How our film choices can make us better allies for the BLM movement

The global response to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) Movement has led to a thorough investigation of Hollywood in its portrayal of black people in popular culture.

Founded in 2013 by Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors, BLM gained international attention recently during the George Floyd protests in May after he was killed by a police officer.

At this time, now more than ever, people are calling for writers and producers to take accountability for racist depictions of Black people in media. TV shows and films hailed as classics are being criticised for showcasing stereotypical and inaccurate portrayals of Black characters.

It is undeniable that Hollywood plays a role in shaping how we understand race, but in today’s society there is no excuse not to utilise the resources available and take responsibility to properly re-educate ourselves.

The 1939 American classic ‘Gone with the Wind’ was temporarily removed from the streaming service HBO Max, following the George Floyd protests. It is considered to be one of the best films in American cinema, yet its depiction of Black characters is racist with a glamorised  portrayal of slavery.

The film won several Academy Awards in its day and received very little widespread criticism from white people until many years later.

HBO plans to bring it back with an introduction that is historically contextualised by Jacqueline Stewart, a Black film scholar.

Stewart is a professor in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies in the University of Chicago and described ‘Gone with the Wind’ as “a prime text for examining expressions of white supremacy in popular culture” in an opinion piece published by CNN.

To end her piece Stewart stated, “if people are really doing their homework, we may be poised to have our most informed, honest and productive national conversations yet about black lives on screen and off.”

In a time where white people need to be a better ally to the BLM movement, films that are pushing the “white saviour” narrative are surging in views.

‘The Help’ has become the most-watched film on Netflix in the US, according to its ratings trend bar. The 2011 historical drama focuses on a white character who writes about the racism and awful working conditions which African American maids in her hometown experience daily.

An article published by Insider stated that “the intentions of those who praise the movie may be well-meaning, but those opinions are ultimately uninformed and damaging.”

In 2018 Viola Davis, who plays Aibileen Clark, came forward to say she regrets playing the role, stating that the white character’s voice was heard more than that of the Black characters’.

Instead of watching films that depict a white person as the hero who saves people of colour from their hardship, people need to watch films that feature Black people at the very forefront of their own story, to properly learn about racism.

Netflix has since created a Black Lives Matter category for viewers to educate themselves on the “racial injustice and the Black experience in America” with a list of films, documentaries and series.

This list includes ‘13th’, a documentary film exploring the mass incarceration of African Americans, ‘Dear White People’ a comedy-drama series which follows students of colour in a predominantly white college, and ‘Da 5 Bloods’, a war drama film about four African American vets.

The streaming platform tweeted about its new genre saying, “When we say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ we also mean Black storytelling matters.”

The murder of George Floyd and the BLM Movement has also seen a surge in sales of books about anti-racism and white supremacy.

Amazon’s list of best sellers right now includes Renni Eddo Lodge’s ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’, which discusses racism and classism in Britain.

Another current best seller is Layla F Saad’s ‘Me and White Supremacy’, which aims to help readers identify their white privilege and its impact.

The resources available to society to re-educate on racism and white privilege are infinite, it’s necessary to take advantage of them to expose racist stereotypes within Hollywood and become a better ally to the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Natasha Lynch