Thought Catalog
January 10, 2017

Dear Hollywood, African American Storytelling Deserves More Than Historical Period Pieces

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Ahmet Yalçınkaya
Ahmet Yalçınkaya

In light of Theodore Melfi’s newest drama Hidden Figures, which is a film based on three African American women Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) aiding NASA in the 1960’s as computer geniuses for the race to space against Russia and the launching of astronaut John Glenn. I had to wonder to myself though, if Hollywood would ever produce a film that had black actors in it telling a story that was not solely set during the Civil Rights Movement or in the 1800’s Slavery period.

As an African American myself, I respect films made to shine light on America’s ugly past, but I also grow wearisome of the same genre: The oppression of African Americans. This is a hugely important topic to write about, but it has been written about, filmed, acted, and told many times before.

As Asian and minority actors speak out against continuous white washing and not having equal representation in the film industry as Caucasians, (Hint: The Margaret Cho versus Tilda Swinton email battle), I would like to see more films with a predominantly African American cast that centers on a story that has nothing to with racism or the color of their skin. Now, I know that racism is a part of daily life and in a time of turmoil and the upcoming inauguration of Donald Trump, America is on thin ice for a future civil war. Still!

African Americans deserve more than just period pieces based on obstacles white people throw at them. The growing diversity of the current television industry is doing a fantastic job with new programs showcasing Blacks and representing them in regular roles as any other White character like Kerry Washington’s Olivia in Scandal, Terrence Howard’s Lucious in Empire, or lastly Issa Rae’s Insecure. It is also a great decade for the black female. Film and television are rhetorical platforms for discourse and social change, but they also are platforms that need to engage an audience into forgetting their everyday lives to pay attention to someone else’s.

It would be refreshing to see more films with lead African American actors playing more protagonists and not just supporting characters. I want to see more lead black super heroes, detectives, bosses, teenagers, teachers, principals, doctors, lawyers, and nurses who have stories centered on them not because they are black, but because there is a story to be told about the character, conflict or back story of that person’s world. What I am asking Hollywood to consider is casting more black males and females as lead characters in present story time.

Yes, film is rhetorical and should reflect society, but it should do just that. African Americans lead normal lives just like Whites and deserve a voice in portraying the average or above average American as any other actor. All storytellers, writers, script interpreters, and directors of all race deserve a chance to fail, but also a chance to succeed. TC mark