Mid-way through 12 Years A Slave, I started to ask myself, “Who exactly is this film about?” Was it about Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), later renamed Platt, the talented violinist and free black man, kidnapped and sold into slavery? Or was it really about Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), the jet black enslaved cotton picker and bed warmer of the Epps plantation, who had never tasted freedom in her life and probably never did long after Northup stopped being a slave? If you ask me, it’s Patsey. [This post contains spoilers, so be advised] Throughout the film (by way of Northup’s own memoir), we learn that Patsey is a favorite of Massa Edward Epps (Michael Fassbender) and a thorn in the side of Mary (Sarah Paulson), the mistress of the house. In one scene she is receiving special accolades from massa himself for once again, out-picking all the other field hands, including the men, by picking almost double the quantities of barrels of cotton. A few scenes later, we see Patsey dancing center in a circle of other enslaved black men and women, who all have been roused from slumber in the middle of the night to dance a jig, play music and entertain their owner. Massa Epps pays special attention to her, which causes Mistress Mary to fly into a jealous rage and bash a defenseless Patsey in the face with a cognac goblet, barely missing her right eye. Then the Massa and Mistress argue over her body – literally and figuratively speaking – as she lay howling on the floor in pain and agony.The scene brought a slight chuckle from a small handful in the mostly black audience at the screening I attended here in Philly. Perhaps the chuckle, which seemed out of context, was out of discomfort at what was, thus far, a truly heavy-handed film. However, the light-heartedness, which some were taking from what they were seeing, became even more ill-fitting when in the next scene, as Massa Epps chases Northup around the plantation for daring to hold Patsey’s secret from him, someone in the row behind me, chuckled and then opined loud enough for others around her to hear, “Patsey musta put it on Massa…” Even though what we were watching on screen is probably a very accurate depiction of what many of our people experienced through the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade, you can sort of understand the cavalier nature in the way some of the descendants relate. First one, some of us feel as if we are so far removed from the atrocities of being treated like actual property that the images on the screen are just as foreign as if this was a film about life on another planet. And secondly, and probably most importantly, we really haven’t done a good job as a country, nor a community, in telling the truth – and the entire truth – about the founding of this great nation of ours. And it might be with intent as it seems that most folks want to forget about slavery all together. Even Morgan Freeman said recently in an interview with The Daily Beast, about why he’s not going to see 12 Years… ,“I don’t want my anger quotient exacerbated, you know? Things are bad enough as they are. I don’t want to keep punching myself in the face with it.” And this is coming from a guy who played a man whose sole character’s motivation was to drive around and be a hired companion to some ole’ racist lady named Miss Daisy. However, our continued desire to forget the past is also why we have this black Tea Partier equating food stamps to the scraps from the master’s table. Or why renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson thinks that giving people public healthcare is akin to slavery. And it is also the reason why we have so many of our own folks believing that the enslavement of black women was of less importance or severity as what happened to black men. That black women had options including using their “sexual prowess,” aka vag*nas to somehow escape the worst of it. This collective twisted consciousness of black women and enslavement can be seen within the thinking of social commentaries done by the likes of Touré, who once remarked about the “brilliance” of enslaved black women, who “were sharp enough to trade that good-good for status or liberation.” It can also be seen through the viewing of the Russell Simmons-backed Harriet Tubman sex tape, which turned rape into some whimsical caper, in which Tubman too used her body for extra perks, like starting the Underground Railroad. And it can also been seen through the often divisive screed of Tariq Nasheed, film producer and so-called historian behind the popular documentary series Hidden Colors, who troll the Internets with his declaration of death to the “negro bed wench.” According to Nasheed, who has led several discussions on the term, including this most recent Ustream-cast entitled Tariq Nasheed Challenges the Bed Wench Movement, a modern-day Negro Bed Wench models herself after her predecessors during slavery, who he alleges volunteered to sleep with Massa in exchange for special perks and favor. He also suggests that it was the Negro Bed Wench, who actually liked slavery (because of all the free stuff she got) and snitched on the other slaves, who were trying to escape to freedom. These Sally Hemings/Thomas Jefferson romance fantasies, which folks like to conjure up about black enslaved women offer a distorted and revisionist version to the harsh realities of what it meant to be chattel. There was no free will in slavery. An enslaved black man or woman had no more control over their lives than livestock having a say in if and when it will become hamburger meat. And although some were fortunate enough to figure out a route to freedom, the only choice most ancestors had was life or death. Everything else was out of your control, including what could or could not happen to your body. And as noted by writer Shafiqah Hudson in this essay about the use of the term to berate both the Olivia Pope character on Scandal and the real life female viewers who enjoy the show: “Controlling Black women’s behavior through name-calling and shaming is nothing new. Invoking something as somber and tragic as slavery to do it, while also nothing new, is shameful.”
From IMDB: “Hidden Colors 2: The Triumph of Melanin is the follow-up to the critically acclaimed 2011 documentary about the untold history of people of African and Aboriginal descent. This installment goes into topics such as the global African presence, the science of melanin, the truth about the prison industrial complex, how thriving Black economic communities were undermined in America, the hidden truth about Native Americans, and much more.” The documentary also features interviews and commentary from scholars and historians, authors and “conscious” artists such as KRS-One, Runoko Rashidi and Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow. So far the film has been getting rave reviews from both within and outside of the “conscious” community, with folks throughout my social networks singing the documentary’s praises for exposing the concealed and buried truth about black contributions to society. However, after seeing the first installment, I think I might have to pass on this one. I was almost ready to believe the hype around the first Hidden Colors. A friend of mine, a very “conscious” brother whom I held in good regards, told me to give the documentary a chance. “I know you into all that female empowerment stuff but if you can put all that women-stuff aside, there is a lot of good information in this documentary.” I watched it, even when my better judgment wanted to balk at the inclusion of such questionable folks like Shahrazad Ali, author of the controversial books The Blackman’s Guide To Understanding The Blackwoman and The Blackwoman’s Guide to Understanding the Blackman. If that name sounds familiar, in the ’80s, Ali caused quite a stink for her books, particularly The Blackman’s Guide, for giving out such relationship advice that included saying it was perfectly acceptable for women to be smacked in the mouth.And I watched this documentary, even though I noticed that the film’s producer and main “historian,” was Tariq Nasheed, a well-documented misogynist who promotes sexist and homophobic ideas in the name of black history. Most of you all may be more familiar with Nasheed’s other persona, King Flex, a gator-wearing, pimp-cup cupping, self-proclaimed ladies man, who has written numerous advice books about channeling your inner womanizer and has appeared on various television programs, promoting his tomfoolery, including on The Conan O’Brien Show and Flavor of Love: Charm School. When Nasheed isn’t pontificating on the Moors’ influence in the development of Rome, King Flex can be found giving “mack lessons” via his online radio show or his YouTube channel, dropping gems like,”‘women over 40 should be glad that any man is spitting at them because rarely do they look good” and “why hoodrats need to understand that their slick mouth ways are not tolerated on the west coast (as it is apparently tolerated in the the east and in the south), therefore, don’t be surprised when one of those hoodrats get punched in the mouth.” He also operates a message board called The United Players of America, where aspiring players, macks and hustlers can gain valuable insight into the proper way of laying down a smooth pimp hand from veteran players, macks and hustlers. I watched the documentary, even knowing that this might be giving credence to all of what I like to call, ignorant conscious folks. You know the type well: these are the men and some women, who believe that everything, including their own mistakes, helplessness, insecurities and misgivings in life, are the fault of white men and their evil and manipulative black women cohorts. These are the folks that will in one hand hold black women up as queens of the earth but are also quick to sloganeer some misogynist, and occasionally violent language and action for those who fail to live up to their expectation of what a queen is suppose to be. As a teen, I would see these type of men every Tuesday and Friday at the bus stop. They would be out there with their bullhorns and microphones, passing out literature, reading, and then misinterpreting bible quotes, and most noticeably, harassing women. “…and these disrespectful black b***hes out here, with their fake hair, trying to be white pale face b***hes, tempting men with their p***y prints exposed through their tight jeans, running around with all these f****ts… Pure wickedness…” Over the years, I would see them rather frequently across Philadelphia, standing at busy intersections and transit stops, misinterpreting bible quotes and yes, once again harassing women. A close girlfriend of mine once said that these guys were like the Black Taliban. It’s a thought, which has stayed with me. Some lone women would stop and confront these angry “conscious” men, only to be cursed out, belittled and physically threatened. However, most women, who were just trying to move peacefully from one destination to the next, would just keep their heads down low, avoid eye contact and keep quiet, in the hopes that none of these righteous brothers would feel the need to individually shout-out one of the “wicked” women. As crude and vile as the Black Taliban were, I always wondered how these guys could continue year end and out to spew such hateful rhetoric, mostly at black women and homosexuals, without being chased away by the community-at-large, or the even the larger white power structure, aka the police, who always appeared to be watching nearby, amused. After watching the first Hidden Colors, I got the same sort of uneasy feeling I usually get after reluctantly having to pass by the Black Taliban and their bullhorns at crowded intersections. Through very real examples of black history and achievements were included, these scholars and historians also manage to weave a web of conspiracy, which makes black women into pathological figures who seek to harm the black man through their choices to obtain a degree and good jobs and homes. Throughout the film, Nasheed and some of the other historians non-historically asserted that black men are being emasculated by feminism, which teaches women to talk back freely and demand rights they don’t even need, and say that homosexuality only seeks to take black men out of their pants and put them into dresses. No, seriously, they really said that. Likewise, the “feminization” of the public education, which has not produced enough challenging “man work,” is the direct cause behind why women are obtaining higher degrees in education at greater rates than men, and why men have greater drop-out rates than women. Yup, that was in there too. So was the idea that the men are helpless in fending off all this sexual energy from these oversexed, European-minded black women, who are keeping black men away from their righteous paths. After watching the first Hidden Colors documentary, I realized two things: First, my male friend who suggested this film to me is a freakin’ idiot, and now I suspect him to be a closet misogynist. And secondly, we must be in a real desperate state in our community for both knowledge and overall historical respect, if we are willing to promote these regressive gender roles and hyper-masculine ideas for the sake of black pride and power, even as these ideas tends to contribute to reasons why violence and abuse, among women in particular, are so pervasive and not taken seriously in the community. And this is exactly why I refuse to watch the second Hidden Colors documentary, no matter how much praise it receives from those within the “conscious community.” I refuse to watch any nonsense, which trivializes the very real racial subjugation of black folks in order to promote a belief that the best way to uplift the community is through the continued degradation of black women. Despite what the documentary wants us to believe, our sexism and homophobia is not a triumph; instead, it is the continued recipe for how we as a community, stay losing. Likewise, while the debate around mainstream films and the misrepresentation and exploitation of slavery by way of Django Unchained continues on, and the protest and petitioning continues to wage against the perpetuation of “stereotypes” by way of All My Babies’ Mamas, we should start questioning how some of our own folks seem to facilitate similar concepts and ideas in our own artistic outputs. It’s ironic that a self-proclaimed mack would champion patriarchal concepts and ideas that women are the inherent title of men. But when you stop to think about it, maybe it’s not so ironic after all.