Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.Sigmmud Freud
Movies, what a great experience. Especially if you are watching the film adaptation of one of your favorite novels, you are sitting in front of that giant screen, and the opening credits are rolling with the theme song blaring away.
Suddenly the characters you know appear.
You listen intently while quietly munching on your popcorn. What you imagine from the book is happening before your very eyes. When the movie ends, you have an experience that adds context and depth to your reading. The characters of your favorite novel(s) have greater depth and meaning. The book gave you the context, but the movie made them come alive and provided an experience you will never forget.
We all have our favorite books turned into movies that captivate and place us in a world of adventure, danger, dismay, concern, difficulty, confrontation, resolve, and resolution for ninety to one hundred twenty minutes. For me, it was Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers. I have seen multiple versions of this movie, and the fact that white actors play the main characters never bothered me. Of all the versions of this movie, D’Artagnan has yet to be portrayed by a Black actor.
When I was younger, my imagination put me in the role of Dumas’s dashing hero. I don’t know why I saw myself as D’Artagnan, but I did. It had nothing to do with Dumas being Black, a point I learned long after reading the book. With his writing and my imagination, I saw myself as D’Artagnan as a loyal companion to Athos, Porthos, and Aramis.
My world was devoid of Black heroes on the TV screen, in comic books, and movies. Every Disney princess I saw was white as freshly fallen snow. I never thought about why I didn’t see people who looked like me on TV or in the movies. It was what it was. But now, I have been fortunate to see that change.
The emergence of Black talent on all levels is refreshing and long overdue. So, I have no patience for those who are gnashing their teeth, weeping, and rending their garments over Disney’s choice to have a talented young Black female play a fictional character from a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. White people’s fixation that Ariel has to be white is blatantly stupid. If they knew the basis of the story, they would be far less vocal in the demands.
The Little Mermaid, The Three Musketeers, and The Woman King are all fictional stories, but each has a tangential relationship with either people or actual events, sometimes both. I encourage you to check each out.
But what I believe is essential has to deal with a certain disconnection I see in Black people’s support for Halle Baliey playing a fictional character and their clamoring for Viola Davis’s The Woman King to be boycotted. It’s inconsistent. Extolling people to spend their money and see The Little Mermaid when it comes out because their daughter will see Ariel played by a Black female, and then admonishing people to boycott The Woman King with a predominantly all-Black cast, where young girls will see robust, influential, and powerful Black women as politicians and warriors.
There is a level of inconsistency I find confusing between these two movies. The underlying theme in the Black community is that race should not be a factor in character selection, which is why they supported the choice of Halle Bailey to play Ariel and voiced their support to see this movie when it comes out sometime next year. Yet, with The Woman King currently playing, some call for it to be boycotted.
The Woman King is also fictional and loosely based on the country of Dahomey and the woman warriors known as the Agojie. Those who advocate for boycotting this movie say it fictionalizes the horror of the slave trade and downplays Dahomey’s involvement with the slave trade. If that rule of thumb is used to justify boycotting this movie, should it not be applied to The Little Mermaid?
Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid is seen as a love story where Ariel marries a prince and lives happily ever after. Anderson wrote The Little Mermaid to express his love for his friend Edvard Collin, with Ariel metaphorically representing himself. So, should the upcoming remake of The Little Mermaid be factually accurate to Andreson’s feelings for his friend Collin? It would mean Ariel would be professing her love for a young Princess, would it not? Can you imagine the outcry if Disney accurately portrayed Anderson’s The Little Mermaid in the context of how he wrote it? I believe we know how the movie would have been received.
Movies with well-written scripts, great acting, and an unforgettable music score captivate the audience and draw people out to come and see them. In 2021 people spent $2.45 billion on movie tickets, and $2.89 billion in 2020 is a testament to people’s willingness to go to the movies, which is a lot of money spent sitting in front of a movie screen. Begging the question, why.
On the surface, the answer seems obvious. People go to the movies because they want to be entertained. The desire is to see how a screenwriter interprets peoples’ favorite character’s stories, how actors portray those characters, and if the writers and actors are accurate to the books they have read. Books like Dracula, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Last of The Mohicans each fictional stories with a loose relationship with actual events and folklore tales handed down from generation to generation. Each is made into movies, and each has its attractors and detractors. But the key is that most people knew and understood they were fiction. While these movies came out some time ago, I don’t remember any uproar around them as they, in a sense, deal with some, shall we say, notable topics. Again, movies of a different time with less scrutiny and more acceptance around the fact there were fictional adaptions taken from the written works of the authors who created them.
The Woman King is a story about a fictional character based on a composite of a strong Black woman who was a warrior from the Agojie of the Dahomey Kingdom. Whose mission was to wage war against the Oyo empire. Viola Davis plays a fictional character. The Agojie were real, just as the Dahomey empire was. Where they were instrumental in the African slave trade, according to the historical account, they were.
Is that a reason to boycott the movie? Well, that’s an independent and personal choice that thinking individuals will have to make for themselves. The authors of the books I mentioned (Dracula, For Whom The Bell Tolls, and The Last of The Mohicans) derive their inspiration for these classics from folklore, actual events, and real locations. The stories the author is attempting to convey to their audience will often center around the inner struggle the protagonist finds themselves dealing with. Such as fear, doubt, loyalty, friendship, and good versus evil.
The writer has said she wanted to write a story about these women warriors of the Dahomey army and their strength and bravery in battle. Her focus was on the Agojie, not the slave trade, and she did this by using a fictional character. Creating a movie about an army of badass women who, in reality, were indeed fearsome warriors. Simply put, the film is fiction. The Agojie were real. We need to remember that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.