A video produced by the charitable organization Mama Hope addresses a long-standing issue in the film and television industry: stereotypes — specifically stereotypes of African men.
The video shows four young men, all from Kenya, as they list the stereotypes of African men often seen in popular films and television shows. They all start, in unison, “To the Western world.”
Then, each says individually, “I am an African man.”
The video criticizes the potrayal in popular films of African men as machine-gun-toting-child-soldier-recruiting warlords to be defeated by yet another stereotype: “a brave Western protagonist.” The point is illustrated using a montage of footage from popular films, including the 2005 Nicholas Cage movie “Lord of War” and the 2006 film “Blood Diamond” for which Beninese-American actor Djimon Hounsou received a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination.
“We hate smiling; smiling is stupid,” deadpans one of the boys.
“Staying calm is stupid,” deadpans another.
“And one thing’s for sure, a day without war, is a day not worth living,” they say together.
The young men, identified in the video as Gabriel, Benard, Brian and Derrick are shown, at the end of the video, playing rugby and, yes, smiling.
“This video wasn't intended as a direct response to Kony 2012,” Rodgers wrote in an e-mail Friday, “but I believe a lot of the pickup is coming because people want to see different images of Africans and they are tired of the constant ‘warlord/victim’ stereotype.”
Rodgers went on to write that some have accused the organization of posing the boys for the video, dressing them up in “western clean clothes” and “[feeding] them lines.” Rodgers insists that’s not the case.
“These are 20-something guys in Africa who are tired of the stereotype and decided to speak out about it themselves.”
I also spoke with Mama Hope program manager Thomas Veazey Friday about the video and its reception.
“We want to re-imagine what it means to be an African man in the eyes of other people,” he said. “Obviously the response has been very diverse and incredible.”
Comments on YouTube have indeed been “diverse,” running the gamut from full-throated support of the message to dubious and outright racist. Veazy says some have requested that the group make videos that highlight stereotypes of other demographic groups.
Mama Hope’s operating budget is under $500,000, with the video appearing as part of the organization’s “Stop the Pity Unlock the Potential” campaign. Funds raised via the video will likely go to Tanzania in support of the St. Timothy School, according to Veazey. The video is tied to $50,000-in-50-days fundraising effort. Viewers who donate get to unlock the blooper reel. Veazey says that, if the organization reaches its goal, it will release the blooper reel to the public.
It will undoubtedly take more than a YouTube video to change dominant stereotypes in popular film and television. But what do you think: What will it take to change stereotypes in popular film and television? Is change even possible? Let us know in the comments.
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