I don’t really watch movies, but I am married to someone who reviews them for a living, so I have been dragged around some of the more high-profile ones this film season, along with the odd low-profile indie (“Saturday Church” is worth your time). I don’t usually have complicated thoughts about them because I am about as cultured as Ted Nugent on downers and grade them sort of on a pass-fail basis, with extra nuance for REALLY good, and things I walk out of. To be quite honest, my favorite films are usually animated and aimed at children.
That being said, my husband and my Facebook feed display sophistication when it comes to these sorts of things. A triumvirate of friends tries to watch every Oscar-nominated movie before the ceremony every year and reviews them on social media, and this is the first year I have actually watched along with them. The reason I am telling you this is that all three of them are black, and I am white. And they have brought up takeaways from this season’s movies that weren’t even in my ballpark. In some cases it was like we watched totally different movies. I have overlooked the rehabilitation of utterly reprehensible racist characters like in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” and the wimpy defense of a black couple in “The Shape of Water” by a man who turns out to play a major role in saving the day. If those people were as homophobic as they were racist, it is more than likely I would have had an explicit emotional rejection of them.
This shouldn’t need to be explained, really, but it does need to be explained, especially in contemporary America. My blindness to what my black friends see is hardly going to be limited to cinema.
It is sometimes easy to think that “The Resistance” began when President Trump began his reign of white supremacy and took his club to American democratic institutions, but in actual fact this has gone on for decades. A scholar at a panel I attended at a political science conference last year showed there was no apparent rise in anger among black voters since the election of the president like there was in white voters, because that level was high, and had been sustained since reliable data began. It is also sometimes easier to think that anger among minorities who shit all over racists online began with social media. Nah — you know as well as I do that people were saying this, but it was easier to ignore them when they couldn’t directly tweet at @truthteller443342. The only reason I know these things is because I shut up and listened, a skill I luckily picked up after being raised during apartheid South Africa, and spending my 20s and early 30s unlearning some of the horror knowledge that was passed down by generations and the propaganda within the education system.
My husband and I recently adopted a black child who is now only two months old. It is up to us to prepare him for what this America is going to throw at him. But we obviously can’t because we simply don’t know what many of those things will be. But we can do well to shut up and listen to those who do know. We can make sure our son is surrounded by people who he can listen to. And we can make sure that everything we say and do is not as a result of the privilege we have, which allows us white folks to choose to be ignorant.
I am lucky to have my friends who display their knowledge about movies, and through that, life. It is vital that people like me listen to people like them all the time.