Wednesday, August 10, 2011

THE HELP is not my kind of movie

Egyptian-Sudanese-American novelist and poet Kola Boof has been an agent for Sudan’s SPLA and was the National Chairwoman of the U.S. Branch of the Sudanese Sensitization Peace Project.  She has written for television and her many books include, “Flesh and the Devil,” “Long Train to the Redeeming Sin,” “Nile River Woman” and “Virgins In the Beehive.”  She blogs at Kola Boof. com

Filmed and projected images almost always socialize the eyes beholding the images.  Whether they be movies, magazines or music videos; the repetition of these visual images socially condition the watching eye as to what that particular society considers good and bad; what is to be loved and valued; what is to be valued as beautiful and impressive; what is to be coveted—and; and—gazed at from the tower of one’s own status in America—what is to be pitied and felt sorry for; no matter how noble and courageously it is presented on screen. I find living in America where movies such as “Precious,” “The Help” and “Martin Lawrence in Drag” are consistently financed and given major releases—yet Angela Bassett isn’t allowed to play Cleopatra—that the majority of Americans of all races institutionally view what I would call the Authentic Black Woman (the dark skinned black woman) as “The Maid,” “The Wallflower,” “The Backup Singer,” “The Thing We’re Glad Not to Be.” And it doesn’t matter how impressive or accomplished these type of women are (including Oprah; including Michelle Obama; including Naomi Campbell, Iman and Angela Bassett)—the Hollywood filmmakers, to my Egyptian-Sudanese-American eye, always finds a way to cast said type woman into that status—that lower station—no matter who or what the circumstances on film are.

      We get to “feel sorry” for her station in life…and in doing so…we mistake feeling sorry as delivering justice.  It lets us off the hook, because after “feeling sorry” for her—what else does she want, change?  No. We did that while watching the film. Now as we leave the theatre—we’re done with her.  

      That is why, no matter how much I love and idolize the stunningly gifted Viola Davis (truly one of my favorite actresses), I won’t be going to see the newly released motion picture “The Help”—and I didn’t care worth a damn for Kathryn Stockett’s well meaning novel either.

      Now…this is my opinion and you don’t have to share it. But I ask that you not pull out your American stock “she’s angry,” “she’s bitter,” “she’s black and ugly” placards, because none of that is true and hardly ever is—it’s simply the buzz phrase Westerners use to silence Black women when we speak our reality versus your “otherness” and sometimes privilege. I speak my opinion from the vantage point of my chocolate skin and my springy African hair; my glorious black tits that fed this whole planet into fruition—I speak with complete mothering and no negativity here.

      I would like to see images of myself and my female phenotype affirmed, valued and celebrated just as any other human being’s vitality is affirmed, valued and celebrated. I don’t get that from “The Help,” “Precious” or “Martin Lawrence in Drag”–no matter how noteworthy their artistic merit—and let me make it clear that I did love the film “Precious” and I do appreciate the valiant maids in “The Help”—but I’m tired of seeing this shit.

      It would be a different story if the music videos and magazines were chock full of glamorous Naomi-like cocoa beauties.  It would be a different story if Hollywood had alternate films like “The Blind Side” with Viola Davis cast in Sandra Bullock’s role or a film with Iman as Queen Nefertiti—or how about Janet Jackson in a biopic of sexy Pam Grier? But authentic black women are all but banned from American images of what is beautiful, desirable and socially viable.  If we aren’t mixed race or very light skinned or brown with a ski slop nose and flaxen long hair—then we aren’t presented as “procreation vessels” in American society.  We are not promoted socially as “of child-bearing age pretty girls” to be married and flaunted.  Americans, both White and Black, don’t like to see Black babies born and the more mixed and watered down so called Black children become the less threatening the general society feels.

      I don’t like this shit over here worth a damn!  But then again, I’m not going anywhere either.

      My latest book, “The Sexy Part of the Bible,” was recently sent to Hollywood studios for consideration as a movie and I’m getting an interesting though hurtful response. Though in literary circles the book has been praised by the Boston Globe, Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist and features a charcoal-skinned supermodel who discovers she’s a clone and starts her own country—one studio executive said he’d love to “see it financed as a musical” with Indian actress Frieda Pinto or Jessica Alba cast as Eternity the clone.  Another executive (different company) said: “it’s too unusual for a black film” (my character Eternity is not sad or tragic—she’s fucking two leading men, one black and one white, and has a triumphant end).  He said that he can’t envision a “charcoal-black beauty” starring in a movie because he can’t personally remember ever seeing a tar-skinned black beauty in real life (they don’t exist to Americans).  

      Notice this is the same racist reaction that the American media had towards me upon finding out that Osama Bin Laden’s former mistress, Arabic-named Naima Bint Harith—was in fact cocoa skinned with nappy hair.  White media folks immediately saw my image as not quite right; not fitting; not America’s idea of what an Egyptian Sudanese “former model and actress” would look like.  Though I was considered very beautiful and desirable in North African societies—the Americans (black and white) decided that my incredible height and strong Nubian-Nilotic bone structure made me look like a man (aka Grace Jones) and that my dark skin was not compliable with what is considered feminine in a Euro-based Straight-hair dominated society.

      After they got over the fact that I’m Black and Fox Searchlight decided they wanted to make a film about my life, they immediately sought to cast biracial, shorter than my hip bone Halle Berry.  Not an ounce of caring was shown for my phenotype or my Nilotic beauty—the real me was to be erased so that via the image of Halle Berry I could be conformed….conformed…to fit America’s idea of what they could stomach.  Truth be told; my valiant sister Halle is only accepted but for so far her damn self.  She can’t play Cleopatra either.

      This is why I’m telling Black American women—you’ve seen this movie “The Help” all your lives; you lived it or your Mama and Grandma ‘nem lived it.  Struggling as teachers, Nurse’s Aids, secretaries, living off welfare or dealing with the epidemic of self-hating colorstruck Black American men—you know from too many angles—that story of waiting on everybody else hand and foot backwards and forwards.  You loved watching Whoopi Goldberg essay the role in “Corrina, Corrina” and “Clara’s Heart”—adored countless television accounts such as Regina Taylor on “I’ll Fly Away.”  But it’s not what you need now; it is not a place to ‘stay’.  And it’s not the only true image of women like Viola Davis, Hattie McDaniel and Gabourey Sibide—it is but one image of those beautiful, gifted sisters.  As an African woman, I can promise you that Viola, Hattie and Gabourey were once Queens—they were cassava pickers, fisherwomen, warrior generals, shopkeepers, lion killers, corn row braiders, tickled whores, rain dancers, drum & porridge makers, married ladies—and most important of all—they were our mothers.  Black as all Black put together, they were our mothers.

      As Womb-bearers; as American citizens, we deserve an upgrade in the images presented over here.  And I mean specifically the darkest women—the ones whose charcoal, blue and chocolate wombs actually brought civilization and mankind into being.  They deserve a better and more authentically presented image; a damn sure more flattering one.

      A lot of these American women calling themselves our sisters (especially White feminists, White women novelists and White women married to Black men) think they’re better than African and Black women, because the media lies and brainwashes everyone so terribly on this planet.  But let me tell you something—there is nothing in creation—like an African Woman.  Her bee-stung Goddessa lips, dukan cake (booty), ocean-stirring voice, salt jagged hair and root beer dark celestial eyed gaze that you and Angelina Jolie want so bad but profess to be better than—is more organic and soulful than anything you’ve got in Europe, China, Puerto Rico, Malibu Beach, Redbone Atlanta, Yellowbone BET and anywhere else.  That’s why she’s first and will always be the Queen.  Whether you’re White, Chinese, Indian, Latino, Biracial-Mulatto or whatever the hell you are—you came originally from, somewhere down the line, an African woman. All human beings came first from an African mother.  And if you can’t value and understand her right to be loved, to be celebrated and to be here—then you’ll never truly be human. Just like the long line of Gods and religions man has made up, humanity comes through the Black woman; always has.  If you think that’s funny; if your cynicism and privilege makes you smirk and cut your eyes at what I’m saying—then you need to get—some help. 
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Kola Boof’s latest novel is “The Sexy Part of the Bible” (Akashic Books); she’s currently on tour.