By Brandon Astor Jones
"If Hollywood adopts the attitude of ... putting money behind African-American themed dramas such as The Best Man, maybe our Black actors [will not] have to risk extinction by simply holding out for characters with substance." — Cheryl Saunders, in Rap Pages magazine (November 1999)
It is my hope that people of all races in the United States will take the time to go to the cinema and see Taye Diggs and Nia Long put a positive face on the African-American experience. The Best Man is a refreshing departure from the usual so-called "gangsta" genre that has become Hollywood's most common way of presenting African-American men, women and children.
Ticket sales reveal that people of colour in general, blacks in particular, spend a great deal of money at movie theatres, but for the most part blacks do not patronise films that portray us in favourable ways. Films such as Love Jones, Eve's Bayou, The Wood and others (which depict sensitive, supportive, intelligent professional people of colour) do not draw sell-out crowds like the stereotypical blockbuster Boyz N the Hood. That needs to change.
Before I share a poem with you (a poem I was moved to pen immediately after reading Cheryl Saunders' article) I will say this: The famed film critic Roger Ebert and others would serve people in the US well if they could muster the courage to give The Best Man their trademark of excellence, the two thumbs up.
African-American film-makers would serve our people well if more of them could follow the Lee brothers' lead, making more films that our people need, as opposed to want, to see.
It is my humble opinion that African-American film makers
must not mimic the cinema of dream-takers
That is to say that more people must go and see
works such as The Best Man; it sets us free
From those murderous drug dealing Boyz N the Hood;
and allows us to impress the world with good
For we are also a people who thrive on things intellectual;
alas, many can only see us as "gangstaz", too sexual
It is as if they do not want us to be loved or friends,
let alone professionals, with many positive blends
Thank you Malcolm, and Spike Lee for these images;
to a misguided industry, you send new messages
Through you and others Hollywood will finally hear us ...
as we wait for the day we can give them our trust.
[The writer is a prisoner on death row in the United States. He welcomes letters commenting on his columns (include your name and full return address on the envelope, or prison authorities may refuse to deliver it). He can be written to at: Brandon Astor Jones, EF-122216, G3-63, Georgia Diagnostic & Classification Prison, PO Box 3877, Jackson, GA 30233, USA.]