My Wariness of the Messages of Movies
I recently watched the movie, Magnificent Seven, a remake of the original 1960 version, which itself was a remake of Seven Samurai by Akira Kurowosawa. While still a western about seven outlaw bad asses brought together to defend a town, it was done in the spirit of the times. Its ranks consisting of one Black, one Asian, one Native American, one Latino, and three white men (eight if you include the widowed wife who helps gather them together and fight along side them).
While not too surprising and being supportive of representation of diverse cultures, normally this kind of blatant promotion turns me off. It makes me feel like I am being preached too and often times feels done more out of being trendy than any real sense of justice to the races the characters are trying to represent. However, Magnificent Seven, actually sold me.
Though still pushing it, there was historical precedence for each represented character in the actual history of the old west. That being said though, the fact that I had that prejudice (yes, I said prejudice), towards a film pushing progressive values gave me pause.
The first and perhaps the most obvious question is why is that such an issue for me? I am a Black man after all and logic dictates that I would naturally want to see more progressive and diverse depictions in what I enjoy right? I am not conservative by any means in this area as stereotypically and usually, they are the type of people who would be upset by this. My issue with it is rooted in two factors.
The first being that there is an unspoken acceptance in our society that what we see on the big screen and our TV’s and computer screens must be true! If Black people are always thugs and great lovers who you don’t fuck with, then that must be true for all Black men. If every wealthy corporate exec I watch is a money-hungry, self-centered asshole that does whatever it takes to become successful, then naturally, everyone on Wallstreet must be that way as well. There are so many tropes, you can probably do a book on them all, but you get the idea. The media we watch essentially becomes our bible telling us what the truth is.
To be fair, it’s not like this is some new phenomena. This has been true since even before there were movies, when people started trading stories of far away cultures and places that seemed too unreal to believe. Sometimes these stories were motivated by culture shock, other times fear and hate, but whatever the reason, they formed a foundation for truth for it’s listeners who have never encountered the realities.
Why it’s a bigger deal now is that while this was excusable throughout most of human history because of the great distances involved and the money or adventurous spirit one needed to have to for such experiences, that isn’t the case anymore. We affect each other in way or another. And our society is currently in a struggle to determine who has the right to be the bearer of truth: liberal progressives or conservative status quo, no matter how much we may say live and let live.
It has been a struggle for us since the 1950’s when alternative ideas started taking hold in America’s youth and the status quo fought hard to maintain its hold as the only correct perception of truth out there. And ever at the fore front of these battles for the mind and soul was Hollywood because of its wide access to the populace, as well as the influence it had on its audience. How could it not be? You’re sitting in a seat looking up at a larger than life screen as the movie ‘speaks’ to you a certain point of view. The chairs might as well have been pews and the theaters a fucking church!
Since the sixties, though there still were powerful, conservative elements present, Hollywood began leaning more towards progressive representation. To be sure it wasn’t an overnight occurrence. That was forty-five years ago and showing equal representation, as well as pay, is still a struggle, but as the Magnificent Seven demonstrates, its come a long way indeed.
The Fault in Our Gods
The problem is that because these ‘preachers’ present these larger than life ideals to us, we, like our predecessors think it must automatically be the truth. The reality though is that most of the time, it’s farther from the truth and that the obstacles will not fall simply from us bitching at them for how wrong they are. The 1960’s should have made this reality clear, that for a new idea to take its place as society’s ideal, the old reality must either compromise or be replaced. Those who have investments in the status quo aren’t going to give up those privileges without a fight, and right and wrong have nothing to do with it or about the morality of what happens to those who fight the battles. It’s about attaining or maintaining the privilege and the power.
Corralling the Wild Stallion
The second factor in my issue with pushy propaganda is that it often acts like it is true history: or believes at least that it should be real history. Those who have power often feel that they have the right by either god or conquest, to warp history as it ‘should have been’. Many times, this sentiment is well meaning. Not every social force is Nazi’s out to proclaim the myth of a master race after all. The problem is that it still maintains the same spirit that the extreme is using: the right to rewrite history’s blemishes.
World War Two always had mixed races fighting together against evil. White people never used the word, ‘nigger’ to describe Negro slaves or citizens. Women can always kick ass and never get as much as a scratch on them, and so on…
Reality is not as pleasant, but not as biased either. History isn’t anyone bitch to be controlled or manipulated by its own players. It is a record of what actually happened during our tenor in the spectrum that is time: both on a individual, social, national, and global level. Whether you believe god or fate will use it as the scales to determine our worthiness as the ancient Egyptians once did is up to you. However, the last seventy-one years has shown that that which is suppressed will eventually come forth it, despite our best efforts otherwise. From America’s attempt to hide its prejudice, to Genghis Khan’s attempt to wipe out civilizations from existence, history always somehow preserves and reveals.
"History isn’t anyone bitch to be controlled or manipulated by its own players."
The same applies to progressiveness in our movies. There is nothing wrong with pointing out aspects of the past or current realities that have for too long been pushed aside or hidden unjustly. Any person, generation, nation, or age that wants the mantle of preaching the truth and justice has an obligation to do so. But while doing so, we cannot erase the struggle and the obstacles that existed along with the victories and the oppressed, no matter how much it turns our stomachs or upsets us. That’s how we keep making the same mistakes and never learn a damn thing from it.
History is indeed the blind lady holding the scales; it takes no sides and holds no biases based on morality, power, or righteousness. History is an amoral mistress. So please continue to delver good movies like Magnificent Seven that are both positively representing other cultures and providing enjoyment. Take my money.
But stop trying to pretend that the ugliness that occurred before and still occurs never happened. Stop trying to shut its voice out from our ears and only providing us half-truths. Stop trying to be our messiahs. Because in doing so, whether you mean to or not, you become the very injustice that you’re trying to prevent and the road to hell is paved with good intentions.