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A Plea to Let Black Stories Be Exclusively Entertaining 

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By Maya Renee Mackey

As I’ve written in a prior piece for Inglewood Today, restlessness is simmering around social media about what makes stories authentically Black.   Comments began popping up everywhere when news leaked that Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan are working on their next film, a story about Black vampires battling the Ku Klux Klan. Now, that’s different.

Still, there were hypocritical debates about creating a race-driven piece that takes place in the Jim Crow Era. LaDarrion Williams, an L.A.-based TV writer called out the double-mindedness on Twitter, stating:

“Now folks [are] complaining about this [movie] saying, why they gotta add Black trauma to it?” BUT JUST LAST WEEK Y’ALL WAS COMING FOR CORD JEFFERSON’s NECK at the Oscars when he said we deserve to see all Black stories reflected.”

What do we want? And further, what are we willing to support? I think the passion we’re seeing on both sides of this argument is rooted in a plea for representation. I think we can all agree that desiring to see ourselves reflected in art transcends racial and ethnic lines. It’s the reason a songwriter can write about a deeply personal life experience and yet the listener will project their own experience into the mix. That’s never going to change. 

Where the logic gets faulty for me in the “Black stories should be about this or that ” debates is, we watch white-centric media all the time without huffing and puffing about how relatable the characters or story is. White characters and stories get to exist just as they are, without debate or complex explanation and we simply decide if we enjoy the story or if we don’t. 

The tension when it comes to Black folk is that we have to deal with racism constantly, something that white people can live blissfully without.  Combatting racism daily has successfully duped us into believing that our stories have to PROVE something to people. We either have to prove that we are civilized, law-abiding and above reproach or we have to prove that we’re “the realest n**ga” on the block.”  

It’s like we’re constantly fighting for people to see us and validate our interests, experience and value instead of doing it ourselves. It seems we as creators and consumers are constantly begging folks who aren’t Black to understand our experience. But I argue that we shouldn’t be. At least not through art, exclusively. That’s what good politics, education and community organizing are for. Why can’t art just be art? Friends, The Office and Sex and the City were beloved sitcoms about white people just existing as they are and Melenated folks were not arguing every day about whether the story was ”relatable”. 

You either thought the shows were funny or entertaining and you watched them or you didn’t. Insecure and Atlanta thrived because they were just stories about Black people living their lives in their city; dealing with their specific problems. The Vince Staples Show (streaming on Netflix) is continuing that pattern. Some scenes are sensationalized to highlight the irony or absurdity of Vince’s experiences but ultimately, it’s just a show about Vince being Vince, and how he sees the world and neighborhood he lives in. 

We cry out for equality but don’t often recognize when it’s being achieved in real-time. The arts are not and should not be the only place we want to laser focus on equity and representation. But when we are speaking on entertainment, let’s acknowledge that true equality looks like Black creators getting to create stories about any and everything and everybody gets to decide if it’s for them or not. We neither need to be role models for everybody, nor outdated stereotypes because “that’s what we know.”

We deserve to be and know more than the binary of Black Excellence and the downtrodden. Let great (and mediocre) stories be just that, great stories. The purpose of entertainment after all is to entertain. Black people don’t always have to put on the community ambassador suit. Amen? Amen.

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