Nothing makes me wish more young black male rap stars took thug movie roles than seeing Ice Cube do family comedies. (Though let’s be honest for one second, LL Cool J does make for a perfect romantic lead, as he was never threatening in the first place, and don’t even get me started on Will Smith.)
Ebert and Roeper have complained about the roles black men have been given/taken for years. Two well-to-do white men sitting in their ivory movie theatres casting criticism down on black guys trying to make a living doesn’t go over well with their targets, however. Even when Cosby criticizes black culture few blacks seem to give his words any credence as he sold out so long ago nobody can even remember when it happened. (I believe it was even before he was a Huxtable. Also, for someone so critical of what blacks are “”doing” to their own culture — sometimes rightly so — one would think he would seriously reconsider his decision to smoke cigars. The tobacco industry has been targeting African Americans for years, often with menthol cigarettes, which are actually less healthy than regular smokes.)
I’m one of those white guys who doesn’t have a problem with young black men playing villains. It’s not because I believe they are villains (though if you look at the prison population in the US you’d be hard pressed not to think otherwise), or even because I think they can’t get better roles and should take what they can get. No, it’s because I believe they are playing a role. A white guy can be a villain (and there are plenty of those). A woman can be a villain. A Middle Eastern man with a Hollywood accent can be a villain (see those “˜80s action movies for examples). I’m actually starting to wish more black guys took villainous roles. Here’s why.
When Ice Cube, who was once part of N.W.A., used to be in the news he was a scary character who helped make “”Fuck Tha Police” an anthem, and he brought light to a situation many young black men faced (and still do) — police oppression based solely on skin color. Now when he’s mentioned it’s for family-friendly comedies that critics can either hail or condemn. He’s no longer perceived as a “”threat” to the status quo, and he is no longer associated with the problems plaguing black America. He has become homogenized, which means he has lost his ability to give voice to a very serious problem. What was once a man recording the pulse of the inner city black youth is now a guy on a Hollywood lot making movies you’d never see Nicholas Cage touch. Ebert, Roeper and Cosby should be proud. The anger of the black male has been emasculated.
Lest anyone think I’m a hypocrite, I have harped on the idea that blacks only play the same stereotypes in films, and I’ve even lamented the fact that they are often seen as villains. I think it’s regrettable that some people can only see them as bad guys, but I also think it can work in their favor and even black culture’s favor, too. After all, it’s far better to have black men portraying what is really going on instead of having them play silly caricatures of humans. (Flavor Flav has cornered the market on that, thank you very much.) If playing a thug in the movies or on CD is the only way to get the point across, then so be it. I support that. If it makes people listen, I definitely support that, too. And if it angers people … go for it.
Blacks still aren’t treated equally in this country (and neither are Native Americans or homosexuals for that matter), and a few asinine movie roles won’t help that situation. In fact, those things only work to hide the problem. (“”Look, Ice Cube is have misadventures with children. All is right in the world of Compton now.”) In the past the Black Panthers (armed black men with a political mission) brought their message to the streets. You could not ignore them. Black actors should be doing the same. When they portray a life riddled with violence, drugs and death, they are giving the rest of American culture a chance to peek into the lives of people they’ve only had connections to on “”Cops.” Ebert, Roeper and the rest can condemn that all they want. How would they rather those issues be addressed, though? Is Ice Cube going to do it? Maybe he can do a third film called “”Are We Incarcerated Yet?” Will Cosby do it? No, but 50 Cent may.
People reap what they sow, and nowhere is this understood more than in black culture. You show me one gangsta who doesn’t know what his fate is because of the life he leads, and I’ll say he’s lying. Here’s the thing, though. That fate, be it jail or death, is something he may not be able to escape anyway because he is a black male, and even if he were doing “”the right thing,” our society still views him as a threat … and it’s not because of the movies. It’s because of the news. It’s because of police. It’s because of people’s innate fear of anything that is different.
I don’t know a single white BMW driver who is afraid of being pulled over because of the color of his or her skin. When the day comes that black guys can drive a BMW with the same freedom, then white critics have a valid complaint about black people playing thugs. That day is not here yet, though, so I say keep scaring the isolated, ignorant white people. Maybe they’ll eventually wake up. At the very least we may get a few good movies out of it.
Posted on April 25, 2007 in Blogs by Excess Hollywood
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