Well Lincoln, is a Really Good Movie that Annoyed Me Just a Bit.
(ThyBlackMan.com) In case you’re unaware of the standard narrative of historical films that involve black people, it’s quite simple: Black people advanced in America, not because of anything “you people” actually did. Instead, it was because there was some admirable and noble white guy who saved you. He was a visionary among his peers for having the audacity to treat black people as (gasp) human beings. He also had a couple of friends just like him, featured in the film, so the white audience has characters with whom they can identify themselves.
“Lincoln,” the new film burning up the theaters, fits that formula perfectly. The movie was actually very good. If it is historically-accurate, it shows that Lincoln did have the kind of courage necessary to do what is right instead of focusing on that which is politically convenient. For that, I respect the man immensely.
Also present in most historical films involving race are those evil white people who stood in the way of progress. They tend to be so horrible that Rush Limbaugh could watch the film with Sean Hannity and walk away feeling pretty good about himself for not trying to kill us. The black people? Oh you were as helpless as stage props, relegated the role of the wink-and-nod nanny or butler whose eyes light up in admiration of the wonderful white man who rode in on a white horse to save you. This was captured quite elegantly at the end of the film “Lincoln,” where Lincoln’s butler admired his boss’s silhouette as he dramatically walked out of the oval office. If a line were written in for the butler, it might be something like this: ”Dat der sho be a wonderful white man!”
While I do appreciate Lincoln’s extraordinary efforts during such a difficult time, I could not avoid the t******e-shrinking experience of watching a bunch of white guys argue over the fate of my ancestors and (to paraphrase a scene in the film), “the fates of all of the unborn black babies in America.” (Yes, that includes myself and every black person reading this article). The members of Congress were a bunch of rowdy, obnoxious, modestly intelligent men with questionable integrity (much like today), and I shiver at the idea that my fate lied in the hands of these selfish and myopic human beings.
With all due respect to the white superheroes of America, I grow tired of seeing my people portrayed as helpless sheep who depend on others to make us whole. The absence of Frederick Douglass from the film argues quite clearly that the filmmakers were tempted to embrace Lincoln’s role as the patronizing savior of black people. As much as I am willing to express my gratitude to those who stood up against the forces of evil and oppression, I am saddened by the liberal whites who often feel that we are in their eternal debt because they haven’t treated us as poorly as they could have (just watch MSNBC or Bill Maher as modern day cases-in-point).
Douglass was every bit as brave as Lincoln, probably tougher and surely smarter, given what he had to overcome in order to become such an esteemed member of society. Chances are that if Abraham Lincoln had been born a slave, he would have died a slave, that’s just a fact. So, while one cannot rightfully complain about the roles that were played by black people in this film, I refuse to believe that the best my people could be were maids, butlers and backup dancers in key moments of American history.
Again, the film is a good one and I recommend seeing it. But perhaps next time, they will tell the real story. While black people escaped the chains of physical dependence on whites in 1865, we have yet to obtain economic and psychological independence. The next Abraham Lincoln for black America is not going to be a wise white guy with a beard and pointy hat. Instead, he/she is going to have brown skin, a great education and an abundance of self-respect. Black self-sufficiency is the next step in our quest for true equality, so the job is not yet done.
Staff Writer; Dr. Boyce Watkins