Award show season has started in America, and it seems like this year, the most fashionable accessory is “support,” whether genuine or token, for the #metoo movement—the movement that highlights and denounces sexual assault, sexual harassment, and the sexual marginalization of women.
In that vein, during the recent Golden Globes ceremony, many women (and men) wore black to show support for the movement. And some took it even further. During the presentation of the award for Best Director, Natalie Portman announced the nominees with an important preface—”here are the all-male nominees,” she said snidely, but with a straight face so that we knew she wasn’t joking.
She was serious. She was disturbed that yet again, the Best Director category not only shut out women, but did so for the benefit of the usual suspects. As if Spielberg needs another award.
But what didn’t she say? What didn’t disturb her? What did not warrant a remark, a stern face, a slew of Twitter reactions and Natalie-praise blog posts? Well, the nominees for Best Director weren’t just all-male. They were all white too.*
In fact, only a handful of Black people have ever been nominated for Best Director. None have won. Asian? Forget about it.
But for Natalie, and white women the world over, that didn’t matter. Apparently. I mean…we expect Black folks not to be at the table. But white women deserve a seat at the table! Even if Black folks only get to serve the meal.
That moment – that white woman outrage, which was limited by the boundaries black borders around her white life – that was all just so America.
It was also exactly what We Were Eight Years in Power, the collection of essays chronicling the years of President Obama’s ascendancy published in book form by Ta-Nehisi Coates, dredges out of every Black reader. We are the Church, saying “amen!” at the turn of every page. The knowledge is dropping off the pages like ripe fruit, bitter and strange. A lot of what Coates discusses, I already knew, but there was a lot I didn’t. Even those well-versed in history and the issues affecting the African-American community stand to learn something in these pages.
And HUNNY—Coates is preaching a word in this book. Not the truth, but his truth. You read the whole book and feel not as if he is trying to convert you, the reader, into a believer, but as if he is trying to convert our country into a place that actually believes its own myths (by allowing *us* to partake in them).
For a non-Black reader, I imagine that you may begin to feel dizzy as the pages spin a replica of the web this country has woven around Black life. The system is terrifyingly confining in these pages. I remember the summer in college where I undertook to read all of Alex Haley’s work. I was pissed at every white person I saw that whole summer. This book didn’t take me quite there, but there were times I had to put it down because I felt the glowing embers of the fire inside growing. It may be overwhelming for an open-minded white person who just had no idea (I doubt many Trump supporters are running to get this book off the shelves, unless they’re burning it). Then again, this book isn’t just about Black people, or Obama, or Reconstruction (yea, he takes it there – #history). This book is really about America. About its lies, its deceit, its broken promises, its hypocrisy, its being.
This book lifts Plymouth rock up just enough to get a good glimpse at what happened to the people it landed on.
And he explains, in words that I could never find or regurgitate as eloquently, why we were never best director. Why we were locked out. And why, even with the well-meaning ones, it is expected for us, but appalling for them. When all we’ve ever done is serve them at their table, why would they know or care whether we get to eat?
*Yes, Guillermo del Toro is Mexican. He is also white. It’s possible, look it up.