Clay Cane is a New York City-based writer who is recognized for his contributions in journalism. Clay is a regular contributor for various print and online publications such as The Advocate and BET.com. He is the author of the highly anticipated novel Ball-Shaped World, which is a fictionalized account of the black and Latino ballroom scene. Also, he is the Entertainment Editor at BET.com and a member of New York Film Critics Online. He can be reached at claycane@gmail.com.


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    Thursday, July 12, 2007

    Worst Hollywood Movies on Black History
    Sometimes Hollywood should leave the lives of black people alone. While there has been some successes like City of God, The Color Purple and of course Roots. Many times when Hollywood gets a hold of a good plot line, that was usually already an amazing documentary or book, the madness begins. Here are four of some of the worst interpretations of Hollywood on the history of black people.

    In The Time of the Butterflies
    In The Time of the Butterflies is a 2001 film about the legendary Mirabel sisters who were murdered by the Trujillo regime in a 1950’s Dominican Republic. The movie was adapted from the acclaimed novel of the same title by author Julia Alvarez, who once said she was “deeply wounded” by the film.

    I could go on forever about the flaws of this film, but lets focus on the major issue — there were little to no Dominicans in the film! The lead character is Minerva Mirabal, played by Selma Hayek, who is Mexican. While I think Selma is fab and things, I find it highly disrespectful when a film about Latin culture comes out and the powers that be do not respect the ethnicity of the story. While race and ethnicity are different — could you imagine if Donny Osmond played Kunta Kinte in Roots instead of Lavar Burton? Black folks would go mad!

    In The Time of the Butterflies caused an outrage in the Dominican community. Even outside of the lack of Dominicans, the plot line was shaky, morphing some of the most important women in the history of the Dominican Republic, into three pretty Dominican girls who "happened" to make a change. The Mirabel sisters were much more strategic and politically motivated then what the drab movie portrayed.

    In The Time of the Butterflies is the equivalent to black life being written by white writers in film, television or music — highly offensive. So big “BOO!” to Selma and everyone involved with this film.

    HOLLYWOOD RWANDA

    This movie was less about Rwanda and more about Hollywood. 2004’s Hotel Rwanda follows the story of Paul Rusesabagina, who used his hotel as safe haven during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda (allegedly, Rusesabagina was not the saint that he was portrayed in the film — supposedly, he charged people to stay at the hotel and was receiving inside money). The first sign that the film would be a disgrace is its “PG-13” rating. How can you have a film about one of the most horrific genocides on the planet and it’s PG-13? Oh, I see, they wanted to appeal to the family crowd.

    What the film managed to do was make the Africans look like barbaric savages who were killing people for no clear reason. The history of the Hutu and Tutsi was completely glossed over during a random conversation at a bar. I cannot imagine an uneducated person on Rwanda walking away from the film and truly understanding why this civil war took place. I’ve seen more passionate segments of Rwanda on Oprah and Frontline!

    I commend Don Cheadle for being a driving force in making this film and I was ecstatic Rwanda received more attention for the genocide that was ignored around the world. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but wonder if the director, Terry George, being a white Brit, was part of the lack of passion and impact. If you want to see an excellent film on Rwanda, watch Sometimes in April with that kat-daddy Idris Elba. Hotel Rwanda was all Hollywood.

    PANTHER

    Panther was the fictionalized account of the 1960’s Black Panther party, directed by Mario Van Peebles and written by his legendary father Melvin Pebbles. This film proves just because black folks are behind a story about the history of black people does not mean it will be a great film. The movie was an embarrassingly simplistic and watered-down version of the Black Panthers that seemed to use the title of the “Black Panthers” to sell a poorly done movie. Film critic, Emanuel Levy said, “Van Peebles does harm to the subject he intends to honor. Panther suffers from the same narrative and stylistic problems that had plagued Van Peebles' earlier movies. The Panthers have been so maligned in the last two decades that a movie about them called for a serious, responsible treatment, of which Van Peebles was obviously incapable.”

    In addition, we had to endure the extreme over acting skills of Bookem Woodbine. Through every emotion he seemed to be so concerned about his masculinity that even his tears had to be violent and rough. Has anyone ever noticed a plethora of black male actors don’t really let the emotion flow, as if they fear their masculinity will be questioned even though they are playing a role? Overall, the film proves even black directors and creators can go Hollywood.

    Queen: The Story of an American family

    Alex Haley’s Queen detailed the life of Haley’s grandmother, who was the illegitimate daughter of her slave master — a tragic story that highlighted the plight of black women and sexuality on plantations. The 1993 mini-series version of Queen was also the story of people saying Halle Berry cannot act.

    The first flaw with Queen was the creators attempted to recreate 1977’s Roots. Roots was classic, changed the world and no one had ever seen a film like it on television or the silver screen. 17 years-later it was a bit challenging to recreate the passion of Roots, considering Haley died before he could finish the book version of Queen and obviously after his death he had did not have input in the making of the film. I truly believe if Haley were alive, Queen would’ve been a much different story.

    I would not say that Halle Berry was ever a bad actress, the 2002 Oscar-winner has obviously grown, however, playing the lead role of Queen in 1993 was a space and time she was a little too green for. Many parts of the film were well-done, but Berry’s performance, which was supposed to carry the film, was bashed by critics. At times she was comical when screaming in a high-pitched, fast-talking voice (I’m assuming she interpreted that as Southern), “I’se nig’ra! I’se nig’ra!” Her heavy make-up to make her skin look lighter was reminiscent of Janet Jackson’s light-bright damn near white make-up in the "Escapade" video.

    In the film version, the character of Queen turned into the stereotypical “tragic mulatto”, which was much different in the book. No one knows if this tragic mulatto representation was Berry’s or the director’s portrayal...however, we all know Halle is a bit melodramatic — look how a strong African like Storm in the movie version of X-Men, turned into a hair-swinging, emotional mess. Nonetheless, tragic mulattoes have been marketable all the way back to the 1930s with the film Imitation of Life.

    In the end, Queen would receive eight Emmy nominations and one Golden Globe nomination — no nominations for Halle Berry or any of the lead actors…the mini-series won one Emmy for, “Outstanding Individual Achievement in Hairstyling”. Well, the mane was bumpin’!

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    Posted by Clay :: 12:00 AM :: 7 comments

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