by Jacquie Taliaferro
San Francisco – On the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it comes to mind that from day one our society and culture have been heavily influenced by film. The recent slavery-related films, “Lincoln,” directed by Steven Spielberg, and “Django Unchained,” directed by Quentin Tarantino, will have a social, economic and psychological impact.
Films about slavery produced in the last 18 months have captured world viewers’ attention and have incorporated some noted Black actors: “Toussaint L’Overture,” starring Haitian Actor Jimmy Jean Jean-Louis (NBC “Heroes”), “Lincoln,” with David Oyelowo and Gloria Ruben, and “Django,” starring Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson.
Their work will not soon be noted in the annual awards parade in Los Angeles unless it’s by the Pan African Film Festival, Feb. 7-18, 2013. (Ten days in LA gives you some perspective about the award season).
“Lincoln” and “Django,” two films about slavery, and not one Black actor is nominated for an Oscar! No need to go figure; you know the drill!
Slavery is an old story of days gone by, is it not? Slaveryfootprint.org reports that there are over 27 million slaves in the world today. Recorded history of slavery dates back to 3,500 B.C. reaching its peak in the Greek and Roman empires. With the development of farming 10,000 years ago, slavery came into being, as far as I can determine. First, prisoners of war and criminals made up the pool of slaves before it became a business of capturing innocent people and relegating them to life-long bondage. Early records indicate the Sumerians in Mesopotamia (now mostly Iraq) around 3,500 B.C. began enslaving people. Slavery also existed in Assyria, Babylonia, Egypt, Persia and throughout the Middle East. It was also a part of the cultures in ancient China, India and among Native Indians in America. Almost every culture has some history of slavery or servitude. As thinking civilized people, we must end all forms of slavery now.
The economic impact of the aforementioned films and recent hits like “The Help” has brought and will continue to bring in millions of dollars. These economic image engines will bring much into the pockets of the owners and little by comparison to the bit players.
Considering the films with their economic disparities – little going back to the community that is the subject of the films – I immediately think of the economic depravity of Reconstruction and U.S. slavery itself.
With all of the so-called affirmative action that has since been trumped as “reverse discrimination,” the economic atrocities of slavery have yet to be dealt with in this country. The check Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. referred to in the “I Have a Dream” speech is still bouncing. In America’s hiring trends, “affirmative action,” now “diversity,” is a Black from Africa, White from Africa, Southeast Asian, or almost anyone except the sons and daughters of former Black slaves who built this country. The pattern is clear; all other minority groups are a “fit,” and the sons and daughters of Black slaves are shut out no matter what level of education they have obtained.
Box office reports indicate “Lincoln” in 10 weeks has grossed over $152 million and “Django” over $125 million in just three weeks of release. The subject of the films and the current conditions of Blacks in America open the door for reparations. Not a discussion about reparations, but actual reparations!
While it’s true that over 400 years of slavery was abolished almost 150 years ago, the effects are still around in money and cash flow, education, housing, employment, entrepreneurship, health care, and so many other aspects of U.S. society.
With all of the so-called affirmative action that has since been trumped as “reverse discrimination,” the economic atrocities of slavery have yet to be dealt with in this country.
When it comes to reparations, the world seemed to understand the impact and importance of economically repaying people who had been terrorized by business systems and government. On Sept. 20, 1945, after World War II had ended, scientist Chaim Weizmann, who became the first president of the state of Israel, on behalf of the “Jewish agency” wrote a memorandum to the U.S., USSR, U.K. and France filing a $1.5 billion claim for reparations, restitution and indemnification due to the Jewish people from Germany for the Holocaust. Weizmann’s appeal pointed out the “mass murder, human suffering, annihilation of spiritual, intellectual and creative forces which are without parallel in the history of mankind. (See Jewish Virtual Library.)
Japanese Americans received reparations over 20 years ago for the U.S. internment of the Japanese during World War II. An Oct. 1, 1990, LA Times article points out Seattle’s Frank Yatsu did live to see his country apologize for imprisoning him and others during World War II. (Interesting to note that German Americans were not interned as Japanese Americans were.) “That’s pretty good, I think. The American government treated us in a Christian way, and it’s pretty good,” said Mr. Yatsu, who received his check of $20,000 shortly before his 107th birthday.
Taking a look at the Deep South during Reconstruction, we saw for a moment that the United States was on the right track for righting the wrongs of slavery. South Carolina Constitutional Convention met Jan. 14, 1868, with a Black majority at the Charleston Clubhouse: 76 Black delegates and 48 Whites. The New York Herald: “Here in Charleston is being enacted the most incredible, hopeful, and yet unbelievable experiment in all the history of mankind.”
I remember learning in film school at California State University, Long Beach, also the alma mater of Steven Spielberg, there are three films that helped shape the U.S. film industry: “Birth of a Nation” by Cecile B. DeMille, which the NAACP protested; the first talkie, “Mammy,” which starred Al Jolson in blackface; and “Gone with the Wind,” which is on most White film critics’ top-10-of-all-time great films yet it is not on any Black critic’s list that I know. These films skewed the perception about Blacks and, with no control of content and distribution, there was little that Blacks in leadership or those with conscience could do. What about today as media continue to distort perception about Blacks – not only films but television?
Entertainment is one of the largest industries in California, bringing in billions of dollars. With so many high profile Black artists and athletes, people think African Americans are doing just fine – Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Lisa Leslie, Beyonce, Kerry Washington, Jamie Foxx, Michael Jordan, Quincy Jones, Derek Jeter, “The Rock” Dwayne Johnson, Robert Griffin III … and the list goes on and on.
However, a closer examination shows that these high profile Blacks are merely employees. Yes, highly paid and decorated employees. No wise employer would pay a worker more than he or she is worth or the employer would go out of business. So if the studios are paying high salaries, you know they are making a lot more than what they are paying out. Also, for the most part, the employers teach their high profile employees to say or do nothing to bring others that look like them into the economic fold.
You’d think just reasoning with the owners would be enough to engage in fair trade. In June, I asked the Weinstein Co., producers of “Django,” to work with my company along with some other Black owned media companies – one being the San Francisco Bay View newspaper (voted National Newspaper of the Year by the National Black Chamber of Commerce) – to put on a showcase of “Django.” The back and forth phone calls and emails about establishing showcases in various markets and including Black media companies were mostly unanswered.
What about today as media continue to distort perception about Blacks – not only films but television?
The result? “Django” and the marketers of “Lincoln” did not put an advertisement in the SF Bay View or any other Black owned media companies from what I have seen. What happened in your market – Detroit, Atlanta, Dallas and around the nation? “Django” and “Lincoln,” both with Black subject matter, have already grossed nearly $300 million and will make more than that in Pay-for-View, Blu-Ray and DVD domestic sales. Yet business with Black owned media companies has been virtually overlooked.
This lack of fair trade impacts other arenas as well. People often ask me, “Why don’t you cover the Giants and the 49ers more. It costs to cover a sporting event professionally. LaHitz Media did cover some Giants games that cost about $500 with my camera operator, editor and webmaster all being paid before me. Even if you are not a big baseball fan, the Giants make AT&T Park a fun place. But the fun doesn’t balance the business costs when press credentials are denied limiting access to players. Getting advertisers to buy into a growing company with limited access is difficult.
LaHitz Sports and the San Francisco Bay View Newspaper contacted the SF 49ers to get press credentials seven or more times in the last two seasons without a return response, although the paper’s office is only blocks away from where the 49ers play.
Many studio agents and team staffers can be very cold to Black media companies and limit access even to the Black artists and athletes that help build their studios and franchises. The lack of fair trade permeates their mindset, from the minions to the moguls, and has an impact on Black businesses in dollars and cents.
America’s Cup is coming back to San Francisco this summer and is expected to bring in over $100,000,000. Here’s another experience that gives you the lay of the land that Black media companies encounter more often than not. I was the only Black reporter in the press room in August 2012 and for the most part was treated nicely. However, one of the staffers had a birthday and they celebrated with a big chocolate cake. Everyone was offered a piece except me. Did I want some of the cake? No, but did I want to be offered a slice? Yes! You overlook those slights and you just do your job.
On the nation’s observance of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, modern Black History is being made Jan. 21, 2013, with the inauguration of President Barack Obama to his second term of office.
Jacquie Taliaferro, San Francisco filmmaker and director of LaHitz Media and LaHitz Sports, can be reached at email@example.com or (415) 821-1111.