We need different Black stories in film, not just Black suffering

Illustration by Monique Rojas | The Signal

Movies are a fantastic medium for telling impactful stories, but repeated narratives can overshadow more diverse stories. The ubiquitous presence of films depicting intense and violent Black suffering, specifically slave narratives, is something I have grown tired of over the last decade.

The only films featuring Black people that get any recognition are the ones where trauma is involved. That’s not to say stories about slavery and oppression are unnecessary, as they can serve an educative purpose. 

My problem does not pertain to documentaries and docuseries made solely to educate. Those genres still have my full support.

Instead, I believe more fictional movies, especially those made post-2020, should center around Black people experiencing fresher, less harsh conflicts.

Black people deserve to see themselves happy in theaters.

Wy’Kia Frelot, vice president of the Georgia State film club, is a Black woman who has had grievances with the abundance of slave movies for quite some time now.  

“What bothers me the most is a lot of these films about Black suffering very rarely are made for Black people,” she said. “They are made for white people due to how they explain racism. It tricks the viewer into believing [they’re] much better than this.”

Her point of white audiences’ misunderstanding Black suffering was evident this summer. In June, “The Help” was trending on Netflix in response to the murder of George Floyd. It was interesting to see white people flock in substantial numbers to watch a white savior film where a white woman serves an angelic voice for mistreated Black housemaids. 

The presence of white characters rescuing Black people from their oppression undermines the attempts at telling these kinds of stories. I don’t think white savior films make the impact media executives believe they do, or if they even care.

The Black experience is complex but also magnetic. It would be nice to see more avant-garde films like “Sorry to Bother You,” where a relatable story of the Black experience in the workplace is told unexpectedly and uniquely. 

“The Last Black Man in San Francisco” is another stylistic film that creatively illustrates Black people faced with the recent wave of Black displacement from gentrification. More immediately, there needs to be a significant influx of engaging and relatable stories featuring Black women and queer Black people. 

Another member of the Georgia State film club, A.J. Young, was very passionate in his stance on telling more varied stories surrounding Black people. 

“There are far more interesting stories not just about Black history, but Black life today, that we tell. Black people are more than just the worst parts of our past,” Young said. “There is a lot of diversity and personalities amongst Black people.”

We have grown weary of the repetitive character archetypes.

The late, great Chadwick Boseman refused a role in a slave movie in 2018. According to his long-time agent, he said something along the lines of “I do not want to perpetuate slavery.” The agent has tremendous respect for Boseman’s words and concluded that the beloved actor only wanted to play “men of strength and character.” 

There is merit to those words.