Should White People Tell Black Stories?

So I saw the movie Detroit a couple of weeks ago…

It’s not a horrible movie, BUT it was obvious from the very beginning of the film that director Katheryn Bigelow didn’t really have any black consultants in the room to tell her how to best tell this story with sensitivity and empathy.  I can understand the complaints from other black viewers.  This film brings up another conversation about whether white storytellers should tell black stories (or stories of other people of color for that matter).

I am of the belief that it doesn’t really matter what the skin color of the storyteller is; it is more important that the story is told with accuracy and respect.  However, with that said, a black storyteller is going to have a completely different perspective on a historical, racial event than a white storyteller.  This is why I think Bigelow fell short with this film.  Maybe if she consulted with some knowledgeable black folks during the filming process, maybe the film could have been better.

This is not to say that if the film was made by a black director, it would have been automatically much better and on point.  That black director could have been just as tone-deaf with the film.  Nonetheless, more times than not, black directors do black stories better because of the perspective.

Take for instance Spike Lee’s epic film Malcolm X, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.  There was a similar controversial during pre-production for this film.  Originally, white Canadian director Norman Jewison was to direct the film.  However, Lee and others in the black community protested that it should be made by a black director.  Lee succeeded and took over as director and rewrote the script in his vision with support from black consultants and people who actually knew the slain leader.  Coincidentally, some black leaders like Amiri Baraka were concerned about how Lee would make the film because he was a middle-class black man and Malcolm X represented inner-city, working-class blacks.

Lee also came up against budget restraints from Warner Bros who refused to increase funding for the film.  Luckily, some very wealthy black folks like Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby, and Prince came through with funding so Lee could make the film he envisioned.  When it was time to promote the film, Lee requested to only be interviewed by black journalists.

At the end of the day, Malcolm X was a great film not just because a black director made it, but because it was great storytelling.  Before I first saw the film in the theater as a teenager, I didn’t know who Malcolm X was.  But after seeing it, I was inspired to learn more about his life and other black leaders.  While Norman Jewison did a great job directing In the Heat of the Night, I don’t think he would have been able to do justice to Malcolm X’s life because of the perspective.  Also, black folks are very protective of how our leaders are portrayed in the media, due to the long history of sanitizing and white washing black history in this country.  The black community was especially concerned about Malcolm X’s portrayal on film because of some of the controversial things he said about whites before leaving the Nation of Islam and if Jewison was going to make him look more sinister on film.  It mattered to have the right person who would handle his life story with care and accuracy.  I still catch Malcolm X whenever it comes on TV because it still stands the test of time and quality.

So going back to Bigelow’s Detroit, there was literally a problem with this film at the very beginning with an animated telling of the Great Migration.  I assume this was done to give viewers a background on the history of race in the Motor City.  When I saw this, I thought it trivialized and diminished the story.  I wasn’t sure if I was about to watch a cartoon about a very serious, hurtful event.  Clearly, Bigelow had no black folks there to tell her “No, don’t do that.”

There was also the problem with John Boyega’s character, Melvin Dismukes, who was a security guard patrolling a supermarket who became like a peace negotiator at the Algiers Motel that night.  If you didn’t know anything about Dismukes or the Algiers Motel incident, you wouldn’t understand why he was even in the film.  But yet all the marketing for the film is focused on John Boyega, which is probably because he is the most well-known person in the film. But it still didn’t make any sense.  It would have been better if Bigelow spent more time explaining Dismukes’s background.

Then there is this whole issue of torture in the film.  Not surprised there was so much violence in it, as Bigelow is known for doing movies with lots of violence.  Some black viewers complained about the excessive, graphic depictions of torture by the white police officers.  However, if that level of violence is accurate to what really happened, then that is fine to show in my opinion.  Again, I’m not for white washing history.  Ironically, though, it seemed like the film’s violent treatment of the two white girls was less severe than was depicted in John Hersey’s book, which said that they were stripped completely naked and called n*gger lovers.  It was obvious that the black guys at the motel were not being tortured because of a possible gun or sniper in the building, but rather because they were with white women.  Something about the more violent punishments on black male bodies and no discussion on why one of the white women lied about Dismukes being a perpetrator turned off a lot of black viewers.

Maybe the real conversation we should be having here is how to get more qualified black directors and writers to create these black films. While #OscarSoWhite brought much-needed attention for more people of color in front of the cameras, we need to also focus on increasing diversity behind the cameras as well so there can be more balanced storytelling about us.

Thinking About Redesigning Your Website For 2018?

Responsive Web Design Detailed on a BlackboardDuring this time of the year, my company Global Wire Associates starts to get calls from other businesses and nonprofits about getting help with reorganizing their digital strategy for the new year, namely their online presence.  Websites play a central role in online marketing plans today, and now is a good time to start the process so you can have a brand new website up and running on New Year’s Day.  How users interact with your site can make or break your business.  Before you do the redesign, create a checklist of wants and needs for the website, conduct a content audit, and answer the following questions.

Has your mission statement changed?  Usually, when the organizational goals and missions change, the website should also reflect this change as well.  Is the current mission clear to all users when they come to your website?  

Has the purpose of your website changed?  This is slightly different from the company mission as this more relates to technical aspects.  For example, do you want to sell products and services online?  Then you have to redesign your website to support e-commerce.

Is your content working for you? After you do a content audit, you might realize that you need to clean up the website’s text, images, and/or video.  Like we say here all the time, it really doesn’t matter how fabulous your website looks.  If you don’t have great content on your site, most people will not only not care about your web presence, but they will also not care to learn more about you or your organization. Having high-quality content on your web presence is a top priority for establishing both your credibility and your brand.

Is your website usable? A great website is one where users can easily navigate it to find what they want and have a reason to stick around long enough to convert to or became more engaged customers.  

What is your competition doing? You need to constantly keep track of what your competition is doing, and how you can get the competitive edge.  Is there something you can do different that would get the attention of customers?  

Is your website responsive? Google search engines are now giving higher rankings to websites that are mobile-friendly, or websites that can be viewed easily on mobile phones and tablets.  A responsive website adjusts to different browser screen sizes, rather than to different devices, without compromising the quality of the content and site design. A responsive website is also a better return on investment for your website and your company’s marketing strategy.

Are you thinking about your 2018 digital strategy and need some help?  Contact Global Wire Design at info(at)globalwireonline.org.

Why The Information Life Cycle Is Important Today

In the age of fake news and alternative facts, real facts still matter.  The good thing about the internet is that you have access to a wealth of information at the tip of your fingers.  The bad thing about the internet and social media is that we sometimes have a hard time deciphering what is fact or fiction.

I went to this seminar last week on the importance of the information life cycle when looking at events that happen and how to reflect on them as time goes by.  I found it really interesting.

Here it is:
The Day of an Event
Television, Social Media, and the Web

  • The who, what, why, and where of the event
  • Quick, not detailed, regularly updated
  • Authors are journalists, bloggers, social media participants
  • Intended for general audiences

The Day After an Event
Newspapers

  • Explanations and timelines of the event begin to appear
  • More factual information may include statistics, quotes, photographs, and editorial coverage
  • Authors are journalists
  • Intended for general audiences

The Week or Weeks After an Event
Weekly Popular Magazines and New Magazines

  • Long form stories begin to discuss the impact on society, culture, and public policy
  • More detailed analyses, interviews, and various perspectives emerge
  • Authors range from journalists to essayists, and commentary provided by scholars and experts in the field
  • Intended for a general audience or specific non-professional groups

Six Months to a Year or More After an Event
Academic, Scholarly Journals

  • Focused, detailed analysis and theoretical, empirical research
  • Peer-reviewed, ensuring high credibility and accuracy
  • Authors include scholars, researchers, and professionals
  • Intended for an audience of scholars, researchers, and university students

A Year to Years After an Event
Books 

  • In-depth coverage ranging from scholarly in-depth analysis to popular books
  • Authors range from scholars to professionals to journalists
  • Include reference books which provide factual information, overviews, and summaries
Government Reports
  • Reports from federal, state, and local governments
  • Authors include governmental panels, organizations, and committees
  • Often focused on public policy, legislation, and statistical analysis

Landmines Continue To Be A Global Crisis

Continuing on from last week’s post on international military spending, in that same UN exhibit I visited, there was also a photo gallery of young people from around the world who lost body parts because of undetected landmines.  An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people are killed or maimed by landmines every year, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.  You can actually buy landmines for as cheap at $3, but it would cost up to $1,000 to safely unearth them by professional weapons handlers.  It costs thousands of dollars to provide lifelong care for a landmine survivor.

I remember going to Cambodia many years ago and meeting young people who lost limbs to landmines.  The Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) estimates that there may be as many as four to six million mines and unexploded ordinances in Cambodia.  Most of the mines were installed during the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s and are still active.  These young people weren’t even alive when the Cambodian Genocide occurred.  As a matter of fact, Cambodia may have held its last Khmer Rouge trial just last week.

A few years ago, I used to host a fundraising effort called Night of a Thousand Dinners, where you invite friends and co-workers to feast on a dinner I prepared.  I would invite someone from the United Nations Association of USA to speak to the crowd about the landmine crisis globally.  I also had in attendance my colleague Sharon, who is a Mozambican freelance journalist and landmine survivor, to give her firsthand experience.

I am thinking of doing the dinner again either before Christmas or after the new year, in addition to a similar fundraiser to support victims of police brutality in the United States.  Whether stateside or on the other side of the world, there are way too many victims of violence in the world, and everyone’s effort to fight it counts.  More compassion is needed in the world.

Here is a video about landmines: