Friday, May 7, 2010

Hold Up A Mirror and What Do You See?

I remember in 1991, director Spike Lee fought tooth and nail, petitioning the do the biographical film, "Malcolm X". The banner of his campaign was that the story of Malcolm X had to be told by an African American person and not a white American.

Emotionally, I can see how Spike felt he was "obligated" to fight for this movie. But in on a creative and honest level, sometimes the best person to tell your story is someone else with an objective point of view.

Three directors come to mind: Norman Jewison (director of in the Heat of the Night and original director slated to direct Malcolm X), Edward Zwick and Steven Spielberg. All three have directed films (A Soldier's Story, Glory, The Color Purple, respectively) that arguably are amongst the best films depicting aspects of the African American experience.

Indeed, there are things that all these directors would never just "get" because they didn't grow up black in America. However, they do understand people and relationships. And they do have the liberty of being able to look at people or cultures objectively. Including some of our closely guarded idiosyncrasies.

Even Ralph Bakshi's "Coonskin", (as coarse as some people view this film) contained some levels of honesty through a twisted caricature of Harlem's underworld in the 1970's. A caricature that no black American would dare to do then or today.

I heard once, "Truth is, when you do an autobiography, intentional or not, you are going to tell your story "your" way. And you are going to paint the face you want to see and leave out things perhaps you don't want others to see."

The best person to edit your work is always another person with fresh and objective eyes. Sometimes the same can be said of those who are going to tell your story.

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