Give “Roots” a rest and explore black history through films that capture more than just certain moments.“Roots” plays on repeat on just about every television at some point during Black History Month. Yes, Black history includes chattel slavery, and stories about the Middle Passage and such. And, yes, “Roots” depicts the era better than any other film could — it’s just not the only film about Black history that’s been made in the modern age. Sitcoms like “Blackish” have created shows with historical points as themes. There have been several films that depict people and events that are pivotal to the liberation of Black people as well as cinematic documentation of how a people demanded and received equal rights as white Americans enjoy. Here’s a list that will take you from slavery to modernity in Black history. You can find them on Amazon Video, Google Play, Hulu, Vudu, and YouTube.
Marathon-Worthy HistoryThis is the era of streaming several episodes in one sitting, or straight-up watching a whole season. Fortunately, there’s some exciting content that you can stream for Black History Month. “Underground” is a show that ended abruptly in 2017 but is a thrilling look at the life of slaves and the Underground Railroad. Enjoy 20 hour-long episodes that are based on historical events and include a historic character that will keep you glued to the screen. Go back further in Black History with “The Book of Negroes”, a Canadian show based on a real journal of Black slaves who fought for the British during the American Revolution and were rewarded land in Nova Scotia for their loyalty. The miniseries follows a slave who was taken from her village as a young girl and follows her as she becomes the voice for the loyalists and their interests. Marathon the six episodes over a weekend or space them out throughout the month.
Movies About Famous Black PeopleFrom the women who formulated the first trip to the moon to the men who courageously flew bombers in World War II, Black people have made their invisible marks in history. Through the magic of modern cinema, those invisible deeds are exposed in movies that are dramatic, thrilling, and just as entertaining as they are educational. The most recent of this list is “Hidden Figures” about the Black women mathematicians whose work was vital to the program in the early days. “Red Tails” follows a group of Black pilots during World War II as they bravely fought for a country that was drowning under Jim Crow governance at the time. “The Butler” is a look inside the White House during the vital Civil Rights era. The point of view, however, is through the eyes of the Black man who served the Presidency and knew all its secrets. “Glory” goes a bit further back to capture the torment and the bravery of Union soldiers in the Civil War. “Southside with You” is a light-hearted look at the epic first date of the most beloved Black couple today — the Obamas.
Why is it so important to so many white artists that they maintain the right to be offensive to people disempowered relative to them?By Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein Novelist and commentator Kaitlyn Greenidge made a powerful argument in the New York Times last year that we don’t have to write what we know, but we do have to accept that if we are going to write what we don’t know, rather than have a temper tantrum when we receive criticism, we need to listen and then try to write better. Nothing reveals white anxiety more than someone complaining that they don’t feel free to upset people of color, and fearful rants against people of color in academic and literary contexts such as Francine Prose’s recent New York Review of Books anti-sensitivity screed are tiring and sad. They are a painful reminder that straight white cis voices continue to reign supreme in the literary discourse and that this dominance functions to silence marginalized people in multiple ways. The political priorities of straight white cis people are elevated above everyone else’s and questions of style and taste are addressed almost entirely in the context of how the conversation makes straight, white cis people feel. I know the easiest retort is that this is about freedom of speech. Yet as a staunch believer in the First Amendment (which we must constantly remind people is only about government censorship), I’m far less concerned about the imaginary legal issues here than about the very real impact of protecting writing that is racist in its mediocrity. Why is it so important to so many white artists that they maintain the right to be offensive to people disempowered relative to them? In the Trump era, what does it mean for literary leaders to worry about protecting these rights? As a queer Black femme and Editor in Chief of a literary publication with a mostly queer/trans person of color staff, The Offing, I struggled in the days after Trump became President-elect to put forward a professional face to the staff, even though I had spent most of election day in tears. I had not been excited about Hillary Clinton, yet the first round of tears came at 6:30 AM -- I had not been confident she had the election in the bag against an opponent far more terrifying yet bizarrely more savvy. Should we close shop, I asked? Resoundingly our editors said no. Publications that fearlessly seek out the best writing by marginalized writers and established writers trying their hand in new forms were needed in that moment more than ever. It was essential that our platform not disappear but rather continue and flourish.
Afrofuturism creates stories that puts Blackness in a central role and deals with the reality of what that means in the cultures and societies that it creates.When people think of science fiction as a genre, they're usually thinking of books about the coded fears and dreams of white men. Books that are considered masterpieces of science fiction by and large are written by them but the remedy from this pale and exists in Afrofuturism, the future as told by people of the African diaspora. I first encountered Afrofuturism before I knew what it was. The term was coined in the 90s by Mark Dery as a way to explain the collection of speculative fiction and assorted media that was created from the point of view of Black people. I read my first Afrofuturistic novel in 1993. It was Octavia E Butler’s Mind of My Mind. I would later find out it was part of a series, which I bought book by book from various bookstores as they had them in stock. It was the 90s. We didn’t have Amazon. These books were a different way to see science fiction. Never mind the most obvious fact that the covers featured a woman of color, but the stories themselves spoke of life in a completely different manner. Unlike the standard science fiction, these people weren’t “Big Damn Heroes”, they were people who weren't just dealing with their own internal and personal pressures, but did so while navigating in a society that already distrusted them. That's what's at the crux of what this particular literary style is. It’s not just “stories that feature Black people as leading characters”. They are stories that put Blackness in a central role and deals with the reality of what that means in the cultures and societies that it creates. RELATED: Being Weird and Black Doesn’t Mean You’re Interested in Being White
Reclaiming and retelling our stories is the first step toward decolonization--this shouldn’t be forgotten even and especially when we are speaking about fiction.
By Lisa Hofmann-KurodaRecent discussions around cultural appropriation have, for the most part, centered on tangible cultural products: clothing, food, hair, dance, music, language, and visual art are among the most commonly discussed items on the agenda when it comes to cultural appropriation and the way in which it actively harms marginalized communities. However, many people seem to have a harder time drawing the line when it comes to a less tangible form of cultural production: fiction writing. Recently the Guardian ran an article called "Whose Life is it Anyway," which featured a variety of perspectives from creative writers on the topic of cultural appropriation in the realm of fiction. The overwhelming consensus in this article is that there should be no limitations on the imagination when it comes to writing fiction. Fiction writers, the article argues, should be able to write novels and stories from anyone's perspective, regardless of whether the identity of the character whose perspective they are writing from matches their own racial or gender identity, let alone class or ability. This is because, according to the article, one of the main purposes of fiction is to cultivate a sense of empathy for others by imaginatively inhabiting their perspectives--especially those of others whose experiences and identities differ from our own. To insist that we only write fiction from our own perspectives would be to hinder the freedom of expression. And yet, just as in life, not all voices and perspectives are interchangeable, even in the “imaginary” realm of fiction. The imagination is not a disembodied entity separate from the realm of experience–it is continuous with and grows out of it. That is, our imaginations are always conditioned by the kinds of identities and experiences we ourselves have lived. It matters who tells whose story. Good fiction doesn’t depend on distancing ourselves from our our own perspectives and experiences, but on examining them more closely (the dictum “write what you know” applies here). The cultivation of empathy doesn’t depend on imaginatively inhabiting other people’s perspectives, but on listening to their perspectives and stories in the first place.
Books about refugees are popular right now, and reading them will make you more empathetic. And then you can begin to fight back. People are hungry for stories about refugees, especially since President Donald Trump introduced an immigration ban on seven Muslim-majority countries including