Intersectionality is the art of living with cognitive dissonance or double consciousness or, in other words behaving graciously while being gaslit. We are both a consumer of the world and knowingly excluded from it. We participate in the games while simultaneously watching from the sidelines. We’re aware that the world we exist in hasn’t been created in our image but hey ho we’re here now so let’s make the best of it.
Full disclosure I‘ve never seen a Noel Clarke film or watched him in anything. Even though many told me that Kidulthood was “alright you know”, the poster full of boys didn’t compel a black woman like me who prefers quiet, internally driven stories that centre psychologically complex women. Men are ok. Some of my favorite films centre men but to be honest I’ve seen a ton of those and less of the ones that make sense of the kind of drama that exists within my own head. After years of watching films for work, I gift myself the permission to choose stories that tickle my own taste buds in my spare time.
I chose not to watch Kidulthood because I feared the women characters may be treated, as they often are in action driven films, as supportive (or non-supportive) girlfriends, as the pretty one to be saved, the sexy one who incites the violence and as window dressing to keep the testosterone flowing. I didn’t think this was because Noel Clarke was a particularly nefarious director, but because he is working within a system templated by financiers who assign value to such formulas. Filmic formulas have a clear, and investable price tag and such formulas were not designed by, for or with women in mind. They definitely were not designed with a Black woman in mind. The development of a woman‘s inner life does not traditionally appear on a sales agents spreadsheet.
Now I’m not a formulaic kind of gal. Not that I can’t enjoy a well made piece of derivative storytelling (this system made me after all) it’s just that I don’t need a formula to draw me in. I‘d rather not know how a film will play out before it’s begun. I want to be provoked or surprised and, even better, discover something new about the messy act of being human that I’ve not heard uttered before. In other words I turn to art and culture to help me expand my own internal culture. To do this I have to bypass the man made templates and seek out more complex studies that explode my expectations, and reach for something more truthful, messier.
So if Noel Clarke had made a film about, say, a black man who positions himself as a kind of Messiah and promises to lead others like him to liberation but then we discover that his desire is not, in fact, driven by a sophisticated understanding of emancipation but by the dream of becoming part of the very same destructive power systems he reports to despise, then I’d be lining up with popcorn.
The aggravating truth is Noel Clarke, and many like him, are not revolutionaries because they are the first Black people to be made by an exploitative system. Nor are the speak-truth-to-power music artists who continue to dominate naked women in their videos or beat up their pregnant girlfriends in their spare time. These men are conservatives.
They are not radicalising a system built by white men, as is often the claim, but merely aping it. Clarke’s treatment of women on and off screen is not a culturally “black thing”. It’s a cinema thing. It’s a Woody Allen/Brian de Palma/Stanley Kubrick kind of thing. It’s a Birth of a Nation kind of thing.
I know I’m beginning to sound like Malcolm X in Regina Kings thought-provoking One Night in Miami but the brother made some good points. As did Audre Lorde who said the masters tools will never dismantle the masters house.
But in truth the reality is always messier than the polemic. We are both in and out of the culture that we consume. However at some point, when fragile human lives are at stake, we must think about stepping out.
If, as audiences, we continue to consume and celebrate depictions of Black life that do not emancipate women, or step out of templates and allow each of us a cathartic release, or the possibility of dreaming aloud, or getting into our stuff or revising a perspective, or merely working safely then, at some point we have to admit that we too are backing the very same system that we boast to be against.
So let’s marvel at Ruth E Carter’s costumes in Coming to America while asking why a film where a Black woman‘s choice boils down to marriage or barking like a dog is considered a Black classic? Let’s ask ourselves how complex is our reality really and where do we see that reflected. Let’s ponder aloud whether we feel cared for by the culture we publicly celebrate. And let’s honestly consider does this particular hero have our tender concerns at heart.