(Opinion) For years it was the wish of many conscientious African Americans to have high-profile members from similar genetic and geographic roots to speak out on matters of importance to the community. For a very long time we were all left wanting as many of our brothers and sisters in the spotlight chose to keep their mouths shut in order to protect their bank accounts and bottom lines, bottom lines which were inexorably connected to people who were not of African descent. Thus any honest speak of racism in Hollywood by actors of African descent were more likely to be condemned and misunderstood even if they're never confronted by their employers.
However, in this post-Trayvon Martin-era in which we live, Americans of African descent from many different professional lanes are swerving just a bit when asked to speak on some of the hottest race related topics of the day.
In this new environment of so-called racial honesty, sometimes we happen upon a seemingly down-ass-brother who's saying just the right kinds of things we all want and need to hear. Other times we come across brothers who seem absolutely clueless in their assessment of modern socio-economic issues that plague out great nation. And, unfortunately, we also cringe when watching brothers who lack proper verbal and grammatical talents express their opinions as representatives of the Black community.
We're often disappointed when we hear statements from some of our favorite people and are reminded that African Americans are not a monolithic group beholden to a singular world view or philosophy.
Like it or lump it, Blackness or negritude isn’t uniform throughout the African Diaspora. With that in mind the following are examples of brothers who just are saying the damnest things and need to be called on to the carpet because of it.
First off, I must say that the entire crew here at The Shadow League have been fans of Anthony Mackie long before he starred in the 2013 summer blockbuster action film Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier and in Black or White as well. We've given him major props for his work and will continue to do so.
You know how you see people, perhaps even interact with them a bit, and paint this picture in your head about them? Sometimes your perceptions are realized as absolute truth, and other times as fallacy by a simple statement.
Well, Mackie just wrecked our whole world with this doozy from a recent interview with The Grio.
“Like my nephew wanted to grow dreadlocks. I’m like fine, I’ll sit you down and I’ll watch 'The First 48' with you and everybody you see on that show, that’s doing something wrong, they’re black dudes with dreadlocks. So, do you want to be seen as part of the problem or do you want to be an individual?”
“Let’s just say you have locks and you walking down the street. The police pull you over and say you fit the description of somebody. You start yelling and arguing with the cops. Next thing you know you pressed up against the wall going to jail for something you’re not even involved in just because you look like somebody and you don’t know how to handle yourself.”
If it wasn’t enough that he, in essence, is blaming Black victims of police brutality for their own victimization at the hands of racial profiling, he then tried to flip the script with what is fast becoming a catchall phrase for Black celebrities these days when he was called out, ‘My words were taken out of context’.
Mackie also says he was led by the interviewer to believe that the statement was off the record to which The Grio’s brain trust then responded with the full video of the interview to smash any assertions that The Grio's Entertainment Editor Chris Witherspoon was anything but genuine in reporting this circumstance.
Now that the video is out what’s he going to say now? It was doctored? It was the illuminati, perhaps? If history is any indicator, he’ll likely continue pointing the finger elsewhere rather than squarely on his loose grip on reality as the reason for his statement.
Despite how embarrassing that statement was when compared to the reality of the Black experience in America, many Black celebrities appear to becoming more and more philosophically distant from the communities from which they were spawned at a most inconvenient moment. Here’s what he had to say about the lack of additional Oscar nods afforded to Academy Award-nominated film Selma during the same interview.
"People are just tired of being bombarded with race right now,” Mackie said. “So everybody is shying away from certain topics and certain movies.”
Mackie believes that the Oscars aren’t being discriminatory against "Selma" but that they are simply rewarding the best the industry has to offer despite a history of noticeable and glaring snubs to Denzel Washington in the lead for Malcolm X and Angela Basset for her role as Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do With It. One wonders if Mackie believes this open and honest version of Hollywood is new or whether his Pollyanna pontification is something new.
Oftentimes I find myself giving celebrities of African descent the benefit of the doubt when it comes to questionable comments and statements. After all, contrary to what they some may believe, the Black media is always instrumental in the marketing and promotion of projects by actors and directors of African descent. But It is always a curious phenomenon for us to observe actors becoming “brand-new” when they feel that the arch of their career’s ascent gives them the invulnerability to speak their “true” mind.
On the way up the quotes are usually something like “Hollywood is racist! They need more brothers! Etc, etc” for most brothers.
Mackie has been in the entertainment industry as a working actor for 13 years at this point and has been fortunate enough to have gotten major shine in films, television and theater almost from the very start. However, as someone with 17 years of experience as a entertainment journalist, I can say with absolute certainty that Anthony’s experience is not the norm but rather the exception.
While I respect the fact that Mackie can only go off his own experiences to create a personal worldview, the vast majority of his Black contemporaries can attest to the contrary. Hell, even a white director like George Lucas can attest to the fact that racism exists in Hollywood as a whole and at the Oscars specifically.
Mackie's comments regarding racial profiling, police brutality and dreadlocks, as well as his pontification on why Selma, a film that was nominated for Best Picture, failed to be nominated in any other category, are both bewildering and disappointing. (I mean, if it’s good enough to be nominated for Best Picture one would think that the director or leads performed at an elite level, right? Ava DuVernay for Best Director? David Oyelowo for Best Actor?)
According to Mackie’s reasoning, even if he believed DuVernay and Oyelowo were good enough, their snubbing would have been understandable, at least to him, because Hollywood is tired of dealing with the race issue. Man, as much as I want to go in on this brother, I simply cannot do so. His experiences with race in America, like Charles Barkley, Stacey Dash and would-be Republican presidential nominee Ben Carson, are not the norm thus their comments, though they may offend the sensibilities of many Americans of African descent, should be taken with a grain of salt.
Perhaps their overwhelming success in life relative to others of their ilk acts as an accelerant to each of their constant displays of hubris and faux wisdom.
For example, Carson was born and raised in Detroit but went on to become a neurosurgeon after graduating from Yale University. Charles Barkley, who was born into extreme poverty in rural Alabama and often speaks of how his mother worked two jobs to feed him, went on to play basketball at Auburn University where he was treated as a virtual white person for his athletic ability before making a king’s ransom as an NBA star. Lastly, much of Bronx-born former actress and model turned Fox News commentator Stacey Dash’s allure was her exotic physical make-up consisting of European features (light-eyes, straight hair), African lips and hips and a Latin nose and complexion.
Couple her physical looks with her recently revealed affinity for conservative politics and it’s highly unlikely that racism would even register in her mind even if it were blatant and outward. She, as well as Barkley and Carson, have lived a great deal of their lives as honorary white people, and it should come as no great surprise that their beliefs would be as they are.
The American majority seems to loves black-lite, black-ish or Black folks who relieve them of their White guilt, so personalities such as Dash have often enjoyed darling status in large part due to their physical features. Ever since her role in the Clueless motion picture and television show….No, I will not make an analogy between her former role as a spoiled rich kid and her current views on politics and race. That's just too easy.
However, Anthony Mackie’s recent statements seem to come out of nowhere considering his New Orleans roots. Perhaps we’re witnessing what occurs when people don’t quite comprehend how fortunate they are and believe their experience is the rule rather than the exception. But he and the aforementioned celebrities are most certainly the exception on all levels.
Mind you, this is the same Anthony Mackie who blamed Hollywood's current lack of racial inclusion as the reason he would likely never play the role of a superhero who is white in the comic books in an interview with The Grio in March 2014.
"I would like to be Batman [after Ben Affleck],” Mackie said. “I don’t think that’s gonna happen. That would be too colorblind… ridiculously blind casting.”
How quickly things change, as evidenced by our exclusive with him in April of 2014: Hollywood can never be tired of talking about racism until Hollywood takes honest and complete steps to irradicate it in all of of its many incarnations. Until then, they have no right to complain about racial discussions.
Unbeknownst to us here at The Shadow League, Hollywood racism was vanquished between now and last March. Silly us for missing out on that email. Thanks for schooling us Anthony!
Freedom from being offended is not a right protected by the Constitution but freedom of speech is. Yet there’s no such thing as freedom from the consequences of free speech. While his words do cause us to cram to understand his viewpoint, Mackie has the right to his point of view.
But so do we and, to that end, we will say that this talented brother has been dazed and confused by the marquees of Broadway and the bright lights of Hollywood. Mackie’s words should remind us all that we must never take anyone’s point of view for face value and, before coming to any conclusion, whether positive or negative, we should simply do the research to avoid having to explain ourselves after the fact…kind of how Mackie is having to do now.