**This post contains spoilers for Antebellum and Them.**
Today, with films like Antebellum and tv shows like Them, we see a lot of things which focus on Black pain in the media. Why is that? Black people face trauma on a daily basis in society. So, why is there a need to display that on screen so often? In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Marsai Martin said “When you come into my office, don’t give me this — I don’t do no Black pain.” At 16 years old, she is fully aware that many movies and television shows focus on this topic.
During this interview Martin also stated that she wants to make sure her projects are “diverse and real in its own way” and focus on “real stories that people can resonate with.” Above all, this is extremely important because there is a need for Black content that we can relate to which does not focus on the horrors Black people face daily.
In Brooke Obie’s article “We Need ‘Slave Movies’ — Just Not the Ones We’re Getting” she brings up the point “Some say we need to educate viewers who don’t know the truth about slavery. But where does education stop and trauma porn begin?” This is critical to think about for a number of reasons. Something we have to focus on when looking at the content being released is who is releasing these stories and why they are releasing them. It is absolutely necessary for people to be educated on Black history, especially the traumatic parts. There are many ways to gain that knowledge. That history can, and has been, successfully taught in a film and television format. However, as time goes on people seem to be focusing less on education and more so treating it as entertainment.
One example would be Antebellum. Antebellum was released on September 18th, 2020. In the beginning, the story focuses on multiple enslaved Black people with extreme shots of violence on a plantation. Eden, the main character, is branded and beaten during a terribly long scene. As the film progresses, we learn that Eden is actually Dr. Veronica Henley, a well known sociologist and author. The big twist being that this is happening in the modern day. This film was created by Gerard Bush, a Black man, and Christopher Renz, a White man. Bush said the idea for Antebellum came from a nightmare and felt that “By recontextualizing the country’s original sin, it shifted the perspective for us to strike an empathetic chord” (latimes.com).
They say this, and then “show it” by depicting graphic scenes of violence, murder and rape towards Black people throughout the film. Some of the most intense scenes include violence against Black women. This is interesting considering Bush and Renz tell this story from the perspective of a Black woman. It is important to note that it was released last year in a time of constantly seeing brutality against Black people on social media. This brings about the question, what are we gaining from this other than more pain?
How can the media affect us?
When thinking about how media affects our lives, the thought that it is only a movie or tv show tends to cross our minds. However, it is never that simple. Jennifer L. Martin said it best that “when it comes to culture, nothing is ever just anything.” (Racial Battle Fatigue, pg. 270). Film and television play such a large part of Black culture. What we witness on screen can translate into our emotions and affect our mental health. This is especially clear in Amazon Prime’s Them and the way it has caused harm to some people.
Them premiered in 2021 and was created by Little Marvin, a Black man. It is an anthology television series with the first season focusing on the Emorys. They are a Black family who move to an all White neighborhood in California from North Carolina in 1953. The Emorys are terrorized by their White neighbors. Specifically, the mother of the family Livia (“Lucky”), is targeted by Elizabeth (“Betty”) Wendell.
In episode five viewers witness a flashback of the horrific incident which prompted the Emorys to move. A group of White people break into their house and Lucky is raped while her baby is brutally murdered. All of this is shown on screen and is painful to watch. It is important to know that four out of five directors for this 10 episode series are White men.
Little Marvin was cited as saying that during the creation of Them, he wanted to dismantle the “American Dream” and explain how that dream is a nightmare for Black people (essence.com). It can be assumed that most people would agree with Little Marvin’s thought process. However, the way he and those involved in this show went about displaying this does not clearly get the message across.
In Deja Heard’s “Why is Black Trauma so Common in Movies and TV Shows?” she writes “some of the content that comes out of these artistic statements is more triggering than impactful.” Them is a very triggering show, and the message it is trying to display can not be shown when viewers are prompted with such terrifying scenes constantly. It is even more difficult to understand knowing that a majority of the directors are White men. How are they truly able to understand the pain which they are showing on the screen?
Can we have socially impactful Black films and tv shows without showcasing trauma?
An interesting point to raise would be how these forms of media heavily focus on things happening to Black women. Oftentimes in society, Black women are not believed. In both Antebellum and Them this is displayed in a way which is triggering. While it is clear that both stories are fictional, the suffering the characters go through is not. These are stories mostly created by men. This is not to take away from the agony that Black men face because it is something we see everyday. Since these stories are being told from the perspective of Black women, are they truly able to capture what Black women go through?
It is important for filmmakers to create stories for the Black community. That being said, these narratives do not need to always involve the pain and trauma we face as Black people. Sites such as Revived Prosperity aim to provide the knowledge we need to grow as people without focusing solely on the pain of Black people. We want to focus on our history, culture, gaining financial stability and more without trauma being the main point. Revived Prosperity wants their readers to know it is possible and necessary to have content in which Black people just exist. Give us stories about love, vampires, spies, coming of age tales, and anything under the sun. Not all Black content needs to focus on Black trauma, and it is simply not for your entertainment.