african american filmmaker shukree hassan tilghman tries to cancel black history month in more than a month, a documentary that follows his campaign. it’s a bit of a misleading premise since in the beginning it’s not entirely convincing that tilghman is headstrong on the cause and throughout the film he learns things that i, and hopefully most people, already know.
it is nevertheless a sensational premise to base a documentary on. the film opens with 60 minutes’ interview with morgan freeman who speaks against a black history month, a tradition in february, the shortest (even during a leap year) and coldest month of the year. there’s a quick recap of tilghman’s personal history in the beginning explaining his change of heart about black history month. his parents were activists in the 70s. next thing you know, he puts on sandwich boards like john mcclane in die hard 3 trying to drum up signatures to cancel black history month. the words on the boards are probably different.
thankfully, the film abandons that simple premise. it’s more about tilghman’s personal journey in learning about the history of black history month. though he meets with various historians and academicians, there’s really not much in the way of mind-blowing or new information or viewpoints that i haven’t heard before. it’s an intriguing premise though, and tilghman skirts dangerously close to michael moore territory early on with re-creation and ambush scenes.
it’s telling that the most memorable scenes are not of tilghman himself but a teacher who manages to logically explains why there are no asian american or latin history month, or the junior high student wondering why she doesn’t learn about black history outside of february, or the confederate history celebrator explaining how the confederate flag doesn’t necessarily involve race.
i found myself agreeing with the woman who worries that canceling black history month would mean that there will be no black history at all. while it’s obvious to me that black history should be incorporated into ameriacn history in general, i am not confident enough to think that at this point in time, especially with the tedious republican debates, canceling black history month would automatically make it an ongoing recurring event.
tilghman manages to keep a light humorous tone throughout the movie. despite the moore tatics early on in the movie, no one in the movie appears to be the butt of the joke. he does undercut himself by showing clips of the daily show and the colbert report.
like the dead shark metaphor in annie hall, human history, like relationships, should constantly be moving (forward) to keep us evolving. the issue raised comes down to how one views life and progress, traditionalists vs. progressives, idealists vs. realists. is it worth the risk of losing what we have now to gain more?
black history month started out as black history week, to coincide with the birthdays of abraham lincoln and frederick douglass in 1926, while black history week evolved into black history month four decades later. while tilghman appreciates black history month as a kid, he doesn’t feel that changes seem to have stopped in the four decades since. it revolves around the same four figures year after year (rosa parks, martin luther king jr, harriet tubman, and douglass). it’s now viewed by some along the lines of oktoberfest, mardi gras, or halloween, with macy’s black history month, sponsored by nike or heineken or your local grocery stores. despite the yahoo/youtube inbred comments or however “post-racial” we are supposed to be with a black man as president, are we confident enough in humanity to cancel black history month to ensure that black history to be incorporated into american history? beware of anyone who provides a simple yes or no answer without any thoughts.
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