The Woman King, Black Ice and Hollywood’s changing depiction of Black history

Viola Davis doesn’t come close Queen like another movie.

The Oscar winner took on the role of Nanisca, a general of the real-life Agojie warriors, and produced the film alongside her husband. But as it follows a little-known story set in an African kingdom — preceded by an almost all-black cast — Davis says it’s nearly impossible to get a studio to buy.

“It was never done,” she said on the red carpet ahead of the film’s world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

“You can be a little afraid of something that’s never been done. But just because something has never been done, doesn’t mean it won’t land.”

Since then, the film has landed – grossing almost US$2 million in previews before it hits theaters on Friday. And with it there are also notions of ethnocentrism, reimagining Black history and treating black people and culture as something to be respected and even emulated – rather than The victims of slavery are fighting to simply prove their equality.

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And as far as TIFF goes, Queen far alone.

World premiere for Chevalier saw Kelvin Harrison Jr. introduces the little-known crime story of Joseph Bologne – a black virtuoso, virtuoso violinist and master classical composer who rivaled Mozart, and whom John Adams, second president two of the United States, called “the most successful man in Europe.”

A world premiere for Sidney tells the story of Sidney Poitier, described in the TIFF synopsis as “one of the most talented and charismatic actors cinema has ever known.” Dear MomThe world premiere of rapper Tupac and his mother Afeni Shakur, and attempt to reshape the story of both of their contributions to the civil rights movement.

And also getting its world premiere is Black tapeDrake-fronted documentary – featuring Black Canadian NHL superstars PK Subban and Akim Aliu – both highlight the often overlooked contribution of Black athletes to the sport (including including the introduction of slap footage) and the racism they continued to face.

“It’s really Canadian sport, and we didn’t know that Blacks had all these contributions,” Aliu told CBC on his red carpet. “I just hope this helps people to be able to look beyond and lift the hood and say, ‘Hey, what other contributions have people of color made to our society,’ and they’ll quickly discovered that we were part of each other to where we are today.”

Kim Fain, professor of English at Texas Southern University and author of Black Hollywood: From butler to superhero, African-American men’s changing roles in film, indicating that all of these movies are not a coincidence. They are the result of changing trends in Hollywood, itself a reflection of how society deals with – and understands – how we shape history.

“Hollywood is reflecting activism,” Fain said, pointing to social justice movements like Black Lives Matter and afrofuturism, a literary genre that puts blacks and culture at the forefront of science and technology turmeric.

“When you have a Black writer, you have a Black director, you have people who say, ‘No… we’re going to highlight the Blacks who contributed in this way. And we’re going to give it a go. you see things in a way you’ve never seen before,” she said. “We can review the stories, but then we say, ‘Wait a minute, we’re going to tell it our way and refocus the Blacks because they should be focusing on these stories. .”

Re-imagining the history of the black world

While Queen Fain pointed out Black Panther as the catalyst for the genre’s entry into the mainstream. That film brought a fictional African society to the forefront of modern technology, and portrayed a country run and inhabited by Blacks, considered a world power.

While that representation of the Black community is in no way incorrect — both historically and in modern times — Fain said, until recently, it was rarely seen in the mainstream. In the early days of Hollywood, Black characters and actors were largely invisible, and when they were seen were depicted as “slaves, butlers, or maids.”

That supporting role eventually evolved into the “blaxploitation” movement in the 1970s, which shifted to portraying Black people as protagonists in films – despite frequently engaging in crime.

From there, Fain says, the tendency for Black actors to struggle against oppression evolved into a trend of “white saviors” — in which Black characters seem to lead, despite actually being portrayed. is being saved by a white character, as in Green Book, Blindsided or Help. And from there, another trend emerged: “traumatic porn”, a genre most visible in 12 years of slavery, Antebellum and underground railway, which focuses on Black characters who are suffering from the horrors of slavery or police brutality.

“Everything that seems to come out for a while doesn’t necessarily show us as heroes, but rather shows us as victims,” ​​Fain said. “It’s almost… retrained us, culturally and personally.”

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More recently, Fain said, Black creators like Ryan Coogler and Jordan Peele have been able to take the helm behind the scenes and make movies in which Blacks control their own stories.

That movement even goes beyond movies like Queenthat purportedly put the Black cast first and center, for another film at TIFF that debunked the scams in a less intentional way. Thoroughness – which again, had its world premiere at the festival – tells the story of Jesse Brown, the first black pilot to pass the Navy’s basic flight training, who was killed during the War North Korea.

While it still tells the story of a Black man who struggles against the apartheid system while befriending a white officer who tries to help him, it stars Jonathan Majors (who plays Brown) says he took on the role specifically because the script sees Brown helping himself – relying on an outside savior instead.

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“We’re described in so many ways. Babies, you know, in ways like, ‘Oh, we can’t help ourselves.” No, we can’t help ourselves,” Majors told CBC News. “We have Jesse Browns proving that we can help ourselves. We have Nat Love to prove we can help ourselves. We have Chadwick Boseman proving that we can help ourselves. That’s the movement.”

But even as depictions of Black people improve in the media, much remains to be seen. Cheryl Thompson, a Canadian researcher of Black performing arts, says that while it is good to focus on Black contributions and stories, it should not highlight the ongoing struggles of Black people. black people.

“It’s an illusion. All [this] great black storytelling,” she said. We’re all seen as kings and queens in the end, but in reality, when you look at America’s big problems, they don’t fit the story on the silver screen. ”

It’s something filmmakers will have to balance, she warns, as the power and influence of black storytelling continues to grow in Hollywood.

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