“Pizza is a lot like sex. When it's good, it's really good. When it's bad, it's still pretty good.”
I discussed this quote with one of the homies, recently. We both agreed that it’s bullshit logic. If I’m not mistaken, the point of the pizza and sex is pleasure. It’s expected to be pleasurable. So, if it’s less than so, you’re going to be even MORE pissed that it wasn’t. But, let me download my digressing app.
The point of this quote is basically, “Well, it’s better than none at all.” And therein lies my point that I’m swear I’m getting to riiiiiight about… now.
You know what also receives that “it’s better than nothing” sentiment? Black films*. It was a super hot topic during the rise of Tyler Perry’s stardom and the nationwide release of Dear White People has spawned that sentiment once again. And it is something I’ve always wanted to wax-on-wax-off philosophical about. In fact, a conversation with a group of very smart people evolved into another private conversation with a very smart person and, wallah magic, here I am.
A common theme shared amongst the thoughts of Dear White People was about what it represented. It represented a chance to see a film with a diverse group of Black characters that tackled race head-on in a racially-heated society. It represented a rare chance to see a widely-distributed film written and directed by a Black person that doesn’t have “Tyler” or “Perry” in their name. It represented… Black. It was expected to be everything in a community that is used to little or nothing. Basically, Dear White People is the movie version of Barack Obama.
With that pressure comes the defense of, “I’m just glad to see a Black film like this out there.” And it’s a valid defense. I understand the defense. Hell, I feel that defense. I am also thrilled to see an experimental Black film created by and starring Black faces receive this much recognition and part of me wants to desperately cling onto that and tuck it away into a super safe space, like the Disney vault.
I don’t believe this sentiment means that Black films should be exempt from critique. I also don’t think that by doing so, it means you don’t appreciate Black films, by default. I get the hesitation, I do. When we live in a world where we don’t often see a diverse group of Black films unless it’s suddenly on trend to do so, it’s easy to feel guilt when you don’t have 100% glowing things to say about a type of film you had to wait years to see and may have to wait years afterward to see again.
My issue with that is that I actually think this hesitation does a disservice to Black films. I make a point to critique a film from my Black brethren/sistren the way I would any other film. How do we expect our films to be part of the mainstream world if we don’t hold them to the same standard? When people see “White” films and critique them, this doesn’t reflect on the entire group of White filmmakers in Hollywood. Hell, even if Martin Scorsese makes a less-than-stellar or poorly-received film, he’s still Martin fucking Scorsese. And he doesn’t have to compete with Steven Spielberg for a viable spot in Hollywood. That’s the meat of the issue, in my opinion. We’re so afraid to hold onto our tiny spot in Hollywood that we take what we can get. Which, is actually pretty condescending to the Black filmmakers and us, as an audience.
So, despite my conflicting feelings about it, I ultimately refuse to show love to my fellow Black creatives by coddling them just because they have exposure, but by holding them to the very high standards I believe they are capable of reaching. Of fucking surpassing.
Because, guess what, Dear Black People? We’re dope like that.
*I do want to note that I’m only using this term to define films that are created by Black folks and predominantly star Black folks. I still am bout that “films are fucking films and Black films can be universal, too” life, mmkay #punkin?