Lee Daniels’ “The Butler” is a box office hit for the second week in a row. I saw the film, and thought it exceedingly well done. High praise from me since, as a rule, I’m never first in line to see any film – or anything for that matter – where black people play a subservient role, no matter how dignified or substantiated such behavior may be.
Of course, Daniels has been doing the rounds promoting, and apparently he angered some black women with a comment he made during a recent interview with Larry King.
During the interview King brought up his sexuality – Daniels is gay – and he shared some childhood memories about wearing his mother’s pumps and getting punished for it. He also shared his belief that gay people are subject to more prejudice than black people are.
While doing research for his film “Precious,” Daniels visited a gay men’s health crisis center in New York. He said he was shocked to find the place was filled not with gay men but black women. “I thought I had walked into the welfare office,” he said.
OK, not cool. But having watched the video of the interview, I think he just made a bad joke, and it fell flat. To assume Daniels is dissing black women and to rush to be angry about it completely misses his point: Because of exceedingly strong pressure from family, friends, media, church and community, many gay black men are afraid to reveal their sexuality. As a result, they’re on the down low, engaging in risky behaviors, likely because they cannot be their true selves, and are infecting black women as a result.
Minorities are notorious for ignoring issues and focusing on pique over slights. “Well, he/she shouldn’t have said –!” is a popular refrain after some high-profile person expresses an opinion others disagree with. But guess what folks? This is America. Barring a few national security, treasonous type things, folks are allowed to say pretty much whatever they want.
Censorship, on the other hand, is frowned upon. Especially when willful ignorance is contributing to the degradation of an entire group of people, in this case, black women. What’s more important, bashing Daniels because he can’t tell a decent joke, or the fact that black women are sick and dying because of a community-wide system of intolerance, fear and denial?
Pick your battles, people.
This blog appeared in Diversity Executive magazine online.