I’m not sure what it’s going to take for the older white men in the film community to see that some of the works that we have loved (and perhaps still love) have a problematic nature.
Frankly, there are a lot of white women in the classic film community that I could call out with this too but it’s mostly white men at the moment.
My current bone to pick (from a whole goddamn skeleton) is centered on the concept of blackface, comedy and film history. Where are we now in film appreciation that we have taken the Ralph Northam case and begun to apply it to comedy in film?
Here is my current case study.
I opened up my FB this weekend and what do I see? OH GOOD. Someone has collected a bunch of shots of comedians in blackface and a few in “whiteface” and made a post about it. Then, of course, proceeds to open up a discussion about comedy and blackface in film and entertainment culture.
In fairness, there are some intelligent comments. But on the whole? My head is ready to explode. And I haven’t even had coffee yet. Why do these things always happen before coffee? Is there some rule in the universe that says, “bring on the racist FB posts before Ariel has had her coffee”? I think there must be. It seems to happen too often these days. Although it could be argued that there are just more racist posts but I digress…
Most of the time I see these posts on my FB & I see Old White Guys talking and I think: the likelihood that these people are out there doing productive awesome things is very slim. They seem so intimately involved and concerned with women and #MeToo, the queers, the POC, the trans and non-binary folk that they clearly don’t have time to leave their computers to have other lives like the rest of us. So that is A THING. They are like mosquitoes, right? I mean, part of the ecosystem but like… yeah. I guess somebody out there likes mosquitoes. So that aspect of these Mosquito Men is very swattable but on the other hand? Those bites itch. This particular encounter? Yeah. This was a whole damn sedge.
So back to it. On a PUBLIC post…I encountered a guy who was just so racist and so mansplainy that…well, it makes sense that I finally looked at his personal page and he’s a Republican. But all that aside, he decided to make it his mission to tell me, a woman who has spent the last 20 years of her life engaged in film history and preservation work, all about why white people did blackface. And apparently (get this, dear reader) it is not what we have all come to believe! In fact, historians far and wide are wrong! His informed-by-armchair-PhD-discourse was centered on the following bizarre principles:
- Blackface was basically akin to Greek masks of comedy/tragedy (what? OMG, what drugs is this guy on?) and the simplified happy/sad face that was so similar to said masks basically let white theater actors who wore blackface imitate either happiness or misery, the two things white folks connected with the African American community
- Blackface was “progressive” because it helped get black folks accepted in the white world and was not thought of as racist but actually a “homage” to African American talent (Again, sir, what are you smoking? White Privilege Blunt? did you just do a few lines of high octane racist revisionism? I THINK SO)
- The “imitation is the greatest form of flattery” argument. Apparently Blackface opened the door for African American entertainers (again- how’s that historical revisionism doing, buddy?)
So I’m used to Old White Film Guys on the Internet telling me Everything There Is To Know About Film History because clearly, I don’t know anything.
I usually get defensive and the discussion usually goes like this:
Me: Dude, I have a few grad degrees from good Universities, been doing this for 20 years, you can stop, thx
Old White Film Dude: But there is this thing that you don’t know about and haven’t thought of.
Me: *sigh* I know about that. Actually, I wrote about it. *posts link*
Old White Film Dude: BUT THE THINGS.
Me: I love film too but flexibility is critical and we need to engage in new conversations now.
Old White Film Dude: YOU ARE NOT LISTENING TO ME. STOP BANNING ALL THE THINGS. YOU ARE A CENSORSHIP PERSON.
Me: I don’t want to ban anything. These materials continue to be critically important parts of our history and I enjoy many of them. But we need to look at them with new eyes now.
Old White Film Dude: YOU ARE A SJW POLITICALLY CORRECT PERSON AND ARE RUINING THE WORLD AND DON’T ENJOY ANYTHING.
Me: *starts to post GIFS (usually of drag queens being sassy)*
Today’s conversation went similarly but there was no sassy drag queen GIF-deployment and the guy in question didn’t go to the SJW-politically-correct-rage-place so quickly. He kinda did once I called him a racist for pointedly advocating and positively standing up for blackface. But I expected that.
There’s a lot about this post that bothered me beyond the actual fact that blackface is, without question, absolutely racist and wrong and cannot be defended. The post was full of tone-policing by the person who originally posted it which was wrong. I think he realized it had spiraled out of control when I started calling people out, I asked if anyone on the thread was actually a person of color and I just sorta…was making trouble and not shutting up. But like…that’s kinda what I do. Make trouble and not shut up (is there a dating app or job app for that personality type? if so, hit me up with that info).
As the post got “not fun” he decided to shut it down. Which is fine. His wall, his post, etc. It’s still public viewing. It’s all there for the world to see. That said, it’s still a disturbing indictment on the way that white men in the film community (and some white women) deal (or refuse to deal) with their privilege as far as media history, social communities online and racism.
What was not fine and even worse is that when I actually called him out on it (and the fact he continued to post tone-deaf photos that were making light of the pain, trauma, and lack of representation of African Americans in film/tv/media) he blocked me. All his posts are still public. These awful pictures where he jeers at “green face” (photo of The Mask) and “orange face” (picture of when The Incredible Hulk turned into The Red Hulk) and he (as expected) talks about PC sensitivity and how “thick” some people (read: me) are that they can’t understand satire.
I would say that this is White Men Anger but it is beyond that.
This is White Racist Men Anger. This is White Supremacy in FULL force. This is White Male Fragility and this is a real-life horror movie that I see enacted in my film world on a daily basis.
While I had initially asked myself “Who is worse? The guy who advocates blackface or the guy who gives space for the guy who advocates blackface?” There is no binary in that.
They are equal in the eyes of racist thought, practice and the spread of this disease and toxicity over social media.
As for me, I have a few final thoughts about White Film Dudes On The Internet:
- Old White Racist Film Dudes on the Internet are gonna Old White Racist Film Dude on the Internet. It’s like asking a cat not to cat. It’s impossible. They will never learn, they will always rant at you about the horrors of SJWs and how Political Correctness has “ruined” comedy and film and how “back in the Good Old Days” etc etc etc. BOTTOM LINE: they are a lost cause.
- Middle Aged White Film Dudes on the Internet can go either way on the racism front. Most of them are bathed in white privilege. But this does not mean you are racist. This DOES mean that you have to be very careful about the kinds of decisions that you make about Social Media Interactions and Postings. Curate your posts, examine your wording, investigate how you want to start conversations & mediate them. You are responsible for your content and for everyone you invite to your conversation (and that applies to everyone on the Internet regardless of age/gender/race/religion/etc!!!).
- Young White Film Dudes on the Internet? I have a whole other post for you. Y’all are special and you’ll have to wait for now.
Join the #StopRacism FACEBOOK GROUP here.
Photo ID: #230813995