Far-right news outlets like Breitbart and The Drudge Report have a well-earned reputation for posting sensationalistic and biased material, but left-leaning outlets are guilty of the very same crime. Often, these outlets are the authors of the controversies on which they report, and the controversies are contorted to sympathize with radical outrage culture. It is difficult to believe, for instance, that watching a Chiwetel Ejiofor film drove a writer at The Atlantic to conclude that white people cannot empathize with slaves.
The film was “12 Years a Slave,” and the article in question was titled “Why I Wouldn’t See 12 Years a Slave with a White Person.” In it, author Enuma Okoro suggested that white people “could not see themselves in the skin of the enslaved men and women.” I assume, by this logic, that Christians and Muslims can’t understand “Schindler’s List,” nor could Laotians identify with a character in “Braveheart.”
The Huffington Post also participated in a recent example of this compulsion to race-baiting with its article “‘Detroit’ and the Problem with Watching Black Pain Through a White Lens.” “Detroit” is the newest movie by acclaimed filmmakers Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, and currently has an 82% on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite its relative critical success, some social justice advocates were incensed due to their belief that the film’s racially sensitive topic (police brutality) should not and cannot be portrayed by white filmmakers.
Yes, one can evidently denounce a movie solely because it was made by white people and its topic is racism. More astoundingly, one can be published by the most acclaimed liberal media services in America for doing so. Salon, The Daily Beast, Huffington Post, and The New York Times all pondered the question of “Can white people make movies about black people?” and, thankfully, most of the articles had at least a modicum of nuance.
But some did not. The most troubling piece of “conscious” entertainment journalism to be published in the wake of the non-controversy that cloaks the film “Detroit” came from critic Angelica Jade Bastien, who works for RogerEbert.com and thus enjoys the privilege of being labeled a “top critic” on RottenTomatoes. Bastien incorrectly claims in her review that “Detroit” falters because it “was directed, produced, shot, and edited by white creatives who do not understand the weight of the images they hone in on.” With nothing more than a brief trip to Imdb, one can learn that “white creatives” with names like Harry Yoon and Sumaiya Kaveh contributed to the film as producers and editors. Talk about erasing the contributions of people of color.
Bastien concludes her article by lamenting the “horror of white filmmakers taking on black history.” Conservative Christians lamented the exact same indignity when Reza Aslan wrote “Zealot,” his biography of Jesus of Nazareth. Aslan is and was Muslim, and a Fox News interviewer insinuated that he was unfit, as a Muslim, to write about the founder of Christianity. The Fox incident promptly, and rightly, drew the ire of the Huffington Post, who went on to publish an article by three college professors who concluded that Kathryn Bigelow’s “Detroit” was nothing more than “a public lynching of black men.” Because the film’s intent was to empathize with the victims of racism, I am comfortable saying that Bigelow and Boal do not carry on the spirit of people who lynched black men. Though it ought not need explaining, comparing directorial work on a socially conscious film with racially-motivated murder does nothing for the pursuit of equality.
The sentiment that people of one race are incapable of making movies about people of another race is contradictory to the central principle of multiculturalism and diversity, which is empathy. We should strive to understand the experiences of those from cultures different from our own, and recognize the humanity of artistic efforts to accomplish just that. However, in much of mainstream liberal media, the forces that advocate multiculturalism most vociferously are the ones who spurn it so detachedly. They suggest lineage is the prerequisite for creation of artwork, and somehow condemn racism as they do it.
Alex Klein is a campus correspondent for the Daily Campus and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.