I was following a conversation recently about the backlash that white folks have when a black actor does a remake of a white film/play/movie. And my response was:
"Why, do we feel we have to do remakes of white peoples stories? I just don't understand it?"
The response that I got really pissed me off and I had to examine that. Not within the context of that conversation, but on my own. The response was essentially and I'm paraphrasing my friend's words: We're conditioned that way. And who's going to support our stories unless they are that Tyler Perry garbage."
My rage at that response was triggered by seeing myself, my old beliefs in those words. A belief system that kept me on my knees for many years in a pit of despair. And I thought,
"That's exactly why we're not telling our own stories in first place."
We have this flawed story that we've created. Does the story hold some truth? Sometimes, but often not. But if we believe no one will support us, then that is what will happen. Then we get to be "right." We get to be justified in our belief that it's not worth trying to make anything of our own. That's incredibly self-defeating.
As is this idea, that it's okay to criticize the work of someone who is trying. Even if you don't like what they're making, they are doing the thing that you are not. And doing it well, I might add, because for my money, the single most important thing is the existence of a black corporation founded, run by and making a product for black people. And that is the one thing we do not have because we have this story that no will support our ideas, institutions and stories. Well, everyone won't, but many will. And more importantly, shouldn't we be examining the business model that Tyler Perry has in place because it works?
Good business is making a product that satisfies your audience's needs. Not your need, not what you think your customer needs, but what they've decided they need. That's good business. And business institutions are the source of power in this country. If we owned a sector of Wall Street, we wouldn't be getting racially profiled at such an alarming rate. Because those folks with serious land-value on Wall Street, those corporations decide who's going to run this country, who gets elected, who creates jobs for Americans. The power lies with the corporation and we have no none of that. But we got a lot of complaining about what "should" be happening without taking responsibility for shaping our destinies. Between, sports, music, film, TV, we take home at least half of the salaries in the American entertainment industry and we control none of that. We're essentially working for corporations even if we're rich. We have zero power. We consume what those corporations make and invest very little.
Ah, but Tyler Perry is the only black-owned production company making work for & by black people on a large scale without Hollywood's assistance. Tyler Perry's "Daddy's Little Girls", while a flawed film, was the most beautiful portrait of a single, black working-class father raising, loving and putting his daughters first. It was accessible, entertaining and the leads were doing some amazing acting. You may not like Tyler's content, but he is the only one who has decided to put the business of our stories in his hands. He did not ask permission from Hollywood to tell our stories. He also never complained about white filmmakers making films for white people. He wanted to see his stories, so he made them.
Everybody else is waiting for "Hollywood" to think our stories are important enough to tell and waging a losing battle of asking/complaining to white corporations in an effort to stop them from telling stories for their white audience. That makes no sense at all. Hollywood is in the business of pleasing their predominant customers: White people. And they figure, since we're not making our stories on a large scale that there's no need to market to us because we're going buy their product anyway. If we choose to throw our hat into that game, then we are paying for stories that were not meant for us to begin with.
The only world in which that makes sense is a world in which we need white approval. We need someone else to think our stories are important so that then we'll really believe it. And that is something deeply related to PTSD and needs to be worked out in a room with a black therapist. That's the deep, dark self-esteem issue at work.
That's the old storyline: "Nothing works out for my people, so why bother trying." Even when the reality is that many black people have money and are doing great things. We find ways to only focus on what is not working out. That expectation that life will not work for us and the world is against us, is sometimes true, but mostly in the present moment, it's not. That belief, that storyline takes us out of the present moment which is ripe with opportunity and lodges us in a past that may or may not be playing itself out right now. And even if it is, what someone else thinks you're capable of is none of your business. That's their story, not yours. You hold the power to create a story far beyond what anyone else can imagine for you. And if that self-destructive logic doesn't get worked out and re-framed, we will continue to pass that on to the next generation.
This flawed storyline manifests as chronic complaining and prophecies of doom. I am so sick of complaining. Mostly because, every day in every way, I am making statistics obsolete in my life because I expect to get what I want. I expect things to work out fabulously. It took me a long time to put the doom to rest. Did I live through 3 race riots and the kind of contempt for human life that makes your heart stop? Yes. Is that happening every single moment of the day, once a week, a month in my life? No. There are many heartbeats that happen in the between the moments of terror and violence that make life so precious. It's taken me a lifetime of work to re-frame my life's story; a long, hard road with some smart supportive doctors and a whole lot of soul-searching work to find my long-lost sense of self. In doing so, I am in the process of ridding myself of this old story about what is possible for me or my people.
And here's what I learned: If you don't like something, don't pay for it. And recognize that when something offensive is happening, it's not personal. It's not about you. Even if it feels that way. It's about someone having a money-driven objective. It's about the fact that perhaps they aren't marketing to you at all. It's about that anything that crosses your path that is offensive, is about someone else's fear. And you don't have to take that on.
It's really that simple. Complaining is just powerlessness and it's destructive and depressing. Do something proactive. Stop spending money. Just stop. And instead of consuming garbage, choose life-affirming things. The more money or time you spend on life-affirming things will result in more of those life-affirming things happening in your life and in the world.
Look up, not down. Look for what you can do, not what you can't. Look for the rainbow in every moment and you'll find it. Look for racism, contempt, self-deprecation, failure and you will find that and miss all the gold staring you in the face. Listen to life's heartbeat. It's everywhere struggling to be seen and heard. To be celebrated.
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is a Tony-winning producer/writer/actor & CEO of TheDreamUnLocked: Boutique Coaching for Actors, Writers & Dreamers