Last month, my short film Blame was playing at a major arts festival in Chicago. The film is about a young African-American father haunted by the ghost of a dead rape victim who has to decide to either turn in his son to the police or delete the only evidence of the assault. It’s heavy and dark, but it forces you to think about rape culture, mobility and sexism in our community.
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Waiting for the film to start, an African-American mother and her daughter chatted me up about the film, and mom didn’t hold back about her disdain for the subject matter. She accused me of perpetuating stereotypes of Black men, reminding me that white men rape, too, and that I was wrong for bringing this conversation into light for white people to see. I remained calm, looked this woman in her face and told her that I wasn’t concerned about what white folks think. But most important, isn’t it my responsibility as a Black storyteller and media maker to push us to have these incredibly hard conversations?
This same question comes to mind when I look at the November issue of Ebony.
Dubbed the #CosbyVsCliff cover, the main image of the mag boasts a vintage Cosby Show cast shot that’s cracked and shattered, especially around Bill Cosby’s face. The cover story, which is written by veteran journalist Goldie Taylor, explores how we as African-Americans can reconcile our intense bond with The Cosby Show and its legacy with the real-life demise of Bill Cosby, an alleged sexual predator.
While folks like me believe that this cover is bold and brilliant, not everyone agrees. The backlash has gotten real and pretty ugly. There have been threats of boycotting the magazine, accusing the mag of being influenced by white stakeholders, and the cover has been called “deplorable,” “shameful” and “a betrayal.”
And I get this knee-jerk reaction.
Our culture is loved (and hijacked), but for everyday folks like you and me, we can’t laugh, play music loud, play with BB guns or speak our mind with no remorse because we're afraid of being pushed aside. I get it, we need to win. We need to have something to hold on to — and for many of you that is The Cosby Show and this fictitious family.
But my beautiful Black people, please take a breath.
No matter how much Cosby has done for Black people, he is not above critique or condemnation. He has been accused of raping more than 50 women and even admitted under oath that he has drugged and had sex with women, which is legally defined as rape. And yet some of you are madder at Ebony for taking a stand than you are for Cosby’s despicable actions?
I’m sorry, but naw.
Yes, white people rape and molest, too — just ask old boy from Seventh Heaven — but let’s stop pretending that we don’t have a rape problem, too. A problem that, quite honestly, we rarely speak about and when we do it’s usually riddled with sexism and victim blaming. Somehow, some way, this conversation needs to shift, and if Black folks and media aren't behind that shift, who else will?
Let's not forget that it's Black media's role to address the issues about our community. It's our role to not let us off the hook, to question our values, reveal our issues and challenge us in ways that should make us uneasy. Our media should be fearless and catapult us to places we have never been before.
This post-Obama world we live in is changing every day, and we need Black media to reflect these changes. So whether it’s rape culture, HIV/AIDS, sexism and Black LGBT folks, that veil of silence and respectability politics must continue to come down and come down hard. While we may not agree on the tactics or be ready for it, does it really matter? Because the goal of the Ebony cover has been accomplished: We are all talking. That alone is a step in the right direction, a step that I hope more Black media makers have the courage to follow.
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(Photo: Ebony Magazine)
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