A Black Agenda Radio commentary by BAR Editor & Columnist Jared A. Ball, Ph.D.
Hollywood distorts – and whitens – everything it touches. Now, the city of cinematic Euro-fantasies has grabbed onto the story of Winnie Mandela, first lady of the South African liberation movement. “Mandela herself has said she has not been contacted, is not at all in support of the film and is likely to sue.” Best to consign this flick to the bonfire of imperial vanities.
Burn Hollywood Burn!
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by BAR editor and columnist Jared Ball
“Will Winnie Mandela’s support of armed struggle be treated fairly, within the context of anti-imperial warfare?”
Brace yourselves everyone, the unrelenting purveyor of psychological warfare known as Hollywood is gearing up for a new round of abuse. bell hooks, Ishmael Reed, and other students of semiotics, race and eugenics get your mighty pens ready, crack those knuckles and get plenty of rest. We expect you to be busy. Announcements and predictions abound regarding the developing projects of Winnie, the story of Winnie Mandela to be played by Jennifer Hudson, and Hoover, a new Clint Eastwood joint starring Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar, himself. Public Enemy had it right years ago and it remains, Burn Hollywood Burn!
But perhaps it was prophetic that in that classic track from Public Enemy the song ends with Flavor Flav in dialogue with an unknown film executive inviting him to play some Stepin Fetchit role only to have Flav defiantly say no when told he would not be depicting Huey P. Newton or H. Rap Brown. Well, we’ve all seen how that turned out. And never mind the long history of a film industry whose very fabric is sewn with the bloodied images of African people whose real life bloodied bodies far outweighed the scenes which helped produced them. Just look today at the anti-Black, anti-woman, anti-poor cinematic hit job whose name is quite ironically Precious. Or the film Doubt, whose subject is supposedly a pedophile priest, has as its only and most condemned figure the never-seen-on-screen Black male father. Clint Eastwood’s last film, Gran Torino, is little more than a well-funded excuse to call Asians anything but their rightful name or to have rape victims disappear once they’ve served their role as white man’s host. And what is perhaps the counterpart to the forthcoming film about his former wife we recently were treated to Invictus, also directed by Eastwood, where the story of Nelson Mandela is told through Matt Damon’s white male rugby player. The one line in that film worthy of any real focus was, of course, said, never-repeated, nor ever again addressed. In response to a question about why he was so focused on this rugby team Mandela turns to his aid and says, “because they,” the whites, “still control the economy and the military.” Shhhh….
“We recently were treated to ‘Invictus’ where the story of Nelson Mandela is told through Matt Damon’s white male rugby player.”
So what can we predict? We may not be prophets, but analysis is useless if it produces no preparation. Winnie, with the selection of an African American actress, has justifiably angered some in South Africa, as did Invictus, who feel as though their country should provide their “Mother of the Nation” with her portrayal. Mandela herself has said she has not been contacted, is not at all in support of the film and is likely to sue. The book upon which the film is based was equally unsupported by Mandela, includes very few primary sources and because it apparently “writes off” a woman very much still alive has been questioned for its “participation in the neocolonial project.” What then are we likely to learn about the recently re-emergent critical relationship Winnie maintains with the post-apartheid government? Will we see honest attempts to answer her still relevant question of “are we in power or just in government?” Will her support of armed struggle be treated fairly, within the context of anti-imperial warfare? And what prominent white character, real or imagined, will be installed as necessary balance a la films like Biko, The Last King of Scotland or Blood Diamond?
And ah yes, it was this last film that brought us DiCaprio’s pretty face as cover for what is the scourge of a Western-inspired (but barely depicted) anti-African diamond trade. And now it appears as though those same looks will be used to clean up the ugliness of Hoover’s face and, worse still, his actions. What can we expect from the aforementioned Clint Eastwood? Will Hoover’s role in the assassination or imprisonment of countless heroes be exposed or is the fact that the film is being written by the man responsible for Sean Penn’s Milk a foreshadowing of a focus on a more scandalous rumored life of the former FBI director?
One thing is easily predicted. We must prepare our intellectual torches for the Bob Marley-like Burnin’ and Lootin’ of all illusions developed by the permanent enemy known as Hollywood.
BAR editor and columnist Jared A. Ball, Ph.D. can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.