Move over, Tyler Perry – you’re not the only black actor putting a skirt on for the big screen.
Jamie Foxx and Martin Lawrence are reprising their respective television characters – Sheneneh and Wanda – for an upcoming film of the same name. The movie originated as a parody of a movie trailer for a film called ‘Skank Robbers’ which the actors made for the BET Awards. The duo will reportedly produce and write the script for a film portraying their goofy characters as “modern-day independent women trying to make it on their own, one bank robbery at a time.”
Unfortunately, “Sheneneh and Wanda” will also be a box office hit, partly because we, the black community, don’t demand better images of ourselves. It is about time we give some shine to the blacks in the film world who are trying to make a difference. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article about the need to stop complaining about folks like Tyler Perry, who many believe is contributing to the negative black portrayals, and put our collective energy into supporting better portrayals of blacks in the media.
Lee Daniels’ movie “Precious” looks like a step in the right direction, but there are other initiatives out there by other black filmmakers that should also receive recognition. Recently, I spoke to Atlanta filmmaker Tre Whitlow. His latest film – “Black To Our Roots” – is an inspiring documentary about an African-American teenage girl who goes to Ghana and challenges what she knows about her African roots. The movie premiered recently in the National Black Programming Consortium’s latest season of AfroPop: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange. The PBS film series is “a celebration of the cultural and historical growth that has occurred in the last generation” in Africa.
Whitlow told me that he was inspired to get into filmmaking after living in Africa and becoming frustrated with negative black imagery being pushing out of Hollywood. He said he wanted to be the change that he wanted to see in the media and provide the African Diaspora with films that would make our ancestors proud. “There is power in storytelling that culturally affirming, informative and educational,” he said.
And there are other black filmmakers like him, including Byron Hurt, director of the controversial film Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes#, which delves into the issues of sexism, homophobia and violence in today’s hip-hop scene. At the time of its release, the film sparked new debates in our community about issues that have usually been discussed behind closed doors for years. Hurt’s other movies, including “Barack & Curtis” and “I Am a Man” explore issues relating to black masculinity while his current project – “Soul Food Junkies” – looks at obesity within the black community.
There are alternatives to the growing trend of dressing in drag while black in Hollywood, but unfortunately, many of these kinds of positive black films never get the audiences they deserve due to a lack of funding from powerful Hollywood brokers or most important, support from the black community.
If we really want to see change in how we are portrayed in Hollywood, we also need to be the change we want to see through our actions – and movie viewing habits.