victim. They don’t want to show a black man being a victim of racism/white supremacy.

    And they will not make movies about courageous blacks that stood up for themselves and took control of their lives. Black history month is always the same recycled stuff every year that they love to show, Mlk, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman. But they have not made a movie about Harriet Tubman, why? I guess the answer is because she took matters into her own hands and didn’t wait on somebody to rescue her or her people.

    Another note, they love black males to keep quiet and obey. Richard Sherman spoke up and they hated him. so of course they’d ignore any movie where a black man is intelligent, brave, and not afraid to speak his mind and expose the system. That is why they hate Malcolm.

    1. “Urr’thang” you said dead on. What are we to do when our representative black actors/Actresses play these ‘caricatures’… Willingly.

      Big disappointment to see Whitaker go from Edi Imin & producer of Fruitvale to a subservient…

  3. What a wonderfully, informative article Ms. Vern! As someone who is quite familiar with both the Bay Area (SF) and Fruitvale (BART) Station to boot, I must say that this film was very much on point about the day and life of a resident of this part of Cali, and am really, really glad that Oscar Grant’s (R.I.P.) story deservedly was told-without any over-exaggerated Hollyweird gimmicks/tricks, but with a real sense of dialogue and daily life events that the average person in this region can relate to, as well. That being said, I also looooove Forest Whittaker too, but the way that they drool over his role in the “Butler” leaves me irritated and annoyed, to say the least (I have been a fan of his since “Different Strokes” tv show, when he played the bully Arnold called “The Gooch” lol)! What about the fantastic role he played in “The Crying Game” alongside Jay Davidson and Stephen Rhea? His acting (and Irish accent) was on point, as is every other film this amazing man has starred in!! This whole post was very accurate about all these wonderful actors mentioned here, for sure!

  4. It is upsetting but necessary to know the struggles of our ancestors, therefore, I’m not extremely offended when the Bulter, 12 years a slave, and The Help make it to the big screen… My Grandmother was once the help for a prominent Jewish family, of which the husband of the house racially degraded her in front of guest as he took refuge in his freshly new identity called whiteness, and my Grandmother’s ancestors were also the slave.. It is painful, but yet it is the history and perseverance of a people.. my people, lest we forget.

    I yearn for the day that our communities flock to stories pertaining to our history and or true stories told about our heroes rather than coming out in mass doves supporting the works of which black men have to put on dresses, engage in buffoonery and emasculate themselves for the audience. If we are to be depicted as heroes, I want more stories pertaining to the real heroes that sacrificed for us, i.e., Harriet Tubman, Toussaint L’Ouverture, and etc.

    I don’t need to see movies nor feel pacified as long as it added the token black person, and nor do I need the white guy or woman that either saves the day, or saves a whole community of minorities from ourselves.. I want to honor and pay homage to our people, our butlers, our maids, our slaves, our heroes, our communities that once stood proud, I want our teachers honored for saving our kids… as many do exist, and I also want to see a display of our progress…lest we forget…

    It is essential that we take ownership of our image..

    1. But the issue I have with 12 Years is that he is once again reduced to be a helpless victim. They will never make a make a movie about Nat Turner

  5. @ Vern, very true! The Crying Game was largely focused upon Jaye Davidson’s character, but Forrest is such a great actor that he managed to steal the small, yet poignant scenes that he was in (a testament to his acting talent, in my opinion).

    @ Brothawolf, have you never seen “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”, yet(?) If not, it’d be worth a look-it’s an 80’s classic with lots of major celebs now, who were just up-and-coming actors/actresses at the time! 😀

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