Hollywood is lazy with its portrayal of the Black American experience

The film industry has a history of portraying the experience of Black Americans in a problematic way. Hollywood tends to make films specifically about the trauma of Black people and profits by exploiting that pain.

Hollywood has a business mindset and it flocks to the tropes or stories that make the most money. The film industry wants to celebrate Black History Month by amplifying Black voices, both onscreen and behind the camera. Sometimes, it all feels like a cheap marketing tool for a quick cash grab. Hollywood knows people are trying to be more in tune with Black history, especially during the month of February, and they want to capitalize on the moment.

“Fruitvale Station,” starring Michael B. Jordan, came to theaters in 2013 and helped further the fight against police brutality. The film did well in the box office as it took in $17 million. The film’s success opened the floodgates to other films just like it.

“The Hate U Give” follows Starr Carter, a Black high’s schooler who witnesses the killing of her friend by the hands of police. The audience sees her deal with the reactions of her white friends and we later see her at a protest regarding the shooting. The film grossed a total of $34.9 million, $29.7 million coming from the United States and Canada.

It’s easy to see a scarcity of films and television shows centered around Black people just living their lives. People don’t want another film about police brutality or slavery — what about a group of friends growing through life in the city? When can we get another show like “Girlfriends”?

“In the 2000s, we actually didn’t see a great deal of Black films, or specifically Black stories,” said Raphael Nash, an adjunct professor at the School of Cinematic Arts at DePaul and an independent film producer. “And probably a good chunk of that first decade, we would see romantic comedies…But for a while, it was pretty scarce.”

A resurgence in cinema surrounding the experience of Black people in America has been happening for the past few years. Jordan Peele creates these masterpieces that tackle tough topics in a tasteful, meaningful way. His cinematic debut of “Get Out” addressed the issue of racism so beautifully and it didn’t rely on overused tropes.

Nash says that Peele’s approach to his films changed the way people viewed the horror genre. He explains that Peele’s films opened the doors for Black narratives to be explored in different ways, especially in more supernatural spaces. Nash mentioned that Peele’s films have opened the doors for television and films like “Lovecraft Country.”

There comes a bad side to Peele’s innovative ways of approaching Black horror and stories: the knockoffs. When something is done as immaculately as Peele’s films, there tend to be other people who want to imitate the success. Peele’s “Us’ features a Black family of four — two parents, a daughter, and a son — who they are terrorized by their “evil” doppelgangers. Everyone has a doppelganger and they’ve been kept hidden in an underground facility. The main character, Adelaide, was kidnapped into this underworld and she was trapped there until she led all of the doppelgangers to terrorize their real-life counterparts.

“Us” had a complex storyline and it was a beautiful work of cinema. Little Marvin’s “Them,” an Amazon Prime Video series that centered around a Black family moving to a neighborhood in Los Angeles, drew comparisons to Peele’s “Us.” Based on the trailer, the family deals with a white family who didn’t like the family moving to their neighborhood.

Rather than construct a complex storyline, “Them” took the basic ideas of “Us” – especially the horror aspects – and put them together in a sloppy manner. It comes off as disingenuous and it appears to be a quick cash grab.

Sometimes, people make such films and television shows to ride the current wave and they may not have the audience in mind. Instead of thinking of the Black audience, whom their story centers around, their films pander to the mainstream white audience. Many filmmakers may have the trauma as the selling point of the film and it becomes clear that they just want to shock their audience.

“Confederate” follows the idea that the Southern states successfully succeeded and slavery evolved into a modern institution. The HBO series received backlash because people were confused as to why the series was being made. Why is a show like “Confederate” being made during a height of a civil rights movement and racial tensions? HBO cancelled the show before it aired due to the backlash.

“[Trauma] can’t be the selling point,” said Lazarus Howell, a student at The Theatre School at DePaul. “You know, it has to be for a different reason… ‘Selma’ is not Black trauma…it’s the story of Martin Luther King Jr…and that’s the interesting part about it.”

Howell says that the intentions behind the making of films about Black trauma are important, as well as who’s making these films. There are many factors regarding these films, but Howell himself doesn’t seek them out.

Hollywood hangs onto movies about Black trauma because they know that will sell, especially to white audiences. From personal experiences, Black audiences want to see Black superheroes or coming-of-age movies featuring Black teens and young adults. Some audiences are just emotionally exhausted as the movies aren’t a place to escape the already harsh realities they face on a regular basis.

The film industry as a whole needs to let go of the new Black trauma genre that has an undue influence on Black representation in cinema. Rather than continuously focus on the traumatic experiences of the Black community, the film industry should allow for positive Black experiences.