James Brown #GetOnUp: There’s More to Being Brown and Black than Meets the Eye

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I wholeheartedly agree that the film is missing a certain flavor due to the missing nuances not provided by not having any Black writers. That may also be why the film has a certain “made for TV” feel to me rather than the intensity and grit that usually can only be produced on the big screen. However, when complaining about how the lack of Black writers negatively impacts the film, Howard fails to address the manner in which the film excellently utilizes the “Battle Royal” scene to lay the foundation for addressing how America’s institutional racism creates selfishness and chaos in the African-American community, which makes it even more difficult for African people to develop unity and strategy against it.

My point is that Gregory Allen Howard, in his Huffington Post piece “The Whitewashing of James Brown,” leads a discussion of the film and is misguided in his desires to lay blame regarding the ability of White people to seize, control, and tell Black stories. I, however, wish that we (Black artists, Black critics, and lovers of Black art) would do a better job criticizing us (Black artists, Black critics, and lovers of Black art) for not doing a better job telling our own story. I have read a few articles, texts, tweets, and emails criticizing the film for it being another example of White people telling our story. However, if anyone wanted to tell James Brown’s story or Jimi Hendrix’s story, all one had to do was purchase the rights to the story. Unfortunately, Negroes purchase cars, houses, and jewelry, but we rarely purchase institutions. When White artists were being controlled and mistreated by White businessmen, they created United Artists (UA) to develop their own institution to make the films they wanted to make and reap the lion’s share of the profits.

At some point, we must start asking African artists what are we/they doing to reclaim control of our artistry, which, of course, means reclaiming control of our stories. The only two inquiries regarding the possibility of purchasing the rights to my book of short stories, Scripts: Sketches and Tales of Urban Mississippi, were from White people. (Because I didn’t like their focus and emphasis and they didn’t like what I would and would not rewrite, the talks never became more than a passing interest).

Yes, it would have been appropriate for the producers of Get on Up to hire a few Black writers, but the flaws of the film are not just because all the writers are White. Moreover, why are we still standing on the sideline begging someone to allow us to become an active participant in our lives. With that in mind, we (Black artists, Black critics, and lovers of Black art) must put the pressure on those of us (Black artists, Black critics, and lovers of Black art) who have accomplished some level of success — however one defines it — and ask when we (Black artists, Black critics, and lovers of Black art) will stop purchasing trinkets and start purchasing/reclaiming our legacy.