In two minutes, Anthony Mackie uttered what many folks have been saying for years.
Africans. The Diaspora. Europeans. Chinese. Koreans. Bigots and all those who mean well.
Earlier this week, Mackie said “blacks are being kinda lazy” in Hollywood. As with most contrarian statements, the power here lies in the wielder of the statement. If Charlie Sheen said the same thing, his head would be summoned to the guillotine. If President Obama said it, many would accuse him of being elitist.
But from a rising Black actor set to share screen time with the venerable Matt Damon next week? This is a stand up and take notice situation. Mackie’s stance is an extension of the age-old tension between internal and external locus of controls. At what point do we stop bellyaching about poor representation and start holding ourselves (the consumers and Black filmmakers) to higher standards?
In perfect timing, Idris Elba spoke with U.K. youth last week and made some pointed jabs at the uber-successful Tyler Perry (whom he once filmed a movie with). When addressing the “Spike vs. TP” debate, he drops this gem:
“I don’t like all of Tyler Perry’s films. Yes, I did work with Tyler for “Daddy’s Little Girls” because it portrayed a positive image of a black father. I am happy for Tyler’s success…we need Tyler Perry…by going to support his movies, we need to show economic strength. But we are also responsible for elevating film. I’m not with buffoonish characters like Madea or Big Momma.”
Tell us how you really feel Stringer.
On one hand, Elba touched on what Mackie noted about economic strength being present among targeted Black consumers and Black filmmakers. On another, he spoke about setting a certain criteria for the things that we support. If we are the ones subsidizing “buffoonish” movies, then we are stakeholders indirectly responsible for what continues to pass for cinema.
Elba’s “but we are also responsible for elevating film” line is important. If we don’t demand a certain product, then we’ll continue to consume “second-rate” material. Elba and Mackie candidly touched on points that people of all races have been saying for years.
Stop complaining and do something about it.
That’s a tough pill for a perpetually “disenfranchised” group to swallow. It’s so much easier to howl foul and wait for recognition instead of taking assertive steps to create their own recognition.
Will Smith expounded on a similar sentiment before about disregarding the limits of Blacks in Hollywood. “Summertime Will” has long been considered the most powerful actor in Tinseltown, and as we can see, he is not devoid of melanin. Not surprisingly, friends and viewers attribute his massive success to an insane work ethic.
Mackie and Elba gave a one-two punch to contemporary black auteurs. Refusing to give energy to grand conspiratorial notions of an oppressive system, they put light on personal responsibility and standards.
Mackie: “The barriers have been broken down.”
Elba: “The Oscars aren’t designed for us…let’s focus on making more films.”
On the day after the Oscars, in which no Black actors received a nomination in any major acting category, it’s entirely possible that they just gave the unpopular answer to an intractable question.
Many will see this as a case of elitism and high-horsin’ by Mackie, who was the only Black actor this year to appear in Vanity Fair’s annual Hollywood issue. Or just plain sour apples from Elba, who hasn’t received the roles and exposure he (and many of his fans) think he should have received by now.
But at the end of the day, ad hominem rationalizations won’t remove the truth therein. Say what you will about Tyler Perry (and your truly has said plenty), the brother ain’t lazy. And coincidentally, this African-American male ain’t lacking in that coveted Hollywood clout either.