Vern’s Venting: The Black Chauffeur

Morgan Freeman (front) with Jessica Tandy (back) in Driving Miss Daisy

By Lavern Merriweather:

A while back, I wrote a scathing post about late film critic Roger Ebert. It was about the fact that as much as he pretended to be so liberal, he, like a lot of like-minded white folks, was anything but. There are several examples I could use to support my mindset, but one I hated the most is the whole ‘black’ whatever description for a character.

Case in point, look at the Oscar winning film “Driving Miss Daisy” starring noted actress Jessica Tandy who won an award for best actress with Morgan Freeman as her sometimes chocolate lover/driver hired by the other star of the film Dan Akroyd playing her son. I noticed that Ebert, like every white male who reviewed the movie whenever they described Ms. Tandy’s character of Miss Daisy, were practically writing novels with all the adjectives that they used for her. Yet, when it came to Mr. Freeman, he was written as nothing more than the black chauffeur. They might as well have said that it was a great, starring triumphant for the beloved Ms. Tandy and some black guy next to her. Despite their supposed love affair with Morgan Freeman in his breakthrough 1987 role as the pimp Fast Black in the movie “Street Smart” when he played a subordinate, he became just another random Negro, being the loving always long suffering nursemaid to a white woman who, from all purposes, seemed perfectly capable of taking care of herself.

My big stinking problem with the film’s ridiculous “Song of the South” view on race relations aside, my main gripe here is with white male film critics. The ones who supposedly speak so highly of talented actors from other races, yet don’t want to see anyone that resembles them upended by said POCs. They forever want to be the star/ hero/ love interest.

Even as they pretend to think so much of us darkies, their real feelings are reflected in how they mention us in their columns or magazine articles. Most of the time, it’s with obvious reluctance, as if they would really enjoy this picture, if there wasn’t one of them colored people in it. They seem to not want our presence ever period. And don’t dare be a Will Smith, Wesley Snipes, Denzel Washington. Be any black male star, and they will go out of their way to find something wrong with the picture, all while praising the same subject matter or performance when it’s a white male.

There have been countless dogs starring white males such as Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey. Yet, it’s almost without fail the films of black men that are just the absolute worst. I have seen some of the movies they are so damn quick to criticize, and most of them aren’t that bad. The only bad thing is the biased perspective coming from the person reviewing the film.

Speaking of Mr. Smith, the few times I do see him get praised for his performances is when he is playing a subordinate or subservient like in the Matt Damon movie “Legend of Bagger Vance”, which I still don’t get. Just what the hell his character was supposed to be, besides a well-worn stereotype that is making most white male movie critics giddy with delight? Or when he was starring as their ultimate thrill of emasculation for a black male, a homosexual. It seems that being a caricature, which makes them feel the most comfortable, is the one time they can tolerate a black face on screen.

Will Smith and Matt Damon in The Legend of Bagger Vance

That must be why it’s still so much easier to find work and get praise as a black actor/actress, if you are playing a white person’s servant. Or in the case of Mr. Freeman a driver, obviously since he is too old to play the pimp role. He fits right into the magical Negro. I’m surprised they didn’t find a way to make him a great-great descendant of Uncle Remus from the banned Disney film, seeing how that’s basically what he is portraying only in a slightly less overt and offensive way.

As I have stated previously, I get that the past for black folks is a most hard pill to swallow. But why is it that those same folks i.e. white people who keep telling us to get over it have NO qualms about waxing nostalgic for a bygone era when it paints them in an inaccurately pleasant light?

When the breakdancing craze took off in the mid 80’s, Hollywood attempted to capitalize with several hit movies. Famed movie critic Gene Siskel of the Ebert and Siskel duo was not too pleased. He lamented that the advent of black urban faces in an inner city setting listening to hip-hop music would leave white teens out in the cold, obviously oblivious to the many years of white films that focused on the lives of teenagers with nary a black face in the bunch. Yet, because Siskel and other white males felt slighted, or as he put it, “There was no one that his kids could relate to,” that meant those films were lacking.

He didn’t seem to have a problem with the lily white dance flick “Footloose” starring a very young Kevin Bacon. Hell, even the break dancer in that movie was a white guy. Then again, that’s how most white males, particularly ones that have a voice in the media, operate. If it doesn’t pertain to them or reflect some aspect of their lives, then they ain’t interested. Thankfully, he and the rest of them didn’t determine the box office dollar, seeing how some of those pictures, a few spawning sequels, became smash hits despite his objections.

I recall an interview with comic legend Eddie Murphy. He opined that even as the critics were tearing down his films and performances, somebody had to be watching his pictures, because he was still getting work. And we all know fully well that the executives in Hollywhite aren’t about promoting black culture or stories any more than the white male critics enjoy watching them. So, Mr. Murphy must have a point, because I’m certain that the higher ups who greenlight his movies aren’t his friends. In fact, far from it. He, like Richard Pryor and Sidney Poitier before him, had to work twice as hard to be hired.

That’s why it really burns my butt that white men are usually the final say in regards to what films do well and which ones don’t. Lucky for me that I don’t listen to white male critics, especially since I know the place where it comes from. And that’s one where we are still at the back of the bus, eating in the kitchen, serving their drinks or playing insignificant drivers for their mommas.


12 thoughts on “Vern’s Venting: The Black Chauffeur

  1. It is true that white males have a very limited view of the world–it only includes themselves and their hyped-up females. This is why I no longer attend their movies in theaters, nor do I even watch most of their television programs. I have ceased to give them my money or my attention. Since they live in a hall of mirrors inside of an echo chamber, they do a good enough job of that already. I’m done with them.

  2. “Famed movie critic Gene Siskel of the Ebert and Siskel duo was not too pleased. He lamented that the advent of black urban faces in an inner city setting listening to hip-hop music would leave white teens out in the cold, obviously oblivious to the many years of white films that focused on the lives of teenagers with nary a black face in the bunch.”

    Remember “The Breakfast Club”? John Hughes was known for movies that reflected the white teen point of view, yet you NEVER saw a face of color in any of his films. I read a story about Lisa Bonet wanting to be in one of his films and was turned down. Todd Bridges of Diff’rent Strokes fame also had a meeting with Hughes and he actually told Todd, “I can’t see where I can put a black person in my films.” Anyone could relate to some of the issues in his films, yet if you did not have the right complexion, you were out of luck as an actor/actress.

  3. I’d buy films from my own the same way I purchased rap back in the day. Out the trunk. That’s true spit as well as a euphemism for self-distribution. Truth be told, I dig “backyard films.” Especially when the story is told well, message is accomplished w/limited resources. Like reading a book your imagination/mind should connect dots and fill spaces. I give hollywierd no money unless I can verify it’s really us behind it not that Lee Daniels, Tyler Perry ‘men on films’ click. I’m a huge supporter of Black & Sexy TV and the like on YouTube. Iptorrents is how I receive all major & independent theatrical releases free in 720 or 1080p minus my internet bill. I won’t pay you to insult me. Even when I was lil’ watching Breakin’ I was like “what da fuck snowflake doing in this film? I didn’t see her on my block at the cardboard cut out in my hood.” FOH.

    1. Yeah it really gets me how blacks complain about the lack of quality films yet movies like “Akelah and the Bee” and “The Longshots” with Ice Cube and Keke Palmer don’t do well.

  4. I would admit the only time I watch Lilly white films these days is Horror Movies, just for the high of reminding myself of how depraved they are.

  5. I hated that Bagger Vance film, i just remember falling asleep. I remember getting so annoyed at those damn John Hughes film black folks just didn’t exist in that guy’s world back in the 80’s. I used to wonder “Where are the black folks”? Years later i get it, Black people were not part of the equation.

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