WASHINGTON, D.C. — Quick. Pop quiz. And no cheating. Are there more black men in college or in jail? Janks Morton, a new movie director, is willing to bet you got the wrong answer. Although he thinks the very nature of the question is an “abomination,” he wonders: Would that same question be asked so often of any other race in America? The very premise of the question, he said, leads to faulty science. But the question is insidious, like the images that have seeped into the public psyche so deep that many black people themselves don’t get the answer right.
Morton poses the question while sitting in a restaurant seven hours before his movie, “What Black Men Think,” premieres in Washington, D.C.
He turns to three black men at a table behind him.
“Quick question: Are there more black men in college or in jail?”
Man in green shirt: “Jail.”
Man in brown shirt: “Jail.”
Man in blue shirt. “Jail.”
Morton calls over the waiter: “Hey, R.J.! Are there more black men in college or in jail?”
The waiter ponders the question, turning it as if he were inspecting a utensil. “I believe … in jail.”
Morton: “Now let’s ask some women.”
Woman in pink pearls: “I don’t know. I would say jail.”
Wrong, wrong, wrong, Morton said. There are more black men in college than in jail.
In 2005, according to the Census Bureau, 864,000 black men were in college. According to Justice Department statistics, 802,000 were in federal and state prisons and jails, Morton said. Between the ages of 18 and 24, black men in college outnumber those incarcerated by 4 to 1. Still, the idea that the opposite is true stems from an image that has been perpetuated, Morton said, by the government, the media and the black leadership. “I’m worried about us and what we think about ourselves,” he said.
That is the point of Morton’s documentary, which was released on DVD last week. The film, which cost him $7,000 to produce, explores the stereotypes and statistics that label black men, families, women and children. “This project, top to bottom, is all me,” Morton said. “With the new digital capacity, we have an ability to drive demand without relying on other people. I assembled, I edited, scored the whole thing in my house. That wasn’t feasible five years ago.”
The film sets out to debunk stereotypes that he said have been perpetuated for so many years that they have struck the black community to its core. Stereotypes that have insulted, demoralized and humiliated. That have left others intimidated by black boys and black men. The “docu-logue” is in a style akin to Michael Moore’s, with interviews of black intellectuals. It’s infused with graphics, historical footage of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and provocative moments, such as black women calling black men dogs.