Reflecting on Black History Month – Jazz Tangcay reports
Director Kasi Lemmons says, “I celebrate black history all year.” For the Harriet and Self Made director and other African American film artists, Black History Month isn’t just about February, it’s every day. In a series of guest columns, Ruth Carter, Karin Gist, Robin Thede and Lemmons are among the artists who contributed to Variety’s spotlight on Black History Month.
Kasi Lemmons writes, “ I feel strongly that we need to be celebrating African American history as history all year long. There’s something that rubs me a little bit the wrong way when, during Black History Month, you see a list of inventions by African Americans and they list six things when it’s countless things — it’s so much of America. We built this country.”
Karin Gist agrees. The Mixed-ish showrunner says, “Black History Is ‘About Pushing Our Stories Forward.’ She writes, “Black History Month is like an oil check to remind us all that we were here and made a change.” Like all the writers, the month is a time to be reminded of the greatness and that’s the most inspiring thing, the stories, the books, the timeline filled with contributions by African Americans.
Taylor K. Shaw created her own studio Black Women Animate after noticing a lack of access and resources provided to black women in animation. At Black Women Animate, Taylor says they create, “original content, offer production services, and train and develop talent. In consciously hiring women of color and nonbinary animators of color on our productions, our goal is to be a blueprint for equity in the entertainment industry.”
Oscar-winner Ruth Carter made history in 2019 when she became the first African American to win an Oscar for her work on Black Panther. She writes, “It doesn’t escape me that I took my own place in Black History as the first African-American to win an Oscar for Costume Design. To make Black History, I was held up by Black History. Leading up to that moment, it brings me great joy and assurance for all the hard work in crafting a career rich in black stories and to take my place as a modern-day griot.”
Comedy writer/actress Robin Thede says her career has been dedicated in large part to the representation, advancement and celebration of black people year-round. She writes, “Black History Month is both a time of grand celebration and a time when people who haven’t done enough to help further the cause of black people are reminded for 28 to 29 days (come through leap year!) of how they’ve contributed to systemic oppression. But don’t freak out – it shouldn’t have to carry that level of intense moral month-long burden.”
Director Gina Prince-Blythewood points to the need for better representation in Hollywood. “Representation matters. It matters to us on a deep, molecular level. When we watch ourselves on screen being heroic, or desired, or brilliant, or in love, we can see that for ourselves. And the world sees that in us. When a 6-year-old black girl can be zip-tied and put into the back of a police car over a simple tantrum at school, the world is not seeing our humanity,” writes Prince-Blythewood.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Links to Variety‘s full coverage of Black History Month 2020 can be found here.