Is Racism Subjective?
Posted on May 9, 2009 at 7:23 pm
I was the only white person in the elevator after the screening of Next Day Air, and as we went down to the parking lot, I asked the assembled group, none of whom I knew, whether they thought the movie was racist. None of them did. The closest I got was one guy who said not enough to interfere with his finding it funny.
When I got off the elevator there were only three of us left, all women. I asked them whether they thought the film was sexist. They were noncommittal.
I was very polite about this, I promise. I asked in a tentative and understated way, because I know what a loaded question it is and I was still making up my own mind about how I felt about it. Still, I recognize that I put them on the spot and they may have been willing to be more critical about the film to each other than they were to me.
I concluded, as you can see in my review, that it was racist and sexist. I can understand how people might differ in their reactions. Some people think that because it was made by African-Americans, the humor is self-deprecatory and comes from a position of strength. But the stereotyping and contempt for both the characters and the audience — and my sense that the exact same movie could have been made by the KKK — led to my conclusion that it promoted bigotry, no matter who was behind it. If the best we can do in Hollywood is provide funding for these kinds of films — and if they keep finding an audience and making money — then it cannot be said to come from a position of strength. If there is not one redeeming character of any race or gender, it cannot be said to be self-deprecatory. This movie was laughing at these characters, not with them. It perpetuates stereotypes so over-the-top and demeaning they make Step’n’Fetchit look like Denzel Washington.
I do not think you have to be a person of color to recognize racism or a woman to recognize sexism. The other members of the audience are entitled to their own reaction to the film; any response they had is perfectly legitimate. But so is mine. I think it is a shame that these kinds of movies are released and that talented performers like Mos Def, Debbie Allen, and Mike Epps can’t do better.