Friday, August 3, 2012

God is a Well-Spoken Black Man

Bruce Almighty (Universal Pictures, 2003)

The title of this post shouldn't surprise anyone. We've seen, or rather, heard Morgan Freeman impart information that only a omnipresent, omniscient being could know. In March of the Penguins (Bonne Pioche, 2005) he revealed how penguins survive Antarctica's extreme climate with faithful love. He showed us what it means to live (and love) even when the end is near in The Bucket List (Warner Bros., 2007).   In Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy (Warner Bros. Pictures, 2005, 2008, 2012), Freeman played a man who had all the tools, was smart enough to repair them, and who knew right from wrong. Even in Wanted (Universal Pictures, 2008) he represented Weaver, the one who chose the hits, who knew who had to die and who to live.

Morgan Freeman's voice-over in the Visa Olympic 'Go World' campaign, well, it's as if God is telling us to cheer for our athletes because He hears us and helps them achieve [our] goals. The 'Go World' tag even shows that God isn't biased. And uses Visa. 

Aptly named Freeman isn't the only Well-Spoken Black Man who gets to channel the voice of God. The 'Token Black' in movies and television has become the voice of reality/reason/truth. Let's look at some of our favorite television shows:

The Office: We have Stanley and Daryl. 

Stanley he doesn't engage in (many) of The Office's shenanigans, he just wants to get through his day and get out. He calls people (mostly Michael Scott) out on BS, doesn't put any pretenses up, AND wants to be a lonely Astronaut.

Darryl, entered The Office from the warehouse (the Other). As such, other characters (Andy) approach him as if he has some sort of 'Street Smarts' and often ask him for advice. Darryl is aware of his power and his freedom to make his own way through the office and keeps a cool, humble head. 

American Idol and other variety-competition shows:

What have Randy Jackson, Ceelo Green, and Nick Cannon got in common? They've appeared as the fair and balanced voice of Reasson. People tend to see the Black as unbiased and objective who rely on their knowledge/experience to make fair judgement rather than personal taste or preferences (opposed to 'mean' Simon Cowell, or 'nice' Sharon Osborn). The variety-competion shows don't limit Blacks to hosting and juding however. Arguably, their Black contestants are the most popular. Remember the dancer tWtich from So You Think You Can Dance (2008)? Or this year's Joshua Ledet on American Idol? They didn't win, but I believe they were the most admired individuals because they relied on their talents rather than mere sex appeal or general acceptance.

Joshua Ledet on American Idol (Fox, 2012)
Singin' with God in his Soul

Is that the key? Does our society see Black as individuals who can only advance with God-given extraordinary talents? A friend of mine explained to me that the only perceived way 'out' for a African-American man was through sports or other 'entertainment' media (aka talent). Don't believe me? Take a look at NBC's portrayal of one of our Olympians:

African Americans as God's chosen race counters historic records, but it makes sense if we look at today's facts. 79% of the African American population identify themselves as religious as compared to 56% of the general population. As a religious community, African Americans have added much to American culture, namely the long lineage of Gospel Music that African slaves brought to America and adapted to Christianity. Martin Luther King Jr., in-arguably the greatest American figure in the latter half of the 20th century, lead the Civil Right Movement with his preaching skills (and strong, resonant voice).

Of course, America now has an African American President, who ran under the campaign of 'Hope' and 'Change'. Presumably, Americans voted for this great man because they had faith in his talents to advance American in the 21st Century. We believed in Him. Barack Obama campaigned the same year Bruce Almighty came out. We can't really discern the movie first helped Americans see Black as the keeper of knowledge, or if it only happened after voters elected Obama into the Oval Office, but I propose the two were related.

What we do see in recent years is more African Americans portraying characters who protect and/or posses some sort of secret knowledge- whether that be technical skills, moral high ground, or outright intelligence. Although this does not mean representations of African-Americans in the media accurately reflect demographics, nor are all representations Black (i.e. Tracy Morgan's character in 30Rock). It does reflect a change in America's mind-set, one that acknowledges the African American community as valuable to America's well being.

Poster for Book of Eli movie

Other 'Black:'

  • Eli in Book of Eli (Alcon Entertainment, 2010): Do I need to explain this one? 
  • Nick Fury in The Avengers (Marvel Studios, 2012): Up until 2002 this character was white. 
  • Perry White in Man of Steel (Warner Bros. Pictures, 2013): Again, traditionally white character. He's the Editor-in-Chief at the Daily Planet.
  • Heimdall in Thor (Marvel Studios, 2011): The gatekeeper who sees both the Earthly and Asgard Realms
  • Storm in X2, and X-Men: The Last Stand, (Twentieth Century Fox Film, 2003, 2006): She becomes the school's leader (keeper) after Xavier's death. 
  • Troy Barnes in Community (NBC, 2009 - 2012): He has magical skills to fix A/C and Plumbing!
  • Agent J in Men In Black (Amblin Entertainment, 1997, 2002, 2012): He has the street-skills to save the world! 
  • Morpheus in The Matrix (Warner Bros, 1999, 2003): The guy searching for 'The One' to liberate the people. 
  • Mufasa in The Lion King (Disney, 1994): "Remember who you are..."

In Association with 'Black'

  • Oprah in Life (Discovery Channel, 2010)
  • Maids in The Help (Dreamworks SKG, 2011)
  • Shirley Bennet in Community (NBC, 2009 -2012)

Have more? Do you dispute my claims? Comment below. 

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