Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Arousing controversy is not a lesson in human sensibility
It seems that the film was untimely for its insensitivity to sections of the black community who are deprived, disempowered and who need `positive’ role models (especially the young) to improve their general well-being. Was the BBC hoodwinked into showing a film that created more antagonism and suspicion than actually healing the historic racial divide among Britain’s ethnic communities? Was it part of the BBC’s response to strident claims of the need to preserve excellent `public service broadcasting? Or was the intention to secure ratings (inadvertently) by pandering to a popularized version of black typecasting? Expert sources acknowledge that such a film on Jews, Indians, Chinese, other Asians and other ethnic communities would have been resisted stubbornly, and in the current political climate, the BBC would have been more judicious and selective in its choice of programming. So, why not the same for people of African descent?
Perhaps what made the imagery of the film repulsive was the fact that a significant section of the film cast was actors and actresses of British-African/Nigerian background most of whom were misrepresenting characteristically, the moral and spiritual decency of the more enlightened sections of the British Caribbean community. It is true that some young Caribbean boys are underachieving in mainstream schools and it is also true that some of our children are involved in anti-social behaviour. But it is a travesty to tar all citizens of the 500,000-odd British Caribbean community with the same brush. When one considers that a tenth of this community represent the fastest growing entrepreneurs in Britain and contribute more than £2 billion per annum to the nation’s coffer, the scenes depicted in Shoot the Messenger could only cause further outrage and intrepidation.
Particularly, the feuds between Joe Pascale, his students and his school, coupled with his lapsed state of insanity, the break up with his girlfriend and the hypocrisy of his religious conversion, added to the running commentary of black self-hate, were all demoralising episodes which destroyed the fabric of a potentially excellent script. The slavish emulation of the African-American, Spike Lee’s US-version of black people’s cinematic genre is too much for us in Britain to contemplate. The history of African Americans in terms of their political and social values, along with economic and cultural advancement, should be studied carefully before any attempt is made to ape a selected range of issues that contradict with the reality of black people in the UK.
Britain is privileged and blessed to have outstanding filmmakers such as the veteran, Horace Ove and the young Courttia Newland whose 2003 play, B for Black, captured this type of review, “Newland's play brilliantly demonstrates that almost no form of judicial process can provide perfect justice. His tough and intriguing dramatic structure is matched by O'Hara's taut, angry production." Essentially, there is information and data that can be used as sound material for filming, publishing and generally communicating better forms of characterization in the black community rather than the exaggerated caricature of the seamy side of the African and Caribbean community evident in Shoot The Messenger.
Material exist in a multitude of areas: such as; the increasing number of young entrepreneurs, the success of women in public and private sector organizations and agencies, the growth of social enterprises to tackle the breakdown of families, the efforts being made to campaign on issues regarding low educational attainment and underperforming firms, as well as community initiatives to resolve problems around economic deprivation and social exclusion in inner-city areas where the vast majority of black and other ethnic communities live. Indeed, while it has never been fashionable for positive developments in the black community to be celebrated in the mainstream media in the UK, sensitivity and sensibility should prevail especially when injustices occur without regard to a sense of humanity.
As we enter another phase of the 21st century, beginning with 2007 as the year we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the legal termination of Slavery, it is important that we remember the struggles of our forbears in their endeavours to repulse ignorance, poverty and neglect. The struggles of black people in Britain remain a collective one and the time is opportune for the progressive-minded to help eradicate all forms of domination whether they are in the form of ideology, misrepresentation of cultures, and media stereotyping. Instructively, it is worth repeating here, that “Those who forget history are (oftentimes) condemned to repeat it”.