“I got a call from Mahershala Ali, a very, very respectful phone call, from him personally. He called me and my Uncle Maurice in which he apologized profusely if there had been any offense,” Edwin told Shadow and Act. “What he said was, ‘If I have offended you, I am so, so terribly sorry. I did the best I could with the material I had. I was not aware that there were close relatives with whom I could have consulted to add some nuance to the character.’” –from Mahershala Ali Apologized to His Green Book Character’s Family After Controversy by Hunter Harris
Mahershala Ali has apologized to the family of Don Shirley the musician he portrays in the new film Green Book. Shirley’s family, who were apparently left as unknown to the filmmakers/actors as was the reality of the man’s life, have said the film falsely depicts their relative by misrepresenting his pride in and awareness of self, his (lack of) friendship with Tony “Lip” Vallelonga played by Viggo Mortensen, and disrespects his stated request while alive that no such film be made. However, to an industry so essential to the management and reflection of public opinion such concerns are of necessity routinely ignored.
The Vernon Philosophy of Black Media Avoidance (VPBMA) is a semi-ironic homage to an old friend and an argument for a much needed political clarity around – and aggressive hostility toward – popular culture and mass media. Simply, many years ago a Black friend and co-worker, Vernon, said he would no longer go to any films which included Black actors. Initially, I thought this absurd or at least an over-corrective response to a clear, long-standing and well-documented problem of Black media portrayal. I only needed a few decades and the accumulation of massive student-loan debt to realize just how correct Vernon was/is.
For more substantive argument and documentation I welcome those interested to peruse my own lectures and presentations on the subject and our tremendous catalog of broadcasts, interviews and essays on the history and function of mass media in the U.S. For now, however, suffice it so say that, given the ideological and political function media play (none more significantly than here in the United States today) the VPBMA argues that Black people, any oppressed group, must refuse acceptance of any and all pop cultural or symbolically “positive” depictions. Said differently the VPBMA calls for an immaterial boycott of commercial pop cultural product as any seeming redeeming content either isn’t
The “boycott” is immaterial because the VPBMA is not a particular political call-to-action and is specific only to the arena of dominant idea formation, public opinion
A few morsels from the story of Ali’s apology are worthy of quick note and do help explain the VPBMA. Note first that Ali tells how he is limited by the material with which he is given to work and that he didn’t even know Shirley has
In life Shirley “flatly refused” to have his real story turned into that of another “Magic Negro” performance and denied the claim of any closeness to Vallelonga. But once dead and with his family kept far from the production Shirley can be resurrected as he was not. To serve what purpose? Is it perhaps another attempt to mollify a new generation of increasingly (and justifiably) angry Black people? We did just see the founders of Black Lives Matter “denounce” The Hate U Give as performing a similar movement-denying/diminishing function. Or is it just another cyclical attempt at redefining race-relations as being a matter of interpersonal experiences and not the result (at least in large part) of mass dissemination of structurally dependent myths?
It should also be noted that it wasn’t that long ago that actor Viggo Mortensen was being presented to us by an adoring White Left press as a forward-thinking “peace activist.” Once more the value of the VPBMA is demonstrated in its insistence that we reject overtures from
Like it or not, once seen participating in
More difficult is the VPBMA challenge to reject psychic overtures from commercial industrial product which claim to be uplifting history for the people (BTW, the only “For The People” we officially recognize here at
But the greatest challenge of the VPBMA is
Not sure? Don’t like the VPBMA or just don’t agree? No worries, here comes The Upside!