So the Oscar buzz is heating up; people are sharing the trailer like mad on Twitter and Facebook, my fellow Kenyan Lupita Nyon’go has been excitedly announced as being Oscar worthy for a her role in it (congratulations Lupita!), her red carpet gown has been discussed to death,  and all the major publications are scrambling to praise the film, and yet I’ve found myself a tad lukewarm toward this project, and for about a week I couldn’t quite fathom why.

I had to do some deep soul searching about it. Seriously people – it was keeping me up at night. Especially when I hadn’t seen it yet – which meant I was prejudging the film – something I’m not in the habit of doing – I don’t trash people/projects/ideas for the sake of it, or to make myself feel better.

Was I ‘hating’ because I was jealous that I hadn’t pulled together a big or similar project? No, because although I don’t have the Oscar pull yet myself, I’m genuinely happy when people succeed – any of my friends and colleagues will tell you I’m the first to champion  leaders, influencers and artists of African descent. That’s why I founded after all! So there goes that theory!

Or was it because I didn’t like any of the actors/directors associated with the project? Another major no – I’m a big fan of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and Brad Pitt. I mean it’s a trio of champions ri’ there!

It finally dawned on me one early morning in the shower.

It was the film title … in particular the word ‘slave’.

Friends, it turns out my heart was breaking because … here was  yet another project that perpetuates the African and black pop-mythology and connotations of slavery, oppression, possession, and violence. *sigh*

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not in any way playing down the compelling capacity of the slave narrative to tell, in temporal terms, the whole story of slavery and open our hearts and mind to how terrible we humans can be to one another.

What our ancestors, who were dragged to America, the Caribbean and England and forced to endure is unspeakable and unconscionable, but the question still begs – when will we as a race move beyond being defined by our pain and sorrow and instead by our triumphs and glory?

If the only themes and projects that depict Africa/African Americans in popular media and are Oscar worthy (last year it was ‘Django Unchained’ and this year ’12 years a slave’) are heavily slanted toward a slave narrative, what does it say about how the world sees us (AKA Hollywood’s power brokers)  or more importantly how we see ourselves?

(The pessimist in me also believes this is yet another film arc that’s being exploited after Django did so well in the box office last year … ‘it’ somehow always involves economics, right?)

And while ‘Django’ was about an ex slave exacting his revenge (yes! I watched it and enjoyed it, to be honest) and from what I understand ’12 years a slave‘ is about a freed man finding his way back from enforced slavery to freedom again (as TIME Magazine puts it – ‘a tale of racism survived’), thus dealing with a strong  redemption theme, the question still persists – why are we, as a race, depicted by our worst, saddest and most traumatic experiences? And should we be allowing it to happen unchecked?

Someone tell me, why are we of African descent literally the whipping boys of modern storytelling?

Many of you may speak up here and highlight the number of recent, more positively themed film projects with African/African American people as the central characters  (Nairobi Half Life, Otelo Burning, and The Butler (2013) etc) but people, apart from ‘The Butler’ they’re not getting much Oscar buzz; they’ve quickly faded from talk radio chat and Entertainment Tonight. They’re not raking in the box office dollars and they don’t have millions of media dollars thrown at them to engage the masses.

Yes, yes, we shouldn’t care too much about what the masses think but among these masses are our children, the next generation who consume popular media like popcorn – what are we telling them about who we are, more significantly (given we don’t have Hollywood’s pulling power) how are we countering those perceptions with stories that that supersede how the world has narrowly defined us in the recent times – as either poor, enslaved and needy?

Africa (and our sisters and brothers all over the world) – we are more than that. There is a greater story of who we are – of who we once were (and shall continue to be) – a race founded on wondrous majesty. Believe it or not, we belong to a race that  was once a great, empire responsible for throwing ‘giant shadows upon time’s dawn’.

Like N.K. Read says in her post about ‘Africa’s Greatest Story’ ( need to remember who we once were and the stock from which were were formed – Kings, Queens, Chiefs.

Read it – it’ll surprise you with who we Africans were in antiquity, before Egypt, before slavery, before colonialism, before corruption, before our shame.

As she says, we need to rediscover ‘our rich and resplendent narrative; our foundation, our voice, our magnitude, our honour, our pride, our wisdom, our traditions, our past, our exceptional uniqueness, our failings, our triumphs and finally when all is said and done, our glory’.

And yes, I will watch ’12 years a slave’ and revise my post if at all I am convinced of its efficacy to refute the so called, popular, ‘downtrodden’ narrative of it means to being ‘African’.

‘Nuff said.

Tell me what you think … I’d love to hear your thoughts … honestly!

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