Blacks Fret About Film Stereotypes

Rohan Preston, Star Tribune (Minneapolis), December 14, 2009

Can the black family catch a break in the movies?

That’s what many African-Americans in the Twin Cities and elsewhere are asking in the wake of two recent films: the critically acclaimed “Precious” and “The Blind Side,” a No. 1 box-office hit that has grossed nearly $130 million since its Nov. 20 release.

o In “Precious,” based on Sapphire’s wrenching novel “Push,” an obese, illiterate black teenager is pregnant again by her father while her also-abusive welfare-recipient mother scorns her for stealing her man.

o In “The Blind Side,” which stars Sandra Bullock, an illiterate, homeless black teen is taken in by a kind white family. Under their care, he blossoms into a football star.

“I’m not saying that these things don’t happen and that they are not good movies,” said Brenda Anderson, 59, a law firm manager in Minneapolis. “It’s just that at a time when the Obamas are in the White House, it seems like there’s nothing [on screen] to reflect our proud reality. Instead, we have stories that show the black family as a total failure.”

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Intense emotions

The films have led to spirited discussions in the blogosphere and in real-world gathering in salons and book-club meetings. The intense emotions, especially about “Precious,” stir up long-dormant issues in the black community, in part because of the film’s use of color-coded characters. The movie’s victims and victimizers are dark-skinned; those offering salvation are fairer.

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With relatively few major motion pictures made about black life, those that are released bear an added responsibility to offer balanced portrayals of the values of a community, said Lindy Vincent, an avid moviegoer who owns Moxie Fitness, a Minneapolis-based personal-training business.

“These images get transported around the world and then frame a narrative of who you are,” Vincent said. “When I’m in Shanghai or Beijing and people are eyeing me up and down, I can’t tell you what they’re thinking, but I don’t want ‘Precious’ to be playing in their heads.”

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Vincent also pointed to “Milk,” the film about the killing of gay San Francisco pol Harvey Milk, as a model. “Even though the central character is killed, there is positive, uplifting momentum at the end,” she said. “With any type of black movie these days, all we seem to be getting is stuff that’s unrelentingly negative. At Christmastime.”

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