Opinion: Black cinema can be more than trauma


Daniel Kaluuya as Slim, left, and Jodie Turner-Smith as Queen in "Queen & Slim," directed by Melina Matsoukas. Queen & Slim is one of many movies that portrays black trauma. [Universal Pictures]

Andi Robinson

There’s been a recent influx in film that uses the crisis of police brutality as a plot point. The premise of these films is usually the same: an African American is stopped at a ‘routine traffic stop’ by a police officer, usually portrayed as white, and after an altercation, the African American is gunned down. This story has been seen on a recurring basis in America, particularly with monthly stories that featured the deaths of Philando Castile, Sandra Bland and Eric Garner. Filmmakers and the Black Lives Matter movement have used these deaths to embed this into the mainstream and begin a dialogue about police brutality against African Americans.

We’ve seen a number of releases, such as “The Hate U Give” and “Queen & Slim,” use this premise as a way of empowering the African American community. These films have entered the mainstream, receiving critical acclaim and further opening up the dialogue. However, in other genres, African American film seems to be unable to escape racial injustice.

It’s important to show our reality, but it is also important for film to be an escape. Our first black-led Marvel superhero film interjects with a story of racial injustice in America as a motivation for the film’s villain. Why are African Americans denied the opportunity to have a film that allows us to escape?

Though we have come a long way from being portrayed as maids or aimless jokesters in film and television, it’s equally important to expand our portrayal. In supernatural dramas, there is a lack of African American characters or if they are included, they follow the trope of ‘Magical Black Negro,’ a magical black character whose purpose is to help the main character. In mainstream romantic comedies, we are the best friend to the manic pixie dream girl or awkward yet adorable male. Why are African Americans denied the ability to be Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen or Lara Jean Song Covey? Why is our only Disney Princess a frog for most of her movie?

While films on current social issues are important, films that allow us an escape from their nightmare-ish reality are important. African Americans can be quirky rom-com stars, conflicted chosen ones or brooding revolutionaries in sci-fi films. All African Americans want is for our lives to be valued. While society lends us the short end of the stick, especially American society’s lack of addressing our problematic relationship with race, many African Americans are working hard to overcome this and break barriers. Break this mold society puts on African Americans and let us tell multiple stories whether it is about our trauma or our fantasy.