The Stories That Need To Be Told

stories-blog-post

There is a hierarchy within storytelling and the sharing of history. Certain stories are constantly recited while other stories are mentioned infrequently. In my home, I heard my parents tell stories about their childhoods and how they survived attacks on their Blackness. My parents gave me books about Black heroes to read. I learned about Madame C. Walker’s business skills, Marian Anderson’s gifted singing, Shirley Chisholm’s determination, Fannie Lou Hamer’s strength and Charles Drew’s ingenuity.

Yet, in school, Black history was squeezed into February’s curriculum or other holidays of the year such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I absolutely value the celebration of Black History Month in February, as it is a necessary celebration for Black folks and folks of all races/ethnicities to become educated on Black history and culture. But I deem that this celebration should not stop once the month ends.

When I saw how briefly that school teachers would talk about Black history, I knew that my parents and extended family would have to be my primary teachers. Through my family’s stories, I saw that I was Black every day of the year and that my roots were resilient. I discovered that the words “Black” and “smart” could be said together. That Black folks have created inventions and art forms. That my ancestors were warriors and that this warrior spirit swirled within me.

Every Black person should be able to hold pride in their bodies instead of being starved of it. How can this pride become prominent within the lives of Black folks? When Black folks can access their stories of strength, then internalized racism can lessen.

Within the last few months, I have seen three films that displayed the journeys of Black folks. These films focused on the challenges that Black folks have endured while emphasizing their beauty and their accomplishments.

Late 2016, I watched Loving, which is based on the true story of Mildred and Richard Loving. Mildred, a Black woman, and Richard, a White man, got married in 1958 in Washington, D.C. When they returned to Virginia, their home state, they were arrested for miscegenation (interracial marriage). Instead of serving lengthy prison sentences, the court demanded that they live outside of Virginia for 25 years. Although, this case was made into a movie before (Mr. and Mrs. Loving), Loving is a lovely and slow-moving account of this couple’s romance and demand for equality through petitioning the Supreme Court. The Lovings were unintentional activists as their case resulted in the 1967 dismantling of miscegenation.

Before 2016 ended, I also watched Fences based on the August Wilson play of the same name. Unlike Loving, the film Fences is not based on a true story, but it’s a realistic portrayal of life for a Black family in the Jim Crow era. Audiences view the impact of racism on the identity of “Troy,” a Black man, and how his relationships with his wife, sons, and brother became disconnected. Denzel Washington played the intense role of “Troy” and directed the film. Viola Davis recently won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role of “Rose,” the wife of “Troy.”

In January of this year, I watched Hidden Figures which is based on the real-life efforts of Katherine Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. These Black women mathematicians worked at NASA during the 1960s Space Race. I have studied a lot of Black history, but I had not heard of these women before seeing the movie. While I stared at the theater screen in a nearly packed room, I laughed, yelled, and cried. By the end, I thought my tears were not going to stop gushing. I felt like I had seen the triumphs of my own sisters. And I desired that everyone saw this movie, especially young Black and Brown girls who were interested in the math and sciences.

One of my favorite writers, the late Maya Angelou, said “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” I certainly agree with my girl Ms. Angelou. But I also know the agony in preventing an entire group from seeing their stories. From seeing their bravery and their truths in books and magazines. From being able to see themselves on TV and movie theater screens.

When movies such as Loving, Fences, and Hidden Figures are created, Black folks see that they have culture and history. They see the fullness of their stories and how their stories need to be told.

 

 

 

 

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Friendship and Representation

Mone At School 001

(High school throwback! Before I went natural.)

I have a bad habit of scrolling through social media sites when I first wake up in the morning. One morning in September, I noticed lots of folks talking about an Apple Music commercial starring Kerri Washington, Mary J. Blige, and Taraji P. Henson. I ended up watching it, and I loved how it showed friendship and representation.

Friendship:

The commercial shows Kerri Washington and Taraji P. Henson arriving at Mary J. Blige’s house. Mary J. is playing some cool music, and the women have their own dance party in the living room. I do not know if these women are friends in real life, but the friendship that is shown in the commercial reminds me of my own friendships. As I watched these beautiful women having fun and grooving to old school music, I reminisced about the simple hangout times that I had with my high school friends.

My original homegirls.

In high school, our fun was laidback! In our group, we had a set of twin sisters, and we usually went to their house to chill. We would watch movies, eat Vietnamese food on the floor, chat about our latest crushes, or chat about Aaliyah’s music. We did not need a lot of money to enjoy ourselves; we just needed a space to relax. The Apple Music commercial brought me back to those high school hangouts when listening to music and sitting in someone’s living room sufficed. These times were before the distractions of our cellphones alerting us of a text or a Facebook notification. Hey, none of us even had a cell phone, and Facebook came out when we were in college.

I reminisced about the times where we walked around our hometown or jammed ourselves in our friend’s S’s car. It was actually S’s parent’s car, but she had both her driver’s license and access to a car. While we walked, my friends listened to me rap Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” Back then, I was obsessed with Eminem’s music. I was comfortable being goofy and dancing on the sidewalk. They laughed and shook their heads at my weak attempt to emulate the chorus of “Lose Yourself.”

One time when we were in S’s car, we sang raucously to B-52’s “Love Shack.” Some of us did not the words very well and some of us did not sing very well, but we enjoyed the song together. We let S drive us to wherever we were going.

I know the Apple Music commercial is selling a product, but I ignored the commercialism and focused on the splendor of friendship. Of three Black woman listening to various genres of music and rocking out.

Representation:

My eyes widen when I see positive images of Black folks in the media. These moments do not occur frequently. Black folks being portrayed as human beings. Human beings who go to school, work, and church. Human beings who hug their children and raise their children. Human beings who are trying to figure out how to love and how to deal with death.

I deem positive representation as important.

Yes, my eyes widened when I saw three beautiful, Black women sitting in a beautiful house, listening to music in an Apple Music commercial. It showed the humanity of Black folks and not the ways we can be portrayed as villains, criminals, absentee fathers, absentee mothers, etc.  Our God-given humanity, the same humanity that God has given all of us, was displayed in an Apple Music commercial.

Representation happens when talented Black female director and naturalista, Ava DuVernay directs the same Apple Music commercial. Ava DuVernay has directed films such as Selma and Middle of Nowhere. I have not seen Middle of Nowhere yet, but it is on my list of must watch movies. With my cousins, I saw Selma in the theater. The poignant scenes in this movie had me cry several times. It was challenging watching Black men and women being beat up and ridiculed. My emotions could not be still, as I thought about what Black folks experienced back then, and the subtle or not subtle racism they experience now.

I believe filmmakers strive to share a story with their audiences. Great filmmakers will force audience members to feel strong emotions. During Selma, I cried to the point that I wanted to yell, but I also smiled at the God-given strength of Black folks. The Apple Music commercial made me smile and laugh as these women listened to their favorite songs. I even wanted to join them as they danced and air drummed to a certain song. I had to watch the commercial several times, because it has such feel good moments. Friends, women, Black women playing music and socializing!

Ava DuVernay is a great filmmaker, as she can make a one minute commercial feel like it should be a movie or a television show.  This filmmaker definitely demonstrates to us that Black female filmmakers are important and needed!

Friendship and representation.

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