The Woman King, Black Ice, and Hollywood’s Changing Representation of Black History

Viola Davis did not approach the king woman like another movie.

The Oscar winner took on the role of Nanisca, a general of the all-female true Agojie warriors, while also producing the film alongside her husband. But as it followed a little-known story set in an African kingdom, headlined by an almost entirely black cast of actors, Davis says it was nearly impossible to get a studio to buy.

“It’s never been done,” he said on a red carpet before the film’s world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

“You can be a little scared of something that has never been done. But sometimes things that have never been done don’t mean they won’t land.”

Since then, the film has landed, grossing nearly $2 million in trailers before it opens in theaters on Friday. And with it have gone the concepts of Afrofuturism, reinventing black history and portraying black people and culture as something to be admired and even emulated, rather than victims of slavery simply fighting to prove their equality.

CLOCK | Viola Davis on The Woman King: ‘We can lead a worldwide box office’:

“We can lead a global box office,” says Viola Davis

Viola Davis describes the years of effort to make The Woman King, and her co-star John Boyega jokes about the pressure of acting alongside Davis.

And as for TIFF, the king woman he was far from alone.

The world premiere of Gentleman saw Kelvin Harrison Jr. present the criminally little-known story of Joseph Bologne, a black fencer, violin virtuoso and masterful classical composer who rivaled Mozart and whom John Adams, the second president of the United States, called “the most accomplished in Europe.”

A world premiere for sydney tells the story of Sidney Poitier, described in the TIFF synopsis as “one of the most talented and charismatic actors cinema has ever known.” Dear MamaThe world premiere focuses on rapper Tupac and his mother Afeni Shakur, attempting to reshape the story of their contributions to the civil rights movement.

And also receiving its world premiere was black icethe Drake-starring documentary, featuring Black Canadian NHL superstars PK Subban and Akim Aliu, which highlighted the often-overlooked contribution of Black athletes to the sport (including the introduction of the slapshot) and the racism they continue to face.

“It’s literally Canada’s sport, and we don’t know if black people had all these contributions,” Aliu told CBC on his red carpet. “I just hope this empowers people to look past this and lift the hood and say, ‘Hey, what other contributions have people of color made to our society?’ and soon they will discover that we have been integral”. to where we are today.”

Kim Fain, professor of English at Texas Southern University and author of Black Hollywood: From Butlers to Superheroes, the Changing Role of African-American Men in Movies, pointed to all these movies as more than a coincidence. They are the result of changing trends in Hollywood, which are themselves a reflection of how society treats and understands how we frame history.

“Hollywood reflects the activist movement,” Fain said, pointing to social justice movements like Black Lives Matter and Afrofuturism, a literary genre that puts Black people and culture at the forefront of science and technology.

“When you have a black writer, you have a black director, you have people saying, ‘No… we’re going to highlight black people who contributed in this way. And we’re going to show you things in a way you haven’t seen before.’ “, said. “We could go through the stories, but then we’re like, ‘Wait a minute, we’re going to tell it our way and get black people back into focus as they should be into these stories.'”

black world history reinvented

Weather the king woman does not fall under the umbrella of Afrofuturism, which, as its name suggests, often looks ahead to a real or imagined future, Fain noted. Black Panther as the catalyst for the genre’s entry into the mainstream. That film put a fictional African society at the forefront of modern technology and portrayed a black-led and inhabited nation as a world power.

While that way of presenting a black community is not inaccurate, historically or today, Fain says that, until recently, it was rare to see it in the mainstream. In the early days of Hollywood, black characters and actors were largely invisible, and when they were seen, they were depicted as “slaves, butlers, or maids.”

That subservient role eventually evolved into the “blaxploitation” movement of the 1970s, which shifted to showing blacks as protagonists in movies, albeit often participating in crime.

From there, Fain said, a trend of black actors fighting oppression turned into a “white savior” trend, where a black character is ostensibly the lead, though he is actually shown as being saved by a white character, like in Green Book, the blind side either Aid. And from there, another trend emerged: “traumatic pornography”, a genre that is seen mainly in 12 years a slave, Before the war Y the underground railway, where the focus is on black characters suffering the horrors of slavery or police brutality.

“Everything that seemed to be coming out for a while didn’t necessarily show us as heroes, but as victims,” ​​Fain said. “It almost…re-traumatizes us, culturally and individually.”

CLOCK | Canada’s often-forgotten story of slavery on screen:

Canada’s often-forgotten story of slavery on screen

As new film and television projects explore the history of the transatlantic slave trade, including the new documentary series Enslaved, one historian finds that Canada’s role in these stories tends to be one-dimensional and positive.

More recently, Fain said, black creators like Ryan Coogler and Jordan Peele have been able to seize power behind the scenes and make movies in which black people take control of their own stories.

That movement extends even beyond movies like the king womanthat purposely put a black cast front and center, to another TIFF film that subverted the tropes in a less intentional way. Devotion — which, once again, had its world premiere at the festival — told the story of Jesse Brown, the first black aviator to pass the Navy’s basic flight training program, who was killed in the Korean War.

While it still tells the story of a black man fighting a racist system while befriending a white officer who tries to help him, star Jonathan Majors (who played Brown) says he took on the role specifically because the script featured Brown. helping himself instead. to trust in an external savior.

CLOCK | Jonathan Majors and Joe Jonas discuss Devotion at its TIFF premiere:

Jonathan Majors and Joe Jonas at TIFF

Devotion star Jonathan Majors talks about the importance of black people being at the center of their own stories and Joe Jonas talks about joining such an important project.

“They have represented us in many ways. Infantilized, you know, in ways like, ‘Oh, we can’t help ourselves. No, we can help ourselves,” Majors told CBC News. “We have Jesse Browns proving that we can help ourselves. We have Nat Love’s to show that we can help ourselves. We have Chadwick Boseman’s who prove that we can help ourselves. That’s the move.”

But even as the representation of blacks improves in the media, there are more things to consider. Cheryl Thompson, a Canadian Black performing arts researcher, says that while it’s good to focus on Black contributions and stories, it shouldn’t be done at the expense of highlighting the ongoing struggles of Black people.

“It’s a kind of mirage. We all [this] incredible black storytelling,” he said. “We’re finally being seen as kings and queens, but really, when you look at America’s major issues, they just don’t match the narrative on the big screen.”

That, he warned, is something filmmakers will have to balance as the power and influence of black narratives continue to grow in Hollywood.

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