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The Gentrification of Black Film

The Gentrification of Black Film

I refuse to see a film on the life of James Brown that is directed by the man who directed ‘The Help’. Yes, it is my loss. I accept that loss. I am sure Chadwick Boseman and the rest of the cast did an outstanding job. But, at some point, I have to register my disgust with the need for “Hollywood” to situate itself in the lives of Black Americans without giving a Black Director the opportunity to tell the story.

There is a lot to be said about James Brown. As with many a genius, particularly male, there is the upside to the breadth and depth in his musicianship. And, there is also a downside to his treatment of women. The many iterations of James Brown have graced all of our lives. If you are a human being on the planet and you have not heard James Brown, you are not listening to music. Granted, you could be listening to something but, it isn’t music.

Regular readers know, I am not known to sing the praises of any one unless they move me. I am critical to a fault. Like Kanye West’s brilliant song ‘Runaway’, “I’m so gifted at finding what I don’t like the most”, that’s me. But, I will say, I know Black filmmakers, some not-so talented, some talented and some talented as f**k who could smash a James Brown biopic.

Black Genius is real. Did you see the lines at Kara Walker’s ‘The Subtlety’? Where the Mammy Sphinx had her ass and p***y perched so that you could lick, smell or, as many did, deride it. The Mammy Sphinx was erected, in Brooklyn, during a hotbed of visual transition in the borough. Neighborhoods, formerly populated by Brown skin are now being overrun with White skin. Similar to one of the points Ms. Walker wanted to illustrate with her Mammy Sphinx, American sugar went through a refining process to turn sugar from its natural state of brown to white. Seemingly, a very complicated process. Imagine the conversations that arose around turning the sugar from brown to white. As Kara Walker states in her New York Times interview: “…it takes a lot of energy to turn brown things into white things. A lot of pressure…”  

Now, I am not claiming that “Hollywood” is interested in turning brown things to white. However, I do believe that “Hollywood” would like to make images that are digestible for a larger audience. The Director who can deliver the broadest brush strokes gets the gig. The Director who is able to distill images to their least effective state- takes the reigns. One can know a Director based on their aesthetic, how they deliver a movie to you. Similar to painters, if placed in a room with a painting by Picasso or Basquiat, one could tell the difference. Similarly, with Spielberg or Scorsese or Lee or Malick, we can know the filmmaker by the atmosphere, the visual, the music, these Directors have a very specific thumbprint. This is why we love them.

Unfortunately, as “Hollywood” drifts more toward a business model and less toward an artistic model, the thumbprint, the special vision offered by Directors that we love, and that we love to discover, are falling by the wayside. Watching trailer previews is like watching a string of films by one bland Director. The stories are trite, deliver tropes, laugh cues, explosions, a common and unsophisticated language to satisfy an audience member, whether they live in Idaho or Baltimore. Movies are becoming two hours of redundant, uncomplicated, poorly-scripted, box office whores. What my nieces understand cinema to be, is way different than what I understand cinema to be.

Cinema was an experience. It was an experience that welcomed you into the lives of others. It was an experience that introduced you to foreign lands or to your neighbors or to ideas and themes that encouraged you to challenge who you are and what your place is in the culture. Today, movies are marketed and sold to you before you purchase a ticket. The specific vision of the Director, the unique way that the Director sees the world, is no longer important.

And, “Independent”cinema is not off of the hook. Sundance mastered the “dysfunctional family” aesthetic. White film after White film fought to deliver the most dysfunctional and least ideas laden film possible. Films used to transport us with visuals, with words, with ideas. “Rachel Getting Married”, for me, was one film, in a number of films, that paraded White dysfunction with some Blackness thrown in for spice. I soon lost interest in American independent cinema. There was a lack of diversity in vision, in aesthetic, in themes. I turn to cinema from Africa, or Europe or Asia to sate my film cravings.

Which brings me to James Brown. The trailer for James Brown delivered a series of tropes. Tropes that are supposed to relay that this is Blackness, that this is going to give you what you expect- a soulful, tearful, good time. I got it. I don’t need to see more. I have a collection of James Brown’s music. There are few things that will deliver the genius, funk menagerie that was James Brown. Trust me, someone who could construct ‘The Help’ does not have the gravitas to handle the life of James Brown. Certainly, he may deliver the trappings but the spirit of James Brown… nope.

When asked to Direct ‘Beloved’, Jane Campion said that she didn’t know enough about Black culture, about the life of “Beloved” to take the reigns. I respect that. And, I’m hoping, in these years, Jane Campion has caught up on Black culture as I would love to see her direct a diverse cast. But, I respect her reluctance. She articulated something very important. She let us know that there is more to filmmaking than one’s ability to toss images on a screen. A life has to inform the work. One has to be connected to the experience of the subject. Directing is about distilling the content and delivering the heart of the subject to an audience. Unfortunately, the desire to do that is fading.

This is not about turning Black people White. Hollywood gentrification is about making everything look, taste, sound and feel the same. My Brooklyn neighborhood, once lovely and unique because of all of the differing personalities and cultures, is soon becoming something that I’ve seen before. It has less funk. There are bicycle racks, and couples with strollers, hipsters jogging in beards and sunglasses. It’s going from Brown to White right before my eyes. There is always some good in that. More resources pour in, better products but, the soul, the spirit of the neighborhood is gone. My neighborhood has been refined. I refuse to buy a ticket to the refining of James Brown.

Follow Tanya Steele on Twitter at @digtanya. Or on facebook at Or visit

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White people cannot make movies about Black people. PERIOD.

When I was in grade school, I constantly got in trouble with White Teachers. Whenever I had a Black teacher, I never got in trouble.



The black teachers understood me. The White teachers found behavior issues. The difference is CULTURE. Besides, I found the white Teachers to be DRY/DULL/DEPRESSED/BORING AND UN-ALIVE.

Just like James Brown, Black people are MORE ALIVE than white people.

That is truth. Accept it. Move on. STOP dulling our movies. this movie was Garbage, except for Chadwick.


This reads as more of a stronger rebuke of bland filmmaking than anything. Would we be more accepting of this film if Scorsese had directed? We may wish to see what a Black director would have done, but I also would have loved to see what anyone else would have done with the Star Wars prequels.
Hollywood is so proud they are making The Help while ignoring the fact they aren't putting top talent in the directors chair Black or White.
It reminds me of the Seinfeld episode when his dentist converted to Judaism.
"He converted for the jokes."
"Are you offended as a Jew?"
"No. I'm offended as a comedian!"

Side note, while I still love the fact that Mr. Lee fought to get Malcolm X and it was the absolute right decision, I can no longer support him in anything. His refusal to stand up on behalf of another artist, Juan Luis Garcia, when agents acting in the name of his film, Oldboy, refused to pay Mr. Garcia for his graphic design work was and remains shameful. Mr. Lee wasn't directly involved in the rip off, but he refused to get involved when people working for the studio and production company were working in his name on his project. For a man who has made a name for himself by calling upon the industry to respect and defend his rights, for him to refuse to do the same for others is a foul hypocrisy in deed.

Eric LaPierre

Get over yourself you racist boog… What difference does it make if he is not white? How did Spielberg direct Saving Private Ryan? He wasn't in WW 2. Im sick of scumbag blacks like you, the most hateful, prejudice race on the planet.. You cry about everything, why blacks are not portrayed the way you want, why are there no blacks in this or in that. SHUT UP!!! No one cares. You want to portray blacks a certain way? MAKE A F*KKING MOVIE. You want to know why a white man is directing this movie? Because black directors SUCK..

I cant take it anymore, what blacks say whites don't understand or cant do, or how its white peoples fault for this or that… What the hell would you or any other black person possibly know about James Brown that a white person would not… Are you James Brown? Did you know James Brown? NO!!! You don't know SH!T your just another racist black crybaby…

Your argument is racist its sickening…. You wanna know why racism will never end? I will tell you. Because the most racist group of people in his country are the same ones who cry about all the racism they face, and racism is the reason for all their sorrows..


Tanya has not seen the film, read the script or know anything about its development. What do they call it when you prejudge that which you haven't experienced? There's a word for that? Help me out, somebody. Pre…natal…prejudicious………pre infantile……I give up.


The reviewer hasn't seen the film. He has as much credibility as book burners who haven't read the book. I could care less what color the director is. It has to do with whether the director does his homework. Tanya knows nothing about the development of this story, who and how the adaptation was made or the director's involvement in the development. She hasn't even read the script – to see if it requires the special magic a black director could impart upon it – like that wonderful rendition Tyler Perry made of "Colored Girls…". Is this this a personal rant disguised as journalism?

Should Woody Allen only make films on Upper West Side Jews? Should "Training Day" have been co-directed by a white director to get more depth from Ethan Hawke? Should Thandie Newton only be directed by mixed directors? And Kung Fu films should be off limits to anyone but Chinese, right?

Stop the victim thing and see the movie. Otherwise, your judgement is no better than judging one's character by the color of their skin.


1) the screenwriter for Rachel Getting Married is Black
2) Get On Up did feel like a TV movie with obvious cinematic techniques that were a little cringeworthy, but Boseman deserves all of the praise in the world for elevating it with inspired choices almost every moment he was onscreen.

johnny mack

This movie was not good. Terrible! No story, just a gang of scenes that was put together. I agree, why so many white directors, writers and directors doing all the Black movies. Do Blacks get to do the white movies? NO


Tanya, based on the comment this is a done deal.

Most whites will never–or refuse to–get it. It's not really their "fault" but to believe a team of white guys can capture the spirit of James brown and what he meant to the black community, is as shortsighted as one believing said white guys could embody the spirit of Gill Scott Heron… and his significance to the black consciousness; rappers, artists and the black community at large.

Point being, how could they? Granted, they can make a film, get financing and throw any ol' thang up on the screen, but true heartfelt wisdom comes via an experience. THEY… have not walked a mile, a block, nor an inch in our shoes. I forgive them but…



And now that the writer has gotten some black people hot and bothered by her article, what is she (and the other angry black folk) going to do about it? Not a damn thing!!!!!!!!!! Its amazing how some black people are always looking for an opportunity to be messy…always looking for an opportunity to be divisive…always so critical. EVERYTIME a movie comes out featuring a predominately black cast, OR a black writer/producer/director, there is ALWAYS a lot of criticism!!! Yet, they have NO problem, none whatsoever, in supporting the number of reality shows on t.v. (the casts and their brands, the writers/directors/producers, etc.) which portray black people in a negative light!

I was not bothered by the movie "Get On Up" at all (and I did not have a problem with the movie The Help either). I read the biography "The One" (very good book) about the life of James Brown in anticipation of the movie. I have learned a long time ago that writers/directors often take some creative liberties in making movies based on someone’s life, whether the individual is black or white!!!!!!!! This is NOT unusual!!!!!!!! I NEVER expect to get the ENTIRE story of someone's life in a movie that is 1 1/2 – 2 hours long, which is why I try to do my own research on the person, especially if the movie is based on a true story, autobiography/biography, etc.

I am SO sick and tired of black people who go to see a movie and expect to be fed EVERYTHING about a person's life in such a short amount of time just because they paid a few dollars to see a movie!!!!!!!!! James Brown would not have been able to tell his ENTIRE life story to someone in 1 1/2 – 2 hours, so why in the world should a movie goer expect a writer/director (white OR black) to do so!!!!!

There is SO, SO much that goes on behind the scenes when making a movie, especially when it is based on someone's life, particularly someone with a musical career!!!!!!!!!!!!!! A lot of movies about people, particularly singers (black or white), have yet to be made for a variety of reasons!!!!!!!!!! It is not always racial! One reason may be that those individuals involved in making the movie may have a difficult time getting clearance to use a singer's/artist's music!!!!!!!!! While I know that there has been talk over the years of a movie being made about the life of a few different singers (now deceased), the movies have yet to be made for this very reason!!!!!! Without the music, there is no movie!!!!!!!! But the music is just one aspect, there is SO much more involved in making a movie, unfortunately a lot of the people who are criticizing this movie (and others) do not even have a clue!!!!!!!!!!!!

I enjoying attending the movies and do so on a regular basis, and I do not limit my experience to only those films with a predominately black cast/writer/director/producer/etc. I choose movies that are of interest to me. I must say that I had no idea WHO wrote/produced/directed the movie “Get On Up” prior to seeing it. I supported the movie because I can appreciate Mr. Brown's life…his contribution to music, and to society, despite his personal challenges. I also wanted to support the talented actors and actresses (many of them black) who were outstanding in their performances!

I really wish that those who do not like what they see on the big screen would write, direct, produce, finance their own movies (then they can tell the stories they want to tell them, how they want to tell them) instead of criticizing what other writers/directors/producers are doing!!!!


This is click-bait. You know how much nonsense Black people watch? You know how much money they take out of the business by buying bootleg? I have this argument with my cousins every time a film featuring us in some way (whether in front or behind the camera) comes out. I tell them go see it first weekend–your money means something to everyone Black who is involved in it. And then they counter with it's corny, or I'll buy it bootleg, or wait till Netflix.

But everyone of those Negroes went to see the X-men movie first weekend AND the new Transformers movie first weekend. Last weekend they went to see Guardians of the Galaxy. (Well I guess Zoe's in that, but she's a Latina and too skinny for them to think of her as Black).

So we're not supposed to see movies about us if they are made by white people, but it's ok to put our money into white projects?

You're just hurting Black actors and actresses by not going to see this movie: whitey isn't feeling any pain at'all.

I don't know, I'd rather do like Shonda R. Really, I just see her working her ass off, not crying.


I bet Martin Scorsese couldn't articulate a woman's story in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore.

Sir Farts A Lot

So I must be very stupid, but I'm incredibly confused.

Indiewire has an article decrying Woody Allen for not-casting black actors unless, you know, the character in his film is black.

Indiewire has another article decrying a white director making a "black" movie. And also lamenting the death of non-homogenized studio films.

So, which is it? How can Woody be expected to make a movie with black people in it? Should he hire a black director to direct the proposed black actors in his films?


I thought this article by James Brown's son might be of interest. Since this site won't allow for links, just google detroit news. James Brown's son pens revealing memoir. The published date is 8/5/2014 and the author of the piece is Susan Whitall.

The piece includes bits like: "The Rev. Al Sharpton, who knew James Brown for years, was at the family’s side and spoke at the public funeral in New York, but Daryl says as soon as he heard he wasn’t in the singer’s will, “he lost all interest.”


James Brown did alot for the black community considering his upbringining he could give jay z a word of advice (if he was still alive lol!)
black people will continue to whine and complain about these "white movies" with black lead actors in it but the reality is theres nothing you can do about it other than just boycotting these movies
Black people dont OWN their culture they never did -culture is something you make, own control and distrubute yes we make it but we dont own it or control it and until we do this will continue to happen.


I need to make a comment about this! No, not about the movie or even the commentary. About the COMMENTS. I've seen comment after comment saying 'well, why didn't a black director make this movie/come up with a treatment/etc….you're just mad because somebody beat you to it…get off your lazy ass and make your own James Brown biopic…

Filmmaking works nothing like the fairytale some of you guys think it does. I'm sure there were quite a few treatments, screenplays and pitches made by directors and writers of all different races and cultures. You can't make a multimillion dollar movie simply because you want to. You have to get financiers and producers and studios to sign the check. Even if you pay to produce the movie yourself you still have to convince a distributor to pay millions of dollars to market it and put it out into theaters. A producer puts together a package (the actors, the director, the behind the camera talent, etc.) and the studios/financiers decide if the package is viable and then fund the film from there.

So if the financier reads a treatment or script about something THEY don't feel will be marketable or that is foreign to their sensibilities, no checks get written and no movie gets made. That's that. The end.

So stop saying 'you could have just up and made your OWN damn movie'. The costumes on this film alone probably ran in the high six figures to low seven. Extras, MUSIC LICENSING, locations, etc. you can't make a movie with the breadth of James Brown's life on a $25,000 to $2 million budget. Spike wanted to make this movie. At least one other writer I know of wrote something on James Brown life. THIS is the movie the money people decided to back.

And I haven't seen it. So I can't judge. But from the trailers it didn't move me to want to see it but that's just me. Now if someone did have a smaller budget and wanted to make an alternative biopic of his life that goes in a different direction (ala Don Cheadle and the Miles movie) it'll appeal more to me. But I'm sure my momma, auntie, neighbors and most other moviegoers in America want to see this version. The one with the glitter and 'poppy-ness'.

But please…stop calling black filmmakers lazy and stupid. It's just inaccurate.

Ginger Fires


Totally. When I saw that movie I was like, "omg, this is my white, life experience before my eyes… this is my whiteness."

LOL!!!! not

How DARE this author try to combined a non-review of a movie about a celebrated musician to a movie about a dysfunction white family!!!! THEY AREN'T EVEN REMOTELY COMPARABLE!!!

This author is as intelligent as Jan Brewer or Sarah Palin. They do little research – they speak their mind without thinking – they belittle massive groups of people and dimmish their accomplishments.

Maybe Tanya Steele is Republican. I don't know.

ginger fires

I'm white.

I wish I was a big Hollywood director.

If I was, I would have cast KEVIN HART.

But before I did a movie on James Brown, I would have done a movie on James Baldwin, Donna Summer and Grace Jones.

So, I guess in my imaginary world, this films would never see the light of day because Tanya Steele thinks they should all be directed by a black guy.

Well… maybe I'd have a chance on Mariah Carey since she's biracial. But I don't want to do a movie about her.

Oh well. My rant is over.

ginger fires

Plus, what film ignorance you've shown.


There is also:
make up
and all of them have assistants… I could go on for DAYSSSSSSSSS

All of them are key. ALL.

The director is more of the task master.

So, should EVERY role in the movie be black? Should black make up artists ONLY work on black actors?

You're article is ridiculous, lazy and selfish.

If John Singleton ends up directing a movie about Miley Cyrus, I'll never question "does he understand white people".

Man… what a way of putting black people down without you realizing you've just dissed million of black americans who's acting jobs were at the hands of non-white people hiring them, but you won't see them unless it's all black.

You're dumb. Sorry to be so rude, but you're dumb.

Ginger Fires

OMG… this piece is sad, sad, sad, sad SAD!!!

First: where is your RESEARCH?

Was this film offered to black directors? Why was this film even green lighted?

Second: You're DIMINISHING the roles of black americas by saying there MUST be a quota on who can hire BLACK.

I'm sorry, just because someone is black does not mean you understand the life and world of James Brown. You're RELEGATING JAMES BROWN TO A SKIN COLOR.

You know, MADONNA can probably identify with James Brown on more life experiences that a black author. Both have sold out concerts, both have cross racial divides, both understand the process of creating music.

It's strange, because what you're asking for is some kind of hand out?

Do I think Spike Lee would have been a better director? Possibly. Or Lee Daniels, personally that would have been my choice.

But you fail to have done any research as to why who got picked for what.

Look, I am ALL ABOUT more black directors… women directors… asian american directors… indian directors…

But is someone was gonna do a movie about my lilly white ass I don't care WHAT color the director was!!!


How DEEP do you think the movie is REALLY going to get into his domestic abuse? REALLY???

If ONLY cinema were left to the right color directing the right color we would be nowhere as a people.

I get your point, but do some damn research first. Don't go off of whatever your GUT tells you.

This DIRECTOR might have a 5 picture deal where he got to pick what HE wanted to produce.

Wow… I can't stand ENTITLED RANTERS!!!

Dankwa Brooks | 'Nother Brother Entertainment

Excellent piece Tanya! As a filmmaker and born and raised Brooklynite (Bed-Stuy Do or Die!) I totally get what you’re saying. I’ve been studying film (on an academic and personal level) all my adult life and everything you say is true! More and more recently my interests in film have drifted to indie films. Working with two film festivals here in Maryland (Maryland Film Festival and WAMMFest: Women & Minorities in Media Festival) and seeing dozens upon dozens of indie films only heightened my interest in them. Indie film is THE ONLY films currently that are what film used to be–about something. I often quote my main man SPIKE LEE in regard to this “new era” in Hollywood. Spike said "Super Heroes, Comic Books, 3D Special EFX, Blowing up the Planet Nine Times and Fly through the Air while Transforming is not my Thang. To me it's not just that these Films are being made but it seems like these are the only films getting made. To The Studios it seems like every Film must be a Home run on a Global scale, a Tent Pole Enterprise, able to spin off Sequel after Sequel after Sequel after Sequel after Sequel after Sequel." and I have to wholeheartedly agree!

But to GET ON UP, I saw it and I enjoyed it! I’ve been called “a critic” and a “film snob” and I’m neither. I’m just a “Student of Cinema” and I enjoy ALL films. I can divorce myself, usually, from judging a film too harshly. Usually. I wrote a review and long commentary on THE HELP on the ‘NOTHER BROTHER ENTERTAINMENT blog because I really enjoyed the film. I totally get what people were saying about its sugar coating of the civil rights movement, but to me it was a freekin chick flick. And I don’t mean to make that as demeaning as it sounds. ‘The Help’ was about THE WOMEN and their relationships, not civil rights…not really. I felt GET ON UP was essentially the same thing only worse. LOL. I enjoyed the film, but I don’t think it was as good as ‘The Help’. Frankly I was surprised at how good ‘The Help’ was.

Let me also say that without Hollywood (and all the powers that be) we probably wouldn’t have gotten a James Brown film with you know JAMES BROWN MUSIC. Anyone can make a James Brown film, but what is that film without his music? Not much. YES he was more than his stage persona, but to make a film without his music is almost sacrilege.

Lastly, I’m also able to keep it real about Hollywood. I say all the time “As much as WE want to see our images on the big screen, so do THEY and THEY control all the studios, distribution etc.”. WTF am I going to cry about? Being portrayed in film is just like anything else for black folk in this world–A STRUGGLE and if the film looks entertaining I’m going to see it. Concurrently I’ll do everything in my own way to propagate indie film, black film, and African Americans in front of and behind the camera and people who know me know this to be true.

I totally respect your feelings on this Tanya. Totally. #NowFollowing on Twitter. Just likethat. I mean come on. It’s Brooklyn.

Up In The Balcony

Free Lawn Jockey? FREE Confederate flags? Free NRA memberships?

The two old mangy muppets up in the balcony are at it again. This time, Black Statler and his disagreeable friend, Black Waldorf, are trying to understand the influx of white folks at a neighborhood zoned for "Cinema Of The African Diaspora".

Statler: I don't know Wald, its gotta be something other than Robert E. Lee memorable that's driving these white folks back into our neighborhood?

Waldorf: So they're not trying to rehash the Good Ol' Days?

Statler: Nah, I've crossed that off the list.

Waldorf: …and they've not returned to join in the jubilation?

Statler: Of course not. And they wasn't here when we were giving praise to the accomplishments of black actors, black directors and such. So what's really goin' on?


Statler: Well I'll be goddamn… now you're talkin'. When Tanya Steele blew the whistle on they ass, here they come a runnin'… with hatred and egg on their face. And black pride offends them.

Waldorf: Yep, but do you think they'll take over Shadow and Act?

Statler: Shiiiiiiit, is Seven up? I'm telling you, if we let them, they'll re-name this blog "Kudrow's and Mat's"

Waldorf: *LOL*… But Tanya ain't having that sh*t.

Statler: Hell no she ain't. Didn't you hear her and NETTIEB? Well, it's a black thang so check it out. They said they want the P-Funk, uncut funk, THE BOMB!

Waldorf: Oh Sh*t, that was my jam… "Make my funk the P-funk, I wants my funk uncut. Make my funk the P-FUNK, I wants to get funked up. WEFUNK y'all — P-funk, uncut funk, THE BOMB"

Statler (big smile): Yes sirrrrr… white folks don't know nothing about that. 1970's George Clinton and Parliament! If they got a toot of that, in due time they'd come up with some of that gentrification sh*t and… WHAM-BAM… Bill Clinton and The Five Horsemen singing "I Ain't Down With The P-Funk – but your money is fine with me.

Waldorf: *lol*… stop it man you're killing 'em. But what's Tanya's overall message?

Statler: Well, I think you should ask Tanya that question.

Waldorf: I'm scarred of her.

Statler: Don't be silly… she's cool people.

Waldorf: Yeah… I hear you but why should she talk to a mangy gap mouth muppet like me?

Statler: Come on man, stand up like a man… there's no crying in Shadow and Act. Just politely ask the woman if she has any parting words of wisdom. Heck, Andre Seewood, Tracee Loran and Reggie Rock Bythewood have all chopped it up with us, so…

Waldorf: Yeah… okay… I get it… "Hey Tanya, would you cared to put a cherry on top of your cake? Advice? Wisdom? Solutions?"

S.K. Abaka

My sentiments exactly, Ms. Steele.

Brian Pace

Your comments have no substance! When YOU the writer begin creating and directing YOUR own films on the the Black experience, then you can make comments on how you're not going to support a film like "Get On Up!" I'm tired of black folks and other minorities complain about how OUR voice isn't being heard and yet it's the same ones like yourself that talk about what they like to see and ain't doing shit about it. Yes, I believe that Tyler Perry's movies are garbage, but he's out there making a difference in providing Black films and television shows via his production company. Please do me a favor, instead of writing stupid and pointless comments that you've posted, go out and write and try to direct YOUR version of James Brown's story! Just something to think about!

A. Brannon

You know, I am sick and tired of black folks coming out of the woodwork whenever a black-themed movie is made where white people had a hand in helping bring to the screen. The criticism of these people, who have not even seen the film, is tiring and comes across as all out hating. They want to be mad because there wasn't a black writer, producer or director. Well, tell me this: What was Tyler Perry doing when the idea of a film about James Brown was proposed? Somewhere wearing a dress. Where was Spike Lee? Sitting on the sidelines at Knick games and criticizing other people's films. What about Oprah? I guess she wasn't interested enough.

James Brown died in 2006. There was ample time between then and now for any black director, producer or writer to come up with some kind of treatment to present about James' life. But they didn't. They didn't do it because THEY DIDN'T WANT TO. PERIOD. Then people like this author wants to get all pissy because white folks beat us to it, talking about how this is our story, blah blah blah. So if it's our story, then why didn't any of us want to tell it, until now?

Folks forget that ROOTS was written almost entirely by white people, but you don't hear black folks saying that they refuse to watch it. Bottom line, if you don't want to see the movie, then DON'T SEE IT. It'll still be a hit anyway.

Ojie Imoloame

I understand her or his opinions. I humbly disagree.

1. So… is one meant to get a job because he is black or because he is good for the job?
2. If you are going to diss the James Brown film, at least have an informed opinion of it, rather that limit all your opinions to a trailer.
3. The Help like it or not made Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis into house-hold names. The amount of opportunities, they have received thus far, probably wont have happened had they not had the immense exposure they did from ' The Help'. Whilst I am not limiting their acting talents, I am saying that people became aware of their talents from 'The Help'.
4. It is called ' Show BUSINESS'. It is not ' Show ARTFORM FOR CINEMATIC ESCAPE'. Movies are meant to make money. If they do not make money, there will be no Hollywood. Simple! These films sustain many a persons lives. Not everyone in the town is an actor. Some actually have proper business like careers and these films need to make money to sustain the business.
5. If you are so upset, then.. My advise is for you to make your own film for us to see.

Dose Clemente

This movie was very very good !

The Old Boy remake is terrible .

The frustration is real !

The bigger focus should be on the main performance because its awesome .


White writers writing about a Politically Charged Blackman – In the 1960's! You know they left out the SOUL in James Brown's music. You Know they left out the Black Culture in his music and you Definately know these writers KNOW NOTHING about being Black in the turbulent 60's. I wouldn't breathe near a movie about a Black person written or directed by a White person.


White people should stick to being plain. While we beautiful Black people continue to create and be. Otherwise, we get JUNK like this watered down to delude the upcoming generations. The message in James Brown's music was BLACK POWER.

And it is this, White Folks wants to White Wash.

Know your demons.


I just saw the film tonight and the performances were amazing. The reviewer is correct – Boseman performance is worthy of an Oscar nomination. The actual story of the film is another thing all together. My biggest problem – the script tries to be a montage of his life but it fails because it never really reveals the impact Brown had on music in general and the civil rights movement in particular. Having grown up with his music, when "Say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud" came out, cities all over the country were shouting that song everywhere raising the stakes for social change in the black community. It was a political message introduced by Brown either cynically or deliberately but he was soon seen as more than just an entertainer. The film felt like a chamber story interspersed with live performances, flashbacks inside of flashbacks, story threads that go nowhere, characters introduced then dropped at random. It's a mess of a narrative and the director wasn't sharp enough to know what he didn't know. In the end you're left without feeling any emotion at all. I hope people see it for Boseman and Ellis' work but maybe it's time to stop doing biopics because lives are messy and big and ultimately hard to call cinema.

Wise Woman

George C. Wolfe is black. And so was Lloyd Richards. If you're going to comment on someone's post, do your homework first! The point is that black directors haven't distinguished themselves in Hollywood the way they have in the theater community. George C. Wolfe has a film project he's working on, so maybe he can show the whiners how to make a good movie.

Miles Ellison

There is certainly more to good film making than just tossing images on a screen. The problem is that audiences define this as good film making. Especially when an icon is the hook. These days, that's enough. When people accept hack-level film making, that's just what they'll get.


Let's be real this article really does nothing but get black folks mad about Hollywood racism, it's not constructive because you really think Hollywood give a damn about this article with their billions of dollars in the bank. They sitting back laughing saying watch us do it again and all you going to do is run your mouth about it and then shut up for a little awhile until we exploit black culture again and then just talk again, ha ha. The focus needs to be on black investment and not inclusion to the Hollywood country club that don't want you there in the first place. This film don't bother me one bit because I'm focusing on supporting us and encouraging black filmmakers to tell our stories by any means necessary. News flash Hollywood has always gentrified black films, this is nothing new. Everybody that is commenting on this article I challenge to spend at least a $100 by the end of the year on black films that don't play ball, this changes things using your buying power to affect change.

Kamala Jones

So, what are we going to do about this? Conscious Black folks know what the deal is. But, we're seemingly too caught in Jesse Jackson's words "paralysis of analysis." Lets make our own shit. Point. Blank. Period. Black folks can make their own James Brown film with or without the Brown family's permission. What's stopping us? We can cobble some money together.


Ditto. I am in full agreement and I will not see the film. I also did not see "The Help." I want my funk UNCUT.


A very well written article. And there will be a bunch of Black people who don't consider your points, and will see this flick because they want to hear JB's music and eat popcorn. Like they can't just stay home and watch him on youtube for free.


You guys…there are PLENTY of established seasoned distinguished black directors who could have directed this film but few to none of them have been nominated or won an Academy Award. Many directors in this business are doing episodic TV or have only been hired to do chitlin' level feature films and you've never heard of them. The other name brands: Spike, The Hughes', Tim Story, Singleton, F. Gary, Malcolm Lee, were more than likely never even considered cause this was a big studio deal w/ major producers attached. What's sad is that Tanya doesn't know who the directors are and neither do most of you reading this article. What's sad is that black directors, writers and producers are only sought after for black films for black audiences. But for crossover artists they seek white creatives because they want to tell THEIR version of the story. (see Ray…white director, writer and producers). Which is often one dimensional and leaves out any anger or frustration the real person had w/ race relations. The upcoming Straight Outta Compton NWA biopic, while produced by Ice Cube, was written by a VERY white, white guy. I mean WHIIIIITE. And he has no relationship to gangsta rap other than he thought it would be a cool story to tell/sell and get paid on. At the same time, black creatives can't go so black on the story and details that we lose the oppty to tell our story in a way that white audiences can be entertained too. Because I want THEIR money as well as ours. It's the one color that everyone sees equally.


Being black doesn't mean that a writer/director/producer possesses the artistic ability and the desire to craft a no-holds-barred portrayal of a black historical icon. Anyone can learn black history, but integrity and passion are things you either have or you don't. There are many situations where whites demonstrate a more sincere interest than we do in black history. Our youth are too busy running the streets killing each other to think about the potential gains from us coming together like in the era of the civil rights movement. We need to take an inward look and think about how we hurt each other before we point blame at the white man.


Tanya Steele you make great points and I agree with you, when they took Spike Lee off the project and gave it to the director of the help, I know I wasn't going to see it, that was a slap in the face to black culture, but one thing I think needs to be put on the table is our responsibility in allowing this stuff. We are so fast to give away our culture to anybody to exploit. If we were so concern about a black director why not raise the money ourselves and the black audience get behind it. This would have been great film for Spike Lee to go to kickstarter to raise money for. It would have made us put up or shut up if this was that important to us, Tanya Steele you should do a part 2 about this and talk about in-depth why we are so eager to give our culture away and why don't we make investments in our own stories, on the other end of the investment end, you going to tell me it's not enough rich black people in entertainment and the business world to raise the capital to make a James Brown bio pic. I said it before let Hollywood be who they are and let's worry about the things we need to do to tell our stories and get them out there.

Wise Woman

The weakness of Tanya's argument is that she can't name one black director who could have done a better job. Therein les the problem. Blacks have not distinguished themselves as directors in Hollywood as they have in the theater/stage community. There are no equivalent directors to George C.Wolfe or the Lloyd Richards.

Eric D

Of course one of our many talented black directors should have been hired to helm this project instead of Taylor. But your article also fails to mention that there was not a single black producer or screenwriter involved in creating this film either. In the feature world all we tend to focus on is the Director, while it is rarely mentioned that there is rarely any diversity with the other above-the-line creatives who could help lend authenticity to the story telling. If your issue is exclusively with 'black' films with non-black directors, then your boycott should have also included films like "42", "Django Unchained", "Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom", "Ray", "Ali", "What's Love Got To Do With It","Glory", "The Color Purple", "A Soldier's Story", etc., etc. However, I would argue that the bigger injustice is the lack of black screenwriters being considered for 'black' projects regardless if the Director is white or black. This omission would also include recent films like "Think Like A Man 1&2", "Ride Along", "About Last Night", the upcoming "Annie" remake, and unfortunately several others in the pipeline. It's almost shameful how little attention is paid to who is actually hired to write 'our' stories.

Dave's Deluxe

"…It has less funk. There are bicycle racks, and couples with strollers, hipsters jogging in beards and sunglasses. It’s going from Brown to White right before my eyes…"

So, Tanya Steele, black folks don't ride bicycles, or care about proper storage for said bicycles, or wear beards and jog?

I will end my complaints right there. Tanya Steele, your rage is puerile and unfocused.

Michael Dean

Why/ How is Tyler Perry making movies on his own but Spike, Singleton can't? All I hear is "they" or "wouldnt let us". Do black people not have access to money, the internet? Ain't nothing stopping "black directors/producers" from making movies about OUR Black Icons. If you come to the estate with the best offer then u win. James Brown family co-signed this movie, so that good enuff for me. Cats will rush to watch some MARVEL movie that dont even care for blacks but let a "black movie" made by "Hollywood" come out, then it's tear down this film time?


"you could be listening to something, but it's not music." lol You got that right!

P. Dean

Also…. NO AFRICAN AMERICAN WRITER…telling RAY CHARLES, JAMES BROWN, WHITNEY HOUSTON movie on lifetime…. COME ONNNNN!!!! We MUST make hollywood accountable. Hollywood only feels comfortable green lighting FIMS and TELEVISION ABOUT AFRICAN AMERICANS or AFRICAN AMERICAN families if they are written and or directed by WHITE FILMMAKERS…THEY DON"T TRUST US TELLING OUR OWN STORIES. …They will throw a black producer on board to make it feel legit….but usually they are a token.. It's sad and the general public has no idea…we are hungry for black content.


I would love to read an article that talks about black people destroying anything positive in our culture by repeatedly showing through music and film and YouTube videos that we are all basically the same characters. I don't care what color a director is, can I see a movie where a black person is raised in a stable environment and grows up to become an educated professional, because some of us did that and I still don't see us portrayed that way. We are stuck in two modes: Good Times/Fresh Prince of Bel Air- apparently that's all we get to be in Hollywood, in music, social media-

Michael Chase Walker

Thanks Tanya, for this impassioned and well-reasoned plea. Year ago, producer friends of mine were putting together a Broadway musical of Martin Luther King and had signed Frank Wildhorn ( Jekyll and Hyde, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and Dracula) to compose the music. I was dumbfounded when I heard it and immediately charged them with having lost their minds. That was twenty-odd years ago when you could culturally get away with that sort of nonsense. Thankfully, the project never got off the ground, but you would think that sort of cultural insensitivity and malfeasance was a thing of the past. Unfortunately, and apparently, it isn't.

Masha Dowell

How can you write about a film that you haven't screened?


Well said and well written Tanya. I 'm glad you shared what the minority of us who are looked down on because we speak with our finances and lack thereof to promote a film that doesn't give true homage or respect to a man who was a central force in during the civil rights movement and black pride discovery movement great performances or not!


"I refuse to see a film on the life of James Brown that is directed by the man who directed ‘The Help’."

Ditto. Thank you for this insightful piece.

Tate Taylor is the same director who claimed that “The scene where Viola Davis is sitting on a toilet in a garage in 108 degrees, and then a white woman comes out and tells her to hurry up was visually brutal. To me that’s worse than seeing a lynching. It just is.”

My link won't post here, but the Grio article is titled "Director: People are too critical of this film" from August 15, 2011 and it can be googled. The interviewer/journalist was Chris Witherspoon.

So while I'm happy for Chadwick's accolades, there's just too much Tate Taylor did and said during the making of The Help that makes me hesitant about seeing this bio on James Brown.
In addition, I had the pleasure of seeing the real James Brown in his heyday, so I'm content with that.


Also, when has there ever been "BLACK FILM?

There was never a time in U.S. history where Black folks had any control over the creation or large-scale development of narrative projects based around their own images, only moments in which the mainstream became interested in Black people.

We were the flavor of the week, and we're just annoyed that there is no longer any real interest in that flavor. But what are any of us actually doing to change that? Or can we even change the situation, at all? I doubt that we can.

I'm just surprised that people are so astonished by the fact that so few Black people seem to have a seat at the table in ways that matter (executive positions, producing positions, writing, directing positions, etc.). It's been this way for a while, White people are just taking back an industry that never belonged to us.

Mr. Marin

I feel so sorry for people with the argument that we should be content with a Black icons life story being on the big screen. Basically saying "ah, who cares how it's portrayed… at least it's there!". Black folks nowadays have no type of dignity. The white washing of Brown's story and the directors continued hesitancy to get his hands dirty telling a more realistic story and detailing the racism of the time is exactly why I'm holding out and waiting for a leaked DVD screener. Ha! We have to tell our own stories because as Black men and women, we don't need the research to capture what it is to be Black or even understand our story period. I am all for the article written by my fellow Brooklynite.


Same old argument, every year. Nothing will change with continued complaining like this.

On the other hand, no one (with any actual money/power/influence) really cares about Non-White people being able to direct/write/produce or have regularly access to above-the-line positions or decision-making in Hollywood.

Although this is a trend that is clearly only going to getting worse, articles like this on Shadow & Act are not really helping to do anything but preach to the choir.

But I guess folks have to write about something.

Andre Seewood

"Hollywood gentrification is about making everything look, taste, sound and feel the same." My sentiments exactly. Unfortunately, I bought a ticket to see this film last weekend and I have been regreting it ever since. Just because Tate Taylor directed THE HELP did not mean that he had the necessary skills to direct a non-linear narrative film about The Godfather of Soul, James Brown. Chadwick Boseman's performance was terrific in spite of the uninspired screenplay, direction and editing. Hindsight being 20/20 it was clear while watching GET ON UP that Spike Lee was really the only Black director who could have given us the bio-pic of The Godfather of Soul that we wanted to see. (We can be read as The Black Community or just as fans of James Brown's music). Although, I have not been a great supporter of Mr.Lee's work in recent years, a James Brown bio-pic would have benefited by having a strong theme concerning Brown's connection and impact in the Civil Rights movement and how the effects of racism produced his music; something that Spike Lee wouldn't have dared to leave out. Moreover, Brown's music has many coded messages which spoke directly to the Black community at the time that a director like Lee would have been able to exploit cinematically but unfortunately, Tate Taylor and his white screenwriters were not sensitive to these codes. For instance "I am a man" and "Its a man's world". Your essay Tanya has given us all something to seriously think about: It's not about turning Black people White, but it is about denying us the right to our souls as depicted on screen in de-politicized, by-the-numbers-bio-pics of controversial or iconic Black figures of our history, so that others can claim them as their own.


Very distatsteful article. Black people stop complaining and fighting a childish fight. Yes spike lee wanted to direct the film many yrs ago, for whatever reason it didn't happen are going to sit back and pout or be grateful people like executive producer mick jagger stepped up to the plate and got this movie made? The bottom line one of our icons has finally got a movie made about his life and i will say it was a damn good movie. The Help was a great movie as well, i'm race had nothing to do with hiring the same director, i think it was more they like the style he brought to The Help and wanted to same for Get on Up. Go out and support this film or you going to pout and go see Planet of the apes, Transformers,Guardians or the galaxy that also had no blacks involved in the creative pro ess.


I saw the movie and enjoyed it. I'm kind of done with the argument about Hollywood getting white people to do black films. My question is why didn't any number of black producers and/or directors do James Brown's story first? That's the real question. If we don't start respecting our history and telling our own stories, other folks will. And they'll tell it their way.


This is a temper tantrum posing as a critical essay.


Ditto to everything you just said sis. I'm sitting this one out as well. Totally respect what Jane Campion did!

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