Black Trauma Is Not Entertaining — So Why Does Hollywood Keep Asking Us To Watch It?

Photo: Amazon
Shahadi Wright in Them

Horror series "Them: Covenant" recently premiered on Amazon Prime to severe backlash.

Dedicated to exploring terror in the U.S., the first season of "Them" is set in the Jim Crow-era 1950s, centering around a Black family that moves from North Carolina to an all-white neighborhood in Los Angeles during a period of history known as The Great Migration.

The LA Times questioned if the show goes “too far" in its portrayal of racist violence.

“While much of the menace in 'Them' comes from things that go bump in the night," Greg Braxton writes, "the most shocking horror lies in its more realistic scenes of racist violence, which are arguably more disturbing than the vivid images in its recent predecessors...

"The mayhem gains momentum in the fifth episode, which depicts the murder of a Black infant while his mother is raped and continues in a later episode with the blinding of a Black couple with hot pokers, and a white mob then burning them to death."

Black trauma horror and Black horror are two very distinct genres of entertainment, and one is definitely worse than the other.

The shows creator, executive producer, and showrunner Little Marvin, offered his thoughts.

“Yes, there is a concern," he said, "but at the end of the day, I as an artist have to sit with myself and grapple with the authenticity of the show. If I can sleep at night knowing this entire enterprise has an authenticity and integrity to it, then I’m good.”

Personally, I haven’t seen any episodes of the series, and I honestly don’t plan to.

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Similar issues plagued "Queen & Slim," another film by one of Little Marvin's co-executive producers, Emmy winner Lena Waithe.

The film, which Waithe wrote and produced, is visually pleasing, with a refreshing cast of dark-skinned actors. The storyline is similar to the one portrayed in "Them."

And by the end of the film, the two Black main characters are murdered.

In an interview with Stephen Colbert in late 2019, right before "Queen & Slim" premiered, Waithe talked about the process of making the film.

"As an artist, I want to humanize Black people so much that maybe they'll stop killing us," she said.

I thought that statement was a powerful one, and Waithe has repeated it on multiple occasions in multiple interviews.

But her art doesn't always seem to reflect that call to action.

How can art humanize Black people if we repeatedly show Black bodies being brutalized?

If anything, doesn't that do the opposite desensitizing and normalizing Black trauma?

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It is extremely exhausting to be a Black consumer of Black trauma on a day-to-day basis.

Black people having to suffer through racially motivated violence in films for the sake of entertainment value is traumatic in itself.

Black trauma as entertainment creates a distorted perception.

We watch films and shows that depict Black bodies constantly being subjected to brutality, and then we switch to the real world, where the same thing is happening.

This is detrimental to Black mental health and the way society views us.

It seems as if Black trauma continues to be some kind of trend or a genre that many filmmakers readily capitalize on. Black struggles shouldn't have to be used as entertainment, and Black people shouldn't have to keep witnessing brutality against Black bodies, in real life or onscreen.

We've experienced enough Black pain and Black trauma already — enough to last for a lifetime.

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Movies like "12 Years A Slave," "The Hate U Give," and "Fruitvale Station" are well-made, powerful depictions of Black pain that offer an educational tool for white people trying to unlearn their own internalized racism, but at what point do we say "enough"?

At what point should Black filmmakers stop creating worlds of Black trauma?

Black people do more than just die.

We laugh. We fall in love. We go to school. We start families.

So why can’t that these other aspects of our lives be the focus of the entertainment made to tell our stories?

Black joy deserves to be shown, and it deserves to be felt.

Black pain is tiresome.

When Black people turn on our televisions or go sit in a movie theater, let us for once feel joy through our screens.

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Nia Tipton is a writer living in Chicago. She covers pop culture, social justice issues, and trending topics. Follow her on Instagram.