On Selma and the Vigorous Rejection of Nonabysmal Personhood

The cast of Selma. Photo: The Telegraph

So. I finally saw Selma. I sat there in Cinema Café with my mother and that $839 popcorn and watched Martin and The Gang knuckle up with change history by helping those dusty ass, shitborne, unsavory, old timey White people get their motherfucking minds right.

Hella Patient Black Excellence in motion and such.

Madame Ava DuVernay’s masterful dramatization of the historic voting rights marches from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama organized and led by the Dallas County Voters League, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Martin Luther King, Jr., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and others was a joy to watch. Her portrayal of this pivotal moment in America’s history The Great Caucasian Reign of Terribleness captured the tense racial climate of pre-Janet Jackson America with a graciousness rarely deployed in the depictions of Black historical figures.

In this age of revisionist history and Butlers and Help, Black stories on the big screen not told with the help of a whip or a questionable cornrow wig are few and far between. I cherish any opportunity to see Us be fierce and unshakeable and imperfect and powerful. Go-Go Gadget: Humanity.

Madame DuVernay’s gorgeous film—a respectability junkie’s wet dream—is a Black Hollywood family reunion. A clown car of working, beautiful Black actors, if you will. This 127-minute journey into ancient TerribleWhitePeopleLand, America is jam-packed with magical melanin, legendary edge-ups, masterfully coifed Ebony Earth Goddesses and powerful lip liner aplenty. And Common.

I got to see Oprah whip out her famed fierce ass Pursed Lips of Tired Ass Black Elder’s Indignation as Annie Lee Cooper while contending with Mr. Fuckboy, uncle-daddy of Mr. Welfare, while attempting to register to vote.

You had Ledisi slinging hymns by phone in the heat of the night because it’s hard out here for a Revolutionary Negro, and sometimes you just need a quick conference call with Uncle Jesus before venturing out into the world to face Terrible Whiteness. You had Common in those overalls with that kufi looking like a good time on a Friday night as James Bevel. There was Carmen Ejogo who soared as Coretta Scott King, Our Lady of Boundless Imperturbability. You had Trai Byers, a brawny vision of love in scene after scene, wearing the hell out those polo shirts as SNCC executive secretary James Forman. Then there was Niecy Nash, one of my favorite LoudPeople and her wondrous deep wave situation as Richie Jean Jackson. And Wendell Pierce. And Tessa Thompson. And André Holland. And a slew of other chocolate wonders. 

Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King and Lorraine Toussaint as Amelia Boynton Robinson. Photo: Pittsburg Post Gazette

I kept saying to myself, "Shit! Look at all this good skin on screen in a No Madea Zone, for a change!”

It was a magnificent thing.

And then, a refreshing sight in the age of Mona Scott: two Black women (Lorraine Toussiant as Amelia Boynton Robinson and Ejogo’s Coretta) sharing a tender, shade-free moment, loving on and uplifting one another. (See, Mona, it IS possible.) As the two walked and talked before an important meeting with Malcolm X, Amelia shared a powerful word with a doubtful Coretta, telling her: “You are already prepared.” The night I saw Selma with my mom and niece, a group of church ladies behind us sang out: "Mmmmmhmm. Amen. Aaaaaaamen." 

I say all of that to say: I loved it.

I love that we got to see the fruit of a brilliant Black filmmaker’s tireless labor get the love it deserves. I love that Ava made plain a tenet of Terrible Whiteness that persists today: Placing the onus on Us to fix Their shit. Whew. Look at how They expect President Obama to make diamonds out of the steaming fuckshit They left behind. With Selma, Ava didn’t hold back. We got to see the Powers That Be as their morally bankrupt, rat bastardly selves.

When Ava stated that she didn't want to create another White Savior film, I rejoiced. We need more White Savior movies as much as we need more Ann Coulter sightings in the 2000 and the 15. Kanye puts in more than enough overtime deepthroating White supremacy on the daily, so I am thankful that Ava followed her heart, and put Black first.

I appreciate that Selma didn’t glamorize King’s doings and screwings by hopscotching over his shortcomings. Ava didn’t shy away from controversy, imagined puritanical legacies be damned. Yes, one can guide old timey White guys into the Land of Nonabysmal Personhood and share one’s Revolutionary Peen with the world. It is juvenile, laughable, and asinine to pretend that doing the former precludes one from doing the latter.

And, I appreciate Ava for not being as petty as I am and for resisting the urge to have Oprah hit one of those badge-wearing Oppression Operatives with a surly “All my life I had to fight,” even though there were multiple opportunities during interactions with aggressively terrible bipedal roaches to do so. 

Director Ava DuVernay and Selma star David Oyelowo. Photo: Variety.com
Frankly, Selma rubbed Benevolent Brock and Pestilent Patty the wrong way because it doesn’t suck any White dicks. President Lyndon B. Johnson isn’t the hero here, and seeing their skinfolk decentralized—portrayed as their frequently terrible selves—is unfathomable for countless moviegoers and Academy voters. Miss Anne MassaWife didn’t get to save the day with sweet tea and a kind, Christian heart. No downtrodden Black children were adopted and civilized by Nice White People. For many, Selma didn’t produce that necessary tingling in their bootyholes that they get when high on self-satisfaction. Martin didn’t lead protesters in a Debbie Allen-choreographed liturgical tap dance across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and that, too, was apparently unfathomable.

Never mind that Selma is a dramatization.

Naturally, David Oyelowo's performance as MLK didn't receive an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. Madame Ava, while winning a slew of other awards for this wonderful work, didn't get the prestigious Oscar nomination for Best Director many feel she deserved. I'll let the brilliant Robert Jones, Jr. tell it:
And, quite frankly, history and experience have taught me to side-eye what any overwhelmingly white and male organization endorses. Because no matter how significant and progressive their choices seem on the surface, ultimately, those choices are self-serving. Between the Ku Klux Klan, the U.S. Congress, Wall Street, the Tea Party, and the Academy, social, legal, economic, political, and artistic standards in this country are set by white men for the benefit of white men—period.

Now that the consolatory award presenters of color have presented the awards, the thinkpieces have been thinkpieced and we’ve all tripped over ourselves trying to unpack the method to Massa’s madness, a few things must be stressed:

One. We must remember that 1965 wasn’t all that long ago. Many of these dumpster-hearted bastards are going to wake up tomorrow and stand in line behind you at Krispy Kreme when the Hot Light comes on. They praise Avatar for its excellence and plausibility (Gang of Whitepersons rescues a race of Bluefolk from extinction) and conjure, finance, and award ahistorical circle jerks like Cleopatra and The Help.

They have kids, nigger-loving granddaughters and defenseless half-black great-grandbabies.

The news reminds us daily that these cretins still run police departments, host Fux News shows, teach your kids, and live up the block from Aunt Shirley.

The scumbagginess persists. And it ain't going anywhere.

So, when Uncle Al Sharpton, the boredest Negro in America, gets to shouting at cameras and calling emergency Loud Talking Negro Summits to combat issues within the White community, I can’t help but regret not patenting those Logic Darts I once considered. That's like hiring me, HomoThug Número Uno, to wax poetically via essay on the joys of vaginal exploration. Where's the sense in that? 

Are we surprised when Suge Knight a serial killer kills? Would a dog’s barking mystify you? No. Because. It’s. What. They. Do.

As such, if a well dressed, married, employed Black President can’t inspire close-minded, shitborne political relics to retrieve their hearts and minds from their anal cavities and humanize their views of Blackness, and a Black woman serving as President of The Academy can’t inspire change, let’s cut back on the shock and awe when a gaggle of close-minded Hollywood relics fails to see Black Excellence when it stares kicks them in the face. Deal? Because it's what they do.

Two. We are over-thinking diversity and our approach to social justice in general. All this contorting and minimizing our natural splendor to assuage fears and remind empowered fuckboys how deserving of humanity we are? Exhausting and often fruitless. The issue isn’t that we’re not marching correctly or aren’t smart enough for a seat at the table. The issue isn’t your sagging pants or your “ethnic” name.

The issue, as with many of history’s great conflicts, is that a small, terrified group of White lifelong scoundrels simply refuses to get their motherfucking minds right. Slavery. Suffrage. The 2008 Bailout. Iggy Azalea. All byproducts of these scoundrels and their vigorous rejection of nonabysmal personhood. Dassit. Serena Williams penned a lovely essay detailing her growth and maturity after being humiliated and mistreated following her victory at Indian Wells. But what of Benevolent Brock and Pestilent Patty who booed her? We moan and march to "overcome," working ourselves to death for scraps of basic human decency when we are not the problem

But Oprah had a pretty stellar solution.

Three. These folks inhabit a world where expressions of Black or Brown pride equate to racial attacks and Jessica Alba can pass for a Hip Hop-dancing Hood Savior. The case for lunacy has long been made, y’all. Let go and let Iyanla fix it.

Four. With all of that said, if you can't recognize the collective geriatric White indifference (to this and other projects featuring Black faces telling nonslavey Black stories) as stage five Dick Melanin Envy, then I don’t know what to tell you.

-Alexander Hardy

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