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Harry Lennix: ‘Black Filmmakers Give Us Terrible Images & Messages. I Reject Them Wholesale’

Harry Lennix: 'Black Filmmakers Give Us Terrible Images & Messages. I Reject Them Wholesale'

Harry Lennix isn’t done yet apparently! 

Recall Sergio’s recent interview with him in which he referred to Lee Daniels’ The Butler as “Niggerfied… historical porn” after reading pages of the script, for which he was apparently offered a part – a post that generated lots of debate, as you’d imagine, and still continues to do so. Read it HERE if you missed it.

This time around, Lennix has taken to penning an op-ed for The Wrap (next time Harry, come to us for that sort of thing), in which he voices his rejection of what he calls “terrible images and messages” created by black filmmakers today, adding that, “I reject them wholesale — our creations must have beauty.

Titled Black Entertainment Depicts a Stream of Craven and Depraved Sociopaths – Let’s Reclaim It, here’s a snip from the piece:

With greater frequency black filmmakers are saying terrible things about the inhabitants of Black America. While viewing a black film of the recent past (choose your own), I saw black women weeping their eyes out, scene after scene, abused and victimized by black men in a relentless parade of misery. What joy, I wondered, is to be found in this? Even in pathos, of course there is release. But surely there is a difference between pathos and sadomasochism.

Ironically, very little of artistic merit or craft is to be found in the dramatically bereft constructions of the other variety of black movie. Many of these projects feature very talented and attractive casts, slick direction, and high production values. The subject matter is seldom of great ambition or depth. They are designed to please the broadest possible demographic of black ticket buyers. Most of this work is innocent and innocuous enough, and thank goodness for this alternative. That stipulated, it would be less than honest to point to but a small few of these as artistically satisfying.

There appears to be a formula at work. On one side, form follows function: entire histories are corrupted, twisted fantasies concocted, so that the filmmakers can elicit the baser instincts of an audience. Then there is the inverse where function follows form: gorgeous people in thinly dramatic situations, scarcely requiring craft and imagination to execute.

All that said, once you get past the first 3/4 of his invective, towards the end of the piece, you’ll see that, ultimately, the piece’s purpose is really to plug the release of his upcoming new film, Mr Sophistication – a project we’ve been tracking for about 2 years now. 

Lennix makes the case for his new film being an attempt to “reclaim the definition of ‘black film,’” and showing what is possible, instead of merely lamenting the status quo.

Directed by Danny Green, with a cast that includes, in addition to Lennix, RichardBrooks, GinaTorres, Rick Fox, Bruce McGillTatum O’Neal, Robert Patrick, Paloma Guzman, and Niki Crawford, Mr Sophistication’s synopsis reads:

Mr Sophistication is the story of Ron Waters, who was the hottest young comic in Hollywood in the 90′s, and a personal protege of Richard Pryor. His political humor and his general “realness” made him one of a kind. His behavior as he climbed up the ladder caused such controversy that he had to leave Hollywood. After a self-imposed exile, Ron is back, having a second chance at fame. He’s also having a second chance at love – his wife wants to keep her man; the girl wants a fresh start. He wants to change the world.

Lennix doesn’t say when exactly audiences can expect to see the film in theaters, although a recent update on the film’s Facebook page says that it’s coming in September, but with no specific day given. 

Per Lennix’s op-ed:

At the time of this writing my company, Exponent Media Group (EMG), is on the precipice of releasing our first film. It is called “Mr. Sophistication.” We are proud of the film and we definitely hope that you will see and enjoy it. It is something that we poured our best efforts into, and have aspired as much as we might to refine its form, beauty, and entirety.

So there you have it! An op-ed on a mainstream movie website, with a provocative title and first 3/4, but, ultimately, is likely meant to stir up conversation, and interest in his next film, ahead of its release in a month.

Ho-hum… If he truly does feel as he states, Mr Lennix really should see more indie black films, and maybe also consider expanding his definition of what a “black film” is beyond the USA.

Feel free to read the full piece HERE.

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I'm just shocked by Harry Lennix both as a Black man and fellow Chicagoan. Like others, I was in agreement up to a certain point. Then when he went in on Black filmmakers all together, I shook my head in shame. Apparently he hasn't come across the likes of Dennis Dortch, Craig Ross Jr., Kaar'mu Kush, Barry Jenkins, and Terrence Nance to name a few. Lennix must still carry that residue of that Uncle Tom he played in "Mo' Money". I'm just saying.


Harry Lennix writes breathlessly well. It is ALWAYS a treat to read a Black Man's pen. He praised as well as critiqued. He is NOT petty.

Petty people do not SEE the GOOD. This man is of a genuine wholesome CENTER.

He knows his path as a Blackman, artist, writer, producer, etc. and it AINT denigrating other Black people.

Besides, aren't ya'll sick of that low vibe shit?

If you NOT. You hurtin, hatin, or dead.


Can't agree that it's somehow grandstanding to talk about his own work as a better alternative to the stuff that's out there. Academics do it all the time, the critique scholarship and then put themselves forward. Is there any reason to think Lennix is doing this to make himself a buck? Or does he just believe in the quality of his work. Maybe his work isn't any better, but that's a debate worth having. Criticizing him for self promotion seems misguided.

Keith Josef

I am a huge admirer of Harry Lennix and his incredible commitment to his craft. He delivers quality and breath-full performances in all that he touches. However, I'm a bit disappointed in his grandstanding against what he calls "Niggerfied" black films. Yes, there's some questionable stuff out there that's irresponsible and exhausting, but there's also some great films. In fact, filmmakers like Rashaad Ernesto Green, Ava DuVernay, Victoria Mahoney, Steven McQueen and Andrew Dosunmu are doing their damndest to change the face of the black narrative and re-introduce the complexity that shapes all of our lives or points of view. It feels like Mr. Lennix is standing tall on super-ego. I say this (not because I want it to be true) because I don't see any evidence that he's supporting any of these new films or efforts to bring complexity to black cinema. I don't see any evidence that he's taking a stand and funneling his monies or energies into creating a foundation that supports filmmakers. I only hear him lament about so-called "Niggerfied" films and that our films should have beauty. Is the assumption he's the only who knows what beauty looks like or how to bring it to our films? Again, he's clearly not watched the films of Ava DuVernay or Andrew Dusunmu. That's awesome about his upcoming film, but I get the feeling that Mr. Lennix is geared up to show us "how it's supposed to be done" and that's a bit condescending. Again, bravo to him, but I do hope he joins the collective efforts of so many who want to bring complexity to black filmmaking. He's somewhat of a celebrity and he's the image or power to help. I want to read an article where he writes on behalf of THAT.


While I didn't read the script that Mr. Lennix read, I did see The Butler. It was Lee Daniels' at his best. He raised his game and found highly-skilled players to go for the win.

I did see that Oprah Winfrey leveled some of the more "extra" aspects of the Gloria character and she was right to do so. Her interpretation of that character has been universally-praised. David Oyewelo did a tremendous job. Forest Whitaker was the quiet presence who held everyone together. All this due to the direction of Daniels and his persistence in gathering support to get the job done.

It may be that Lennix read aspects of the script that revealed pathology unnecessary to the storyline (because Daniels has done this in the past), this time, it did not translate to the screen. Likely because he worked with veteran actors who knew better than to allow it.

The theater I was in had a mixed crowd of men/women, Black/White, old/young that laughed, cried, and then clapped at the end.

The Butler is a job well-done.


Harry makes valid points and he demonstrates integrity and shows he wont settle for less .Which is what most of the newer generations are all about they examplify the negatives of the film industry which is all about political business interests instead of artistic integrity good for him for standing his ground with his belief and values .He shows that there is hope as far a good quality actors still existing hes daring and uncompromising .He is all about elavating himself as and artist to higher levels which is what all artists and actor should strive to be .They should learn to not bring everything down to there level which means nothing but to raise the value of things to a transcendant higher undsterand of life .

floyd webb

Many of us who WANT to be in "Hollywood" adopt the worldview of that culture. It is a much more a culture than it is a physical place and what does one need to fit into that cultural worldview? Therein lies the problem.

Michelle Materre

Obviously Harry Lennix hasn't seen films such as "Free Angela" by Shola Lynch, "ELZA" by Mariette Monpierre, "Mother of George" by Andrew Donsumu, and the list could go on and on! Why is it that Hollywood is still the "mother/father/god" of all things cinema related for people of color? I think that Shadow and Act and programs like Creatively Speaking and Imagenation and AFFRM have more than proven otherwise!


Thanks Harry for eloquently stating, and explaining, a few of the issues we struggle with when making Black film. Insightful analysis in the interest of art that elevates. Who cares where the interview was printed? If a writer approaches him is he supposed to refuse to talk while waiting for a Black venue? I love Shadow and Act, and its focus on work from Black artists, but hell, didn't you move to IndieWire???

I revel and celebrate when films succeed in creatively depicting Black life without the kind of pandering, simplistic, repetitious, formulaic drivel that we are sometimes fed. I recognize and support independent Black film makers and their quest to explore all of the nuances of Black life without concern that their work will be called 'Black'.


I just want to see films starring Black Folks without making references about race, without all the heartache and pain, without all the cooning and clowning, without all the gangbanging, Etc…… but no one seems to be listening.


Agreed. As filmmakers, it would be dangerous for us to dismiss Harry's viewpoint as "merely a plug". There is truth to his opening statements.


Form follows function: Precious, Colored Girls, and others that peddle to the fears of the black woman.

Function follows form: Homogeneous black romantic comedies: think like a man, best man, (Fill in the blank____man), that peddle to the hopes of black woman.

I love that he not only states this, and defines it, but that he fearlessly rejects it.


I dont' think its fair to dismiss Lennix's statement as a conflated plug for his own project. I think what he is saying has merit and deserves an ear. If we are dissatisfied with the images of Blacks in media then we can't support those works that perpetuate the problem, and if possible offer alternatives. Seeing more Black indies is the problem…we don't! They don't get play.


I'm assuming the first film that he is referring to is "For Colored Girls" (and he would be right about that mess). I'm assuming the next group of films are the slick, black romances such as "Think Like a Man" (he would be right about those too). But he indeed may need to broaden his horizons, as other have suggested, to more independent works by black filmmakers.


did anyone see casting director leah daniels butler go in on him on twitter?


Despite Mr Lennix self promotion motivation for the above, sad to say it's all too true.

critical acclaim

"all black filmmakers are evil and ignorant except me – go see my movie!" and then gives it to a white site. Total joke he is. Lost all respect. None, zero left.


Sometimes I wonder if people with such negative views of Black Film want only positive one dimensional characters; think there is a real trend of shining the worst bits of black culture; or they simply want Will Smith type roles where the color of their skin has nothing to do with the character and black culture can just be something they deal with in real life as they escape the reality or being black.


Mr. Lennix doesn't cite any evidence of the kind of films that evoke that ill behavior. This lessens the impact of his indictment.


Mr. Sophistication sounds like a Dave Chappelle biography. The film's website doesn't give me a good feeling and seems to pander to a different element. Business as usual unfortunately. Hope I'm wrong though.


Was he referring to For Colored Girls when he mentioned " a black woman being victimized?

blah, blah

Mr. Sophistication betta' be the bomb!


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