Entertainment & Culture
We Need To Talk About: Being Tired of Slave Shows

Every Thursday NegusWhoRead’s “We Need To Talk About” will focus on a different issue.

By Michael Harriot

When I started competing in poetry slams, I thought it was unfair that people dismissed clever, funny art (not necessarily mine) for syrupy sad poems that pulled on heartstrings. Then one day someone explained it to me clearly. “Nah bruh,” he said. “People are basically masochists. They like pain. Laughter and love is good, but pain… Pain is important.”

While the regular white people internet circularly vacillates between Donald Trump tirades, Taylor Swift’s booty-impaired videos and arguments about North Carolina bathrooms, the Black internet is always on maximum fleek. Whether it’s grits, a Black boy being killed by police, a Black woman being shot by police, a black man being killed by police while they simultaneously taser a Black woman to death, the nigganet is always on some next shit.

This week it’s Roots and slave stuff.

Apparently Snoop Doggy Dogg and other Black people are tired of seeing movies and TV shows about slavery, civil rights and Black people crying and peering over their shoulders while white people chase them with dogs, chains or rocks. They say the only movies that get made by Hollywood are ones about Black pain from eras when we had to hold our hat in our hands and look at the ground when talking to White folks. They list Selma, 12 Years a Slave, Underground, Roots, et al., as proof that the only vision of ourselves that White people are comfortable letting us see is the image of us huddled in corners silently weeping from massa’s whip. They are tired of constantly rehashing that narrative of the past and re-swallowing those bitter pills. When I hear this argument, I listen patiently and say:

How, Sway?

What the fuck are you talking about?

Maybe they’re watching the wrong channels or going to the wrong movies, because my TV shows waaay more Black shit than theirs. Maybe they aren’t aware that the nine of the top 25 rated shows on prime time network television were written by, produced by or starred Black people. Hold up. Let me clear my throat and say that again: Nine of the top twenty-five NETWORK TV shows–none were about slavery, or civil rights (although Shonda Rhimes has turned a few people into whimpering, whipped fiends waiting for the next week’s episode).

Maybe it is just something to complain about. People with negative, “blame-them” mindsets will leap over 10 feet of happiness to find an inch of pain to wallow in. They’ll wear blinders as they jaunt past the portrayals of a clan of millionaire music industry moguls (Empire), a law-school professor (Emmy-winner Viola Davis’s How To Get Away With Murder), A cohesive, happy nuclear Black family (Black-ish and The Carmichael Show) and land on the Antebellum show Underground and say “I’m tired of watching all of this slave stuff!

I, too get tired of seeing movies like 12 Years a Slave where Brad Pitt, Matthew McConaughey or Sandra Bullock swoops in to save the poor Black people from impending doom. So you know what I did? I went to see Dope–one of the smartest, funniest movies of last year. Did you go see it? It probably played in that same movie complex near your house where Selma played but I’ll bet 80% of the people who cry about watching the 2,827th actor play Martin Luther King didn’t pay $12 to see Fruitvale Station or Barbershop 3. I passed on the civil rights stories and plopped down my bucks to see Chiraq, Beyond The Lights, and Top Five. Did you pay to see those movies? Because that’s what Hollywood really looks at. That’s the secret, nefarious white people agenda: To put money into movies that make money back (insert evil villain laugh here). They’ll make whatever movies people pay to go see.

I’m willing to bet you there will be at least 3 variations of Straight Outta Compton (which–if you noticed–was not a slave movie) next year because it was both critically acclaimed and made money. It’s why Kevin Hart (who–although I have never watched a Kevin Hart movie, I can say with a reasonable amount of confidence–has never played a slave) is in a new movie every other weekend–because people pay to go see it. It’s why Marvel is making a Black Panther movie. In Africa. With real Black people. Who probably won’t be slaves.

Besides–that’s what they do! Every year, according to the White Hollywood book of secrets, there must be a Holocaust movie, a movie about WW2 and a slave movie. People love drama and pain. It’s why women are glued to Lifetime TV–which should be renamed the “Raped/Stalked/Kidnapped My Baby Channel.” It is why a comedy hasn’t won an Oscar in 50 years.

Hey, Snoop, I feel ya big homey, although I can’t understand why any Black person with an understanding of their history and culture could be vexed at anything white people do. Being upset at White Hollywood for slave movies is like being mad at the person who murdered and tortured your entire family because he didn’t wipe his feet at the door before he started his bloody rampage. Even though it is a stupid argument, I’ve come up with a solution. Considering the truckload of other alternatives to slave narratives and civil rights dramas that exist on TV, at the movies and on the internet, we can either :

A. Whine about how white people in Hollywood want to show us in a submissive light (I do believe this is true) while overlooking the artists and filmmakers who are giving us real, impactful art to ingest… or

B. Support the movies, television and other shows that portray us how we want to see ourselves.


We can just do what I do when I am weary of seeing Black tears slowly spilling down brown faces while the person silently holds in their pain:

I don’t watch.


About the author

Michael Harriot is a renowned spoken word poet, the host of The Black One podcast and the editor-in-chief of NegusWhoRead. He is perpetually just getting warmed up because he has no chill. He is on Instagram and twitter as @michaelharriot

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