If the first 39 days of The Year of Our Lord And Savior Or Whomever You Serve 2016 are any indication, it is on a fast track to becoming The Year of Unapologetic Blackness.
It started with the resounding Sundance success of Nate Parker’s film Birth of A Nation. A journey more than seven years in the making, Parker wrote, produced, directed and starred in the film that chronicles Nat Turner’s life and the most significant slave rebellion this nation has ever seen.
Taking the directorial helm for the first time, turning down acting opportunities along the way to lay the groundwork for an environment in which Parker saw a void and fulfilled a need to eliminate injustice through the power of story and film is unapologetically Black. Subverting the typical slave narrative with a lesser known and less talked about figure as far as the mainstream is concerned was a definitive, declarative and necessary statement. Birth of A Nation reclaims the 1915 KKK propagandist film of the same name, still deemed one of the greatest movies of all time. But the fact that its relevance and mere appearance in search engines will be driven down in our consciousness by a film that puts front in center what the 1915 movie hoped to deride speaks to the true unapologetic blackness of both Parker and the film.
Said Parker in an interview with Vulture, he intentionally set out to confront a “subject matter that we as a country have hidden, have sanitized, have trivialized…so we couldn’t have to confront it.” Encouraging a country still cloaked in White supremacy to confront its horrendous, blood-stained past via a slave turned leader whose name is synonymous with revolt is unapologetically Black. And the fact that Fox Searchlight acquired the film for $17.5 million, the largest Sundance acquisition to date, means that it’s already resonated with audiences and will do so on a large scale once it hits theaters nationwide.
Beyoncé, dropping the visual masterpiece that is “Formation,” her latest song, breaking the Internet all nonchalant, slaying and stealing the spotlight from a band headlining the Super Bowl the day before she was to appear on the world’s largest stage – for the second time – is unapologetically Black. Afros. Baby hair. Hot sauce. Big Freedia. Singing ‘bout how she likes her Negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils (then wearing an MJ inspired outfit to Super Bowl 50). Sitting, standing, stunting on a New Orleans police car before it’s drowned in gallons of murky water. Going hard, dreaming hard, working hard. “I grind ’til I own it.” Beyoncé all but sings, “Welcome, haters. I got something for dat a–.” Bawse.
A young Black boy dressed in a black hoodie dancing in front of riot cops who throw their arms up at him presented before the words “Stop Killing Us” fill the screen = power. Intention. Beauty. The layers, son. The layers! An I Woke Up Like This call to arms with a Black Lives Matter affirmation. This, during Black History Month. This, during the weekend that Trayvon Martin would have celebrated his 21st birthday.
Cam Newton, staying true to his confident, fun-having, charismatic, dab dancing, talented self, amidst an I’m-not-sure-what-to-make-of-him press, a White tear-inducing Tennessee mom who basically said she was insulted by his pelvic thrusts and his Black manhood all up in her (daughter’s) face, and a climate that would soon rather steal his joy because he doesn’t match his predecessors or contemporaries to a T, may not have won the Super Bowl, but was named the league’s MVP. And he deserves it. To deliver consistently and continue to dab while playing for a team called the Panthers, being called unsportsmanlike, unprofessional and even a thug? No toning down, no adaptation, no conformity to please naysayers, haters or hatemongers. That’s beautifully, unapologetically Black.
All of this unapologetic, I belong here, I need no permission, middle finger to suppression and erasure blackness in The Year of Our Lord And Savior Or Whomever You Serve 2016, comes fresh off of the heels of a year that saw Kendrick Lamar, now nominated for 11 Grammys, sit down for a conversation with President Obama in the White House – a conversation that began with, “Can you believe we’re both sitting in this Oval Office?” This from a hip-hop loving President who’s finishing up his second term as leader of the free world with zero effs left to give.
It’s only February, folks, and yet, I look forward to what the rest of 2016 has in store as we continue to gain ground on unapologetic blackness, decades in the making. *Fist in the air* Carry on.