Please Don’t Forget About Black Joy This Month
Another year, another Black History Month.
My place of hire, specifically the diversity and inclusion committee, wants to celebrate Black History Month with a watch party later this month. (Cool, I guess?) They sent out a survey to get our feedback on what movie we should watch. The options included selections like the highly anticipated Judas and the Black Messiah, Ava DuVernay’s exceptional 13th, Selma, and Just Mercy.
Honestly, I don’t know who is going to want to “celebrate” Black History Month by attending a virtual watch party with their co-workers on a Friday night. Especially when I know that the old White men (aka the people who should likely see these films the most) aren’t going to bother participating.
Another thing I wanted to know was why they wanted us to choose from those specific films. From this list we have: the tragedy of the deputy chairman of the Black Panther Party, an informative documentary about the disproportionate arrests and imprisonment of Black people, and two somewhat “uplifting” films in where neither one really gets a “happy ending.”
Black trauma: The genre no one wanted
We didn’t have to have such limited options for this watch party. The options are between watching Black people constantly getting their asses kicked, experiencing tragic death, or, better yet, films to set the White audience’s mind at ease and give a false sense of security in “how far we have come.”
Initially, it was nice to see so much Black representation in film in recent years. But I couldn’t help but notice that in a lot of these films, we’re either launched into the times of slavery and segregation, unjust arrests, or just the Black struggle as a whole.
Just this past January on Twitter, there was a thread going around in which people were listing the “Black trauma films you could never watch again” and the number of people hopping on to share was staggering. Some of the more popular films included Fruitvale Station, For Colored Girls, When They See Us, and 12 Years a Slave.
What we find is that a lot of the films listed in the thread aren’t necessarily “poorly made” films. In fact, most of them are critically acclaimed and received stellar reviews at the time of their release. But we’re not talking about cinematography, plot, scripts, or lighting. We’re talking about the fact that these films hold a special trigger geared toward Black people. The White audience members, even if they do feel waves of disgust or discomfort, cannot fathom the feelings of a Black person watching the same film who may have already lived some of the tragedies being depicted on screen.
What makes stories like Fruitvale Station and When They See Us especially triggering is the outright familiarity, the fact that they are heavily based on true events. Knowing that the Central Park Five (now the Exonerated Five) or Oscar Grant could have been any of us — or any of our friends and family — is enough to shake us to our core.
It leaves me to question: If Black people don’t want to watch Black trauma, then who exactly are these films made for? I have no doubt that some films are made for the sake of raising awareness and telling the stories of people who, tragically, cannot tell it themselves.
But Black viewers don’t need to be made aware; we’re already as aware as we can possibly be. More effective modes of becoming informed usually lie within reading and studying up on the subject, not watching tragic events unfold right before our eyes. More importantly, I can’t help but feel that the supposed White and non-Black people of color members of the audience — the people who need to be made aware — aren’t attending these films in mass.
But then there are some films where I have no idea why they were made. I never wish to see Tyler Perry’s film adaptation of For Colored Girls ever again. And I never in my life will recommend anyone to watch Something Strange About the Johnsons.
Black joy: We don’t get enough
I did a Google search to find Black films that aren’t centered around trauma and was happy to find some results. But I’m also disheartened at the fact that I had to look up something like this in the first place. It just lets me know that we need more Black stories that don’t center around us fighting, struggling, and suffering all the time. More than just depicting our joy, we need to support films that can show us being something other than victims. We deserve movies centering around romance, buddy cops, magic, wacky comedy, and cheesy teen dramas!
28 Films to Watch During Black History Month That Aren't About Black Trauma
Hollywood is full of movies about slavery, segregation, and the Black struggle, and while these films can serve as…
The reality is that trauma doesn’t always have to be correlated with Blackness. And Blackness does not have to be stripped away just because the whole storyline doesn’t center around the protagonist’s race. We can watch a film like Girls Trip and see that the characters are unapologetically Black, but we also see four girlfriends rekindling their friendships and learning important life lessons together. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse tells the story of Afro-Latino Miles Morales, a teenager who is adjusting to life at a new school and — oh yeah — becoming Spider-Man.
There are plenty of ways to celebrate Black History Month. Read books by Black authors, support Black businesses, enjoy Black art and film, donate to activist groups, and actually study some Black history. What I want people to understand is that the stories regarding our struggles and fights are still important. But there is more to Black life than the things that have scarred us the most.