Talking “White Face” with Mtume Gant. : ThyBlackMan

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Talking “White Face” with Mtume Gant.

October 17, 2018 by  
Filed under Ent., News, Opinion, Weekly Columns

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( The oppression black people face in this country is continual and damaging to every aspect of our being. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in white skin? Have you ever felt that you are tired of dealing with the constant hardship, and fear, that comes along with being black in America? I admit I have never wondered what it would be like to be white. I would never for a second wish away my blackness even if it meant a life whereby I would be free from constant oppression. Though this is my stance it is not the same for all black people. There are some of us that want peace to the point that maybe they do wonder what it would be like to be white in America…to experience the much talked about white privilege. We spoke with director Mtume Gant about his film “White Face” that dares to look at the question of …what if I were white.

TBM: What inspired your film?

MG: The inspiration comes from several different factors. It makes a direct story in film. I was having a lot of visions around the end of 2015, early 2016, of what America was about to step into after Obama, and the whole thing with Trump. Being a New Yorker, we have a much longer relationship with Donald Trump then I think the rest of the country does. Being a black New Yorker, we have a longer antagonistic relationship towards Donald Trump than the rest of the country. Remember Trump in the early 2000s, even the 90s, for the rest of America was a kind of cute figure. He’s on “The Apprentice” and people watched it both democrat and republican. But black New Yorkers was very anti him because of what he did with the Central Park 5, and he was just known to be a racist. He was known to be a racist, hyper-capitalist and an exploiter. I was of the belief that he had a great chance of winning; most people I was around didn’t think he would win. I kept getting visions of this America that was coming towards him, but at the same time people like Don Lemon were saying things that we thought were disparaging towards black identity.

There were people like Stacy Dash and this kind of rash of, that’s always been here, anti-black black people and how that fits into conservative values. Then what are conservative values? I started making this kind of thought, and I kept seeing this guy on a rooftop in New York in white face. What was interesting about it is it wasn’t that actually using white face was a new idea. I don’t claim to act like I made a new idea. There was a great play by Douglass Turner Ward called “Day of Absence” where he uses white face as a function to comment on black face, but also to talk about whiteness and what is whiteness. That is really what I want to talk about. What is whiteness? Is it just still a racial thing, a thing people are trying to aim for, an attitude, a world view, an ideology, or a perspective? That’s what I shaped it around, but of course it got personal ad I began to flush out the film to make more points that were coming straight from me rather than a larger ideological or political scope.

TBM: In your opinion, how is “whiteness” effecting the black psyche of what is “blackness”?

MG: That’s the whole thing what is blackness anymore? The very strange thing that I think is happening is if we think about black people from an original perspective in this country it was capital. It was we are going to use the black body to work then they realized, I think they always knew this, when slavery was no longer a thing they could do actively it went into other things like culture…sifting through us. That left them kind of in a tailspin on how to react, and so much of our blackness is in relation to what white people view us to be. So, you have a character in Charles, in my film, who doesn’t also relate to the popular ideas of blackness, so he believes he needs to go into whiteness. But, that doesn’t exist either because whiteness really is just power. In many ways there is no white people there is just whiteness in my opinion. A lot of times when we, black people, focus our ire’s on this country we think about white people; I think whiteness is the issue.

There are a lot of black people go out and aim for whiteness, and then whiteness the thought about acting white, and talking white. There are plenty of black people that say all types slang that adopt ideas of whiteness. That’s why I wanted to play with the character. You notice yes, he was a conservative, white faced and has blond hair. But, you will begin to see he says things that black people also say about themselves, and each other, who identify as black. They are kings and queens and black excellence then they say these disparaging things about black poor people, or about black attitude…don’t be this or that. So, what is blackness anymore? I think its hard to know in this day and age.

TBM: What message do you want to convey to viewers? If there was once thing you want them to take away what would that be?

MG: Don’t assume that the identity you embrace comes from your own creation. I think identity is a very interesting thing these days, and this goes beyond blackness. This is where I go into whiteness, sexuality, culture even vocation who you are. Its not so much about saying you are black, white, gay, lesbian or saying whatever you’re fine…it’s what you associate with having to be black or having to be white. People don’t understand that Richards Spencer and the alt right people are the biggest identity politicians in the world. There whole thing is about identity politics though they decry it. It’s a purposeful contradiction, and I actually think they are aware of what they are doing. Understand a lot of what we associate with ourselves does not come from us so that works twofold when dealing with black people. Black people go through self-hate because of what they believe white people tell them about blackness; they internalize it.

Then they look at whiteness as this opportunity even if it isn’t on an obvious level. Look at Kanye West, people have asked me if he was an inspiration for the character, I was thinking about Kanye when I wrote this back in 2016, because I saw how Kanye constantly idolized white power. His whole anger is that he knows he can never have white power. He wants white power. That’s why he would do all these antics; I wish Fanon was alive because he would write a book on the guy and we would all get it. I just want people to take away…don’t assume. If you are feeling something about any race for anything don’t assume that you got it from yourself. There is the assumption that your identity is natural, or how you relate to your identity is natural. I am me because I am who I am naturally, and the character says that in the film: “I’m just being myself” …but is he really? But are you really?

TBM: Is this a narrative that is a processing thought for black people where the white viewer is the spectator, or is it more of a processing thought for white people whereby the black viewer is the spectator…or neither?

MG: I would say this, and allow anyone to challenge me not in a negative way, I always create from a perspective of what I would like to see or what I need for myself. Not so much that its therapy, but what questions am I asking myself as a black person. What are the things I see? What questions am I asking? Then I put that on screen after the process of writing the script and doing all these things. When the audience comes in I think of myself as a black person that’s who I am, and that other black people would be interested in my thoughts. So, in a sense it is for us because its for me, and I am black.

Now, when it comes to other people White, Hispanic, Asian if politically or mentally they align with me then the script is also for them and I feel they can get things from it. I would think people could if they were truly impacted could find themselves in there on some level. Not everyone is, and its not my job to try to invite them I honestly don’t care especially when it comes to the white audience, and to certain ideological audiences in the black space if you don’t want to accept it I don’t care. This is what has to be said, in that sense in a long way its for black people, but a black person who is choosing t go down this trip with me and if they don’t want to go they can find their way out the door. I’m not hand holding.

Director Mtume Gant has given views a short film that will beckon us to question who we are, how we relate to who we are, and to confront a pain many of us suppress just to survive. What is whiteness, and its effect on the very nature of the black experience is something we have to begin to unpack if we are to ever be free of mental oppression. This is a film that should be seen in African-American Studies programs on college campuses around the country so that we can begin to have a real discussion about what we see as the black identity. Dare to look at yourself, and our community, in the mirror and peel away the layers.

Staff Writer; Christian Starr

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