12_years_a_slave_soundtrackEveryone has their slavery, black historical film limit.

It can be taxing to be reminded of the tragic past, bombarded with images of indignity and forced servitude, but some have taken that “slavery film fatigue” to another level, claiming they will never watch a film like “12 Years A Slave” because they believe it’s dangerous to see films where disempowered black people are placed in subservient roles. In the case of The UK Guardian’s Orville Lloyd Douglas, he took that sentiment to another level, announcing he would not be watching the film due to his belief that these movies like “12 Years A Slave” and “The Butler” are a way to ameliorate “white guilt.”

From The Guardian:

I’m convinced these black race films are created for a white, liberal film audience to engender white guilt and make them feel bad about themselves. Regardless of your race, these films are unlikely to teach you anything you don’t already know. Frankly, why can’t black people get over slavery? Or, at least, why doesn’t anyone want to see more contemporary portrayals of black lives?

While it’s easy to feel some initial sympathy for Douglas, he takes a strong left with the “why can’t black people get over slavery” sentiment. It’s one that Kirsten West Savali, writing for TheGrio, couldn’t ignore. There’s a difference between not wanting to be depressed by a slavery epic and the willful ignorance of simply wanting to “forget” slavery ever happened. This, according to Savali, is a far more dangerous mindset.

In her article about the “backlash” both films have received from African-Americans vowing not to watch them she writes:

There is danger in limiting the scope of black history to one-dimensional depictions of butlers and slaves; however, a deeper read suggests that Douglas’ entire article is a study in black insecurity and a quest for white validation.

Douglas never explicitly states that white acceptance is his motivation. Yet, silencing slavery is a pathway to assimilation, because there is nothing powerful about forgetting the victimization of our ancestors. We should feel empowered by slave narratives, not “exhausted and bored” by them.

Savali adds that, “Avoiding films such as 12 Years a Slave would only silence their voices when many of us are finally willing to listen.”

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