Editor’s Note: A version of this story first appeared in The Good, the Bad, and the Elegy, a newsletter from the Daily Yonder focused on the best, and worst, in rural media, entertainment, and culture. Every other Thursday, it features reviews, retrospectives, recommendations, and more. You can join the mailing list at the bottom of this article to receive future editions in your inbox.
There’s a fundamental human desire to be seen and heard, to have your perspective and your lived experience respected and understood. In my view, that’s the foundational place where much of the work of the Daily Yonder, really comes from. When people see their stories mishandled in the popular media, their communities misrepresented or disregarded, that can leave a deep and lasting mark. Rural people know this well.
Likewise, when the baseline act of just acknowledging someone’s experience or perspective is considered some kind of threat, that hurts. It hurts the people seeking to be understood and it leaves us all worse off. This is what sticks with me when I think of the political and cultural discourse around things like “the 1619 Project,” Critical Race Theory (CRT), and more inclusive representation in our media.
Imagine if lifting up honest rural perspectives and asking people to see rural communities in all their nuance and richness was considered by some a threat to the republic and an affront to their sense of self?
The real threat to our republic and enemy to our sense of self is the refusal to see, hear, and respect the stories of others.
In that spirit, I invited my colleague Tyler Owens to share some of her perspective on Black History Month and how our media treats Black voices. She also has some movie and TV recommendations for you to consider this February; while many of them may not be patently rural, they are, like all good stories, a bridge that can connect us to other worlds and experiences.
I hope you are enriched by reading Tyler’s words.
– Adam B. Giorgi
Reflections for Black History Month
For the month of February, we will see more people embrace and focus in on Black history. In schools, some teachers will take time to find a piece of literature that captures what they perceive as the Black experience. While in our day-to-day lives, some may make a conscious decision to support Black-owned business, highlight and share Black artists’ work, or see town murals created to memorialize historical icons and serve as a reminder to celebrate Black history.
Fredrick Douglas, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Barack Obama will make one of their yearly appearances into our lives and we’ll talk about and explore the pathways they blazed. Yet, what about names like Henrietta Lacks, Bessie Coleman, Loretta Lynch and James McCune Smith?
And what am I to think when I catch a brief headline related to a social media hoax about President Biden approving $30 million to distribute crack pipes other than, “Really, during Black History Month?!”
This captures the multifaceted feelings people in the Black community may have, this time of year and year-round. Frustration. Pain. Hurt. Exhaustion. Feelings that can be overwhelming when there are still flashes of outcry in headlines and across social media for lives lost unjustly like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Elijah McClain.
I have reflected and wondered if these individuals and families would receive the justice that the Black community has been hoping and praying for since Emmett Till’s life was taken. Taken because of the strength the White tears of Carolyn Bryant Donham had in Mississippi in 1955.
These days I try to prevent myself from going down the rabbit hole of despair, trying to find an answer to, “what is next?”
I’ve realized, an inescapable part of the Black experience is looking at the atrocities that we have faced in our families, communities, and as a nation and then planning for how we can do better, while protecting our joy at all costs and celebrating the moments when we can just revel in our glorious Blackness.
For example: celebrating what Ava Duvernay is carefully crafting with “When They See Us.” Celebrating when Beyoncé headlines Coachella. Celebrating when Kehinde Wiley is selected to create former President Barack Obama’s official portrait. In these moments, I absorb what this means to me and I feel myself warm up inside because we are the ones that are finally able to share our own stories and control our own narrative.
Yet, I still feel a slight pang of sadness that materializes as lumps in my throat that disable my ability speak without tearing up. Sadness because a majority of our stories are still rooted in Black trauma. Sadness because the stories about us are centralized around a history of slavery that our country is so resistant to accept. Stories that continue to feed into a stereotypical narrative that the entire Black community is struggling to make it out of the hood away from gangs, drugs, and crime-ridden neighborhoods.
We deserve to see ourselves in more love stories like “Love & Basketball.” We deserve to not have to explain why there are no White leads in a major motion picture like Eddie Murphy had to do in the early 1990s after “Boomerang” was released.
Yes, it can be exhausting even when it comes to simply sitting in a movie theater or kicking our feet up to relax at home. The last thing you want in these moments is to watch what is playing out in real life for so many. In that spirit, I wanted to use this space to share with you some personal picks for Black stories that are not rooted in Black trauma.*
I’m sure there were things I mentioned here that you’ve not heard of, don’t agree with, or which made you uncomfortable, and that is okay. It is important to become comfortable in the discomfort of these topics because it hopefully will encourage you to learn more and expand your view. And please, for the love of all that is good in this world, understand that, during February or any month of the year, it is not Black peoples’ responsibility to educate you on our history because Black history is American history.
*Note, there may be traumatic moments, but they are not primarily rooted in Black trauma.
– Tyler Owens
Coming Up Next
The nominations for this year’s Academy Awards were recently announced. One year ago, I had the chance to write about two eventual winners — “Nomadland” and “Minari” — and concluded that it was a seminal moment for rural and small-town stories on the big screen.
I’m not yet sure if this year’s crop can match its predecessor in terms of excellence in rural representation, but we’ll start digging into it next week. I’ve got my eye on “The Power of the Dog” and “CODA,” in particular, as possible heirs apparent to “Nomadland” and “Minari.” But films like “DUNE” and “Don’t Look Up” certainly have rural angles as well, in their imagery and themes.
Whether you’re a movie buff or not, I welcome your reviews, recommendations, and predictions in advance of our next edition. Feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Adam B. Giorgi
This article first appeared in The Good, the Bad, and the Elegy, an email newsletter from the Daily Yonder focused on the best, and worst, in rural media, entertainment, and culture. Every other Thursday, it features reviews, recommendations, retrospectives, and more. Join the mailing list today to have future editions delivered straight to your inbox.