Last month, in celebration of Black History Month, Amaretto and I headed to AFI Theatre and saw a fabulous film, titled Nothing but a Man. We went in with very low expectations, and come out in awe – realizing that we had witnessed a cinematic jewel.
Filmed in 1964 and set in a small town in Alabama, the story followed a Black man trying to find his manhood, his sense of place in the segregated South. He started off working on the railroads, then fell in love with the daughter of a pastor (she taught at the local Colored school). During their courtship, he revealed that he had a son living somewhere in Birmingham. She being the woman that she is, said, “you need to see your son.” And so finally he sees his son, only to learn that baby mama had married someone else and left the child to be raised by a neighbor. He leaves the son where he is, in a dilapidated building, only to go find his own father, who doesn’t even know or recognize him. This gives us a glimpse, a little understanding of the beginning of the reality of the single parent home that too many Black children find themselves in today.
He marries the teacher, has to quit the railroad job, takes a job at the sawmill, mentions to the Black folk that maybe they should try to stick together – that’s union talk – so he is fired. Never willing to cow tow to the white man, he is constantly battling them, trying to maintain as much pride as possible. Trying to just be a man – love his wife, provide for their unborn child, make a home for them, and be respected by society. He leaves his wife in search for something else, his father dies, he realizes he knows nothing about him, goes to get his son and brings him home. It was a quiet, dramatic, powerful film, just totally beyond words.
Like seriously, this film needs to be played in classrooms around America, so that children can truly understand what racism and segregation were like. It’s one thing to see people getting beaten by clubs or sprayed with hoses, creating a dramatic effect. But imagine seeing what segregation can do on a day-to-day basis. To realize that for white folks hate and discrimination went with their morning coffee. To understand living in fear, because in reality your life was not your own. It could be taken away or ruined on a whim. Because you didn’t laugh at the white man’s “joke”. Or you didn’t entertain him. Or you looked at his woman wrong. Or just because you were a Black man breathing air.
If more people saw a movie like this, maybe they would understand what Obama’s election truly means to Black folks of a certain age. Maybe they would understand that Black people can’t simply “get over it,” because the feeling of being less than, of being not good enough, of felling and being treated “unequal” can permeate past one’s bones, into one’s marrow, nestle deep inside one’s soul, get all up in one’s psyche, mutate into a DNA gene and travel from generation to generation.
I could go on, and on and on about the film because it was just that good. So good that it made you wonder, “how come we don’t have movies like these anymore?” This is not to knock Mr. Tyler Perry and the Madea money making machine, but this is to say that we need some more depth and range in our films.
But then as I researched the movie I learned that the film was produced by Whites (not surprising), but also written by Whites. Also, not surprising for that era. But what I do find interesting, and maybe this is because Caucasian artists have more license to do so, is that the movie was a real story – with developed characters, a real plot, chracters who seemed genuine, not stereotypes, but just real, everyday people, trying to make a living and create a life. And isn’t that what art is supposed to do? Hold a mirror up to society and then try to understand and interpret it all?
I recently got a call from an aspiring filmmaker/producer who needed help with a script. It seems that the whites who were writing lines for Black people, had them speaking bad English, using crazy slang, cussing up a storm, and she said to me, “Can you just make the Black people sound, you know, normal?” But of course. Because we are normal. Regular. We do everyday shyt. We know about subject-verb conjugation. We might do things with a different kind of swagger. But for real, we’re just trying to live like the rest, cause we too are nothing but people.
That’s my time y’all! Happy Rum Punch Friday!
SO LONG, FAREWELL...
The View From Here will conclude on Friday, October 1, our third year anniversary. We would like to spend this month thanking all of our readers, followers, haters, visitors, family, friends, and fans for your continued support, encouragement, and comments over these past few years. Thanks y'all!
-The Five Spot