Opinion: New Slaves

When I was but an itty bitty brown girl, just about to enter elementary school, my mother (also an educator) taught my younger sister and me about American slaves.

Trust and believe, she delivered the information in an age appropriate manner, but she thought it was critical for us to know our history.  We read books, including The Book of Negro Folklore, and acquainted ourselves with the dialect of the time, as well as the deeply moving and personal stories of families separated, whips burning across backs and work that went on until the overseer said it could stop.  It was brutal, but it turns out her decision to share these lessons early on were right on point.

I recall a day that a first-grade music teacher tried to teach me, and my mostly White classmates, a song about picking cotton as a “fun” activity and I shut. her. down.  I let her know that collecting fuzz from the fields was no merry task, and I solemnly refused to add my off-key voice to the collective warbling.  She later felt the wrath of my mother when I relayed the (ahem) music lesson later that evening.

So please hear me when I tell you that I believe our people, and by that I mean all people of the world, need to understand the cruel, dehumanizing system that brought Blacks to this country. We need to learn about it in grade school, high school, elementary and college.

But my Gawd….what I do not need or want is one more movie, television show, or cartoon book telling this story right now.

We have officially reached the tipping point in the form of ABC developing “A Slave in the White House” into a limited series.


What the…?

Yes, I get that slavery-related material is popular right now.  From the so-called hero narrative of Django Unchained (courtesy of Quentin Tarantino) to the upcoming 12 Years a Slave (courtesy of Brad Pitt), Black suffering is cinematic gold.  Shadow and Act managed to make an entire list of all the films around this theme…and ’tis long.  Some media outlets are blaming this latest creative outing on what they are calling The Butler effect.

Still, we can’t even escape the subject matter if we turn to online entertainment.  The fictional “Lizzie Mae” is holding it down with “Ask a Slave,” a very funny and appropriately smartass send-up of Main Street America’s cluelessness about the concept of human chattel.  Uncle Rush made a ding dong fool of himself with a somewhat similar effort, allowing an eye-searingly awful “sex tape” of Harriet Tubman to enter the Interwebs via his comedy channel before he was shamed into snatching it off.

To paraphrase a Lupe Fiasco track….it seems like it’s all slave everything around here.  Frankly, that is not a good thing.

Telling the story of enslavement and the societal effects it had, and continues to have, is critical, but it becomes something different when it is seemingly commoditized in Hollywood.  It is one thing to watch 12 Years a Slave in theaters, and quite another to see 12 years worth of slave content released in 2013.

YOUR TURN: Answer this poll and let us know what you think about slave-themed entertainment projects.