How White People Deploy Dog-Whistles To Harm Black Film Critics
When Black people ask for accountability, terms like “Woke Film Twitter” are deployed as dog-whistles to minimize, sensationalize, and deflect.
This essay discusses a suicide attempt.
This past Thursday, a traumatic family event removed me from the cesspool that is social media. I shut down my IG. I deactivated my Twitter. And I signed out of even the most innocuous of social media platforms (like Pinterest) and deleted all of these apps. And of course, it was at this very moment in time that Film Twitter decided to explode.
With this explosion culminating in a mass harassment campaign led by Guns Akimbo (2019) director, Jason Lei Howden.
About a day after my sudden social media departure, screenshots (circa 2016/2017) from private conversations surfaced on Twitter and showed that Dilara Elbir, an editor for Much Ado About Cinema (which has since been shut down) had casually dropped the word “nigga” in it. I’m sure there’s more to this particular part of the story, but let’s just say that this quickly escalated and resulted in much of the Much Ado staff (sans Elbir) reluctantly leaving the publication. Which then was followed by the aforementioned editor attempting suicide and posting evidence of such on Twitter (which I will not describe in detail because I am not a sick bastard). This inspired all sorts of people from verified Twitter and even celebrated directors—i.e directors Barry Jenkins and Lulu Wang—to enter the conversation. Plenty of buzzwords like “hate”, “division”, “bullying”, “cancel culture”, and “be kind” were used. And mysteriously enough, I can no longer find many of these tweets.
Of course, these messages of “kindness” were not extended to my colleagues @ValerieComplex or @DarkSkyLady when they eventually became the target of such harassment and “bullying” at the hands of an angry, belligerent, and racist white man by the name of Jason Lei Howen—who was determined to pin Dilara’s suicide attempt on them. It did not matter that neither of them had absolutely nothing to with the situation, or that Complex herself wasn’t even online during the inciting events. What did matter was that they were two Black people—one woman and one non-binary—who he marked as easy targets. Which is unsurprising, given that Howden has a history of antagonizing women of color who don’t give glowing reviews about his work.
I am not very interested in diving into the “nigga” debate that white film critics and spectators have taken it upon themselves to have—even though these crauquers of the hour will never be referred to as such. But I am interested in the context and details of this situation that were purposefully obscured to position former Much Ado writers as “bullies” and position anyone who had been critical of the aforementioned editor casually dropping a racial slur in a DM as “bullies,” as well as the positioning both of these groups as members of the toxic organization known as “Woke Film Twitter”. But to discuss why the use of “bullies” here is humorous to me, I should be clear about one thing:
White people are the most unsubtle people known to mankind. And yet, they pretend the opposite is true by employing “dog-whistles” to shift blame and gaslight marginalized people.
Which is what happened here.
What was initially a legitimate conversation about racism and accountability was (like most things on Twitter) unceremoniously hijacked from Black film critics by members of Stan Twitter who have an ax to grind about life in general and get off on even the most fleeting amount of moral superiority (and this issue is compounded upon by their compulsion to constantly loot AAVE for social justice language and “buzzwords”). These are the people who most likely harassed the Much Ado editor and possibly encouraged potential self-harm. For anyone who has ever dealt with “stans” of anything, this has long been an issue on Twitter, but instead of engaging this in critiques about toxic Twitter behavior, the notable detractors I mentioned above took to blaming “Woke Film Twitter” and denounced these mysterious members of “Woke Film Twitter” for “bullying” this editor to the point of attempting suicide.
In the interest of clarity, here’s what these dog-whistles mean in an alternate universe where words simultaneously mean nothing and everything and white people apparently get to decide what they mean on a case-to-case basis:
“Film Twitter” = Members of Twitter who like or engage film on some level.
“Woke” = Black people or relating to wanting to be like Black people. In a watered-down context, it can replace “self-righteous”—even though this is not the original meaning.
“Woke Film Twitter” = Niggers on Twitter who like or engage film on some level.
“Bullying” = When a marginalized person holds an oppressor accountable for harm they perpetuated against said marginalized community.
“Kindness” = Expecting grace, mercy, and forgiveness from marginalized people no matter what.
So you see, very quickly, a conversation about someone being accountable to a marginalized community was spun into “these film niggers are bullies”—and that is exactly what Howden needed to further hijack the conversation to harass Complex and DarkSkyLady and continue his years-long pattern of harassing women of color… including asserting they should be charged for attempted murder after they checked him for harassing the Much Ado writers.
“At first, I was terrified, then annoyed, now angry,” Complex commented in a message to me. “Terrified because even though his platform isn’t as big as mine on social media, he’s a film director with some power. Now I’m growing angry at the quiet from the ‘be kind’ community. Folks that told us to be kind to Dilara are silent now that myself and other WOC and non-binary folks are at the center of this. A lot of people reposting threads and denouncing Jason Lei Howden were dapping him up initially. It’s performative allyship and I see it all.”
Since then, the racist director has blocked and unblocked Complex and DarkSkyLady, harassed them from Guns Akimbo’s official Twitter account, deleted his Twitter once people caught on, moved to Instagram to continue the harassment, and then returned to Twitter to issue a fauxpology that weaponized his mother’s suicide that I am 200% certain at PR person made him tweet after many of us “Woke Film” Niggers commented that we were contacting the PR firm for the film or opting out of reviewing it entirely.
“It’s far too late,” DarkSkyLady told me when asked about Howden’s fauxpology. “And does not go anywhere near far enough to address the defamatory lies brought against women and writers of color. It still implies we were bullies and you just don’t get to call someone an ‘attempted murderer’ post our pic[tures], make us a target then go, ‘whoops.’ The apology only addresses how he felt, not what he did. This isn’t accountability. It’s a desperate act from someone who was reminded his movie releases Friday and he has gone too far.”
As fate would have it, none of the people who commented about “being kind” days earlier came to the defense of Complex or DarkSkyLady.
Nope. It once again fell on the shoulders of other Black people (and select people of color) to close rank and make sure that two of our own were okay. Which is so wildly transparent. And by transparent, I mean that this days-long brouhaha revealed some very important things I want you, reader, or anyone who believes themselves to be an “ally” to take away:
The collective trauma of Black people apparently pales in comparison to the trauma of one white person… and we are expected to swallow that with a teaspoon of grace every single time. When that does not happen or there is push back from said Black people in the name of accountability, (or for some reason, it does not go as smoothly as the aggrieved [white] party would like) words like “bullying” and, in this case, “Woke Film Twitter” are deployed to simultaneously minimize AND sensationalize what should have been a one and done situation.
Because God forbid we be able to hold multiple conversations at one time like the allegedly multidimensional beings we claim to be. God forbid that we state with our chests that racism is bad, that mental illness and suicide should not be used as an UNO card to evade responsibility, and that people should not be goaded into dying by suicide. God forbid that we be able to engage the fact that Black people can (and do) die by suicide as a result of many things—including racist trauma. And God forbid that society does not place the burden of being kind and benevolent on Black people as we continue to shoulder racist and misogynistic abuse from all sides.
We could all use some more kindness in this world. But I want you to think about what you mean the next time that word comes out of your mouth. Are you really calling for more “kindness”? Or do you just want Black people to shut the fuck up and smile?
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