#InstantFamily, The Gay & Un-adoptable Black, & The Church
This time last week I was one day removed from returning from a Christian women’s leadership conference. It was in Las Vegas, Nevada and pastors’ wives, women’s ministry leaders, and other women in leadership roles attended the two-day conference. While it was refreshing to be among women of like-minds and same-struggles, it was also very white. Although 200+ churches were represented, and women had traveled from 9 different countries to attend, the majority remained dominant. You’ll see why that matters as you continue to read further.
The first night of the conference we had an after-conference activity. To our surprise, each attendee was given an opportunity to see an advanced screening of Instant Family, a movie about the high and lows of adoption, set to be released Nov. 16, 2018. Not only were the creators of the film going to be present to have an interactive feedback session after we watched the film, but Paramount paid for our concessions. Of course we were going to go so off to the theater we all went.
Two things must be stated before I get into the meat and potatoes of this write-up. After watching the trailer right before the end of day one of the conference, I was looking forward to the film. It was funny, light-hearted, and I had already mentally planned to make watching this movie a family date night. Secondly, because a “christian church and leadership organization” endorsed said film, my guard was down. What I did not expect was the next two hours of feeling embarrassed, belittled, angry, racially exhausted, and altogether disgusted by the once again so-called comical misrepresented narratives on the big screen in a room full of laughing Christian predominantly white women.
Within the first 15 minutes of the film we are introduced to the group of foster couples who were in the process of adopting. What was immediately apparent, especially as a married black woman, were the assigned roles of the black women and men in the film. There were 3 black men, two married to women of different non-black ethnicities, and the other black man was in a committed gay relationship. The two black women? One a social worker and the other, a non-noteworthy court official role that supervised a visitation.
What does that not so subliminal message say about how black families are portrayed? As a 37-year-old woman who has been married to the same black man for 18 years who is the father to all three of our children, it says that my family is the exception and not the rule. It says that black men and black women coexist best in the world when they are not married. Watching between the lines also shed a not so attractive light on the fact that the numbers of black families active in adoption are dismal without paying any regard to the fact that history will show systemic prejudicial cause toward that end almost leaving African-Americans no other option but to rely “instead on traditions of informal adoption to take care of their own.”
Returning back to the film, in the same scene in which we are introduced to these hopeful fostering couples, we are given a glimpse into what each family looks forward to in their adoptive journey. One by one they expressed their specific requests.
A single white woman, stood up, and introduced herself as a self-made messiah of sorts who desires to use her resources and obvious status to improve the quality of life of an aspiring Division 1 athlete who she could put through college. As she began to sit down after her spiel, with no shame she stated, “preferably African-American.” To which the wife in the couple pictured above replied, “..just like the Blind Side right?”
The theater erupted in laughter.
Amid the hysterics, I sat shocked. Did we, as a room full of Christian women, laugh at the fact that black boys are not worthy of adoption unless they are promising athletes that can boost our pride as we use our resources to prove to the world that we are the savior of the disenfranchised blacks?
Why was I surprised? In this emboldened political and evangelical racial climate we are living in, a black life only matters so long as it’s in the womb.
I was hoping that this scene would be redeemed immediately. I was hoping that at least one of the black men sitting in this room of foster couples would put her in her place. Nope. Not a chance.
Why is this personal for me? Because I am a mother of a 17-year-old black boy. More than being a promising Division 1 track and field athlete, he is a senior with 3.8gpa, juggling two AP classes in his rigorous schedule (one of which is AP Calculus), and has been serving in our church’s children’s ministry as a preschool teacher teaching every week since his freshman year. He’s more than an athlete. There are tens of thousands of black boys graduating from universities every year that are more than athletes.
Why does this matter and should matter to the church? Because when we endorse films like this and laugh in jest at these ignorant narratives that are perpetually displayed, we send the message that blacks, and other minorities are reduced to what they do and not who they are. We maintain ideals of racial superiority. We do not regard them as people made in the image of God. We do not exemplify His character by considering black and brown babies that have suffered some of life’s most difficult woes worthy to care for unless there is a return on our “investment.”
Throughout the remainder of the movie, this particular character continued to purport this outlandish quest for her star black athlete. She drew a dark brown skinned football player on a white board, low-key stalked a black boy at an adoption fair, and every single time, every SINGLE time, I cringed as women in the theater continued to laugh.
The sad truth is, we will continue to laugh until we begin to see the “them’s” with God-eyes as “us.”
We will continue to remain divided as a Church when we tolerate and find as entertainment narratives that emasculate black men, portray black women as not marriage worthy, and reduce black children to prospects. We will remain segregated on Sundays and lose more and more credibility as true followers of Christ when we remain silently complicit and apathetic at the incessant racial injustices that have plagued our country.
The movie ended, and I couldn’t be more pleased. Sick to my stomach I listened to immense applause and cheers from the crowd. The creators were invited to the front to discuss the film and do a brief Q & A. Nothing fruitful was going to come from my mouth and it took the strength of the Holy Spirit to not ask two questions: “Why were there no black families in the film? What was the motivation behind making a black boy adoptable so long as he was a promising athlete?”
Upon departing the theater, I was given the opportunity to speak with a representative from the movie production house and I shared with her a synopsis of what I’ve shared here. She assured me that she’d forward it on to the production team but I’m pretty sure no major changes are going to be made on the strength of my remarks, let alone this close to the release. This is the America we live in today and we are in churches and attend conferences where stereotypes are fuel for comic relief. And until we decide, voice, and act toward the fact that is wrong, it will only get worse.
In short: I denounce this film. It keeps negative narratives and this kind of researched conditioning alive and well.
I am disheartened by the fact that one of the largest churches in this country saw fit to incorporate watching this movie as a conference “activity” for women leaders across the world.
Black men love and are marrying black women. Gay is not the new black. Thriving black families are not the exception. Black married couples are adopting children (black or otherwise), and black children are worthy of adoption and are worth more than their skillset.
Unequivocally, this is why films like Black Panther are necessary, why they matter. For once, on the big screen across the world Blacks across the diaspora were portrayed as honorable, intelligent, who upheld and valued family, in an environment where heritage and culture were not only celebrated but protected. In the face of living in the 2018 version of the Jim Crow era, we found solace in a two hour and 15-minute movie that gave us a picture of dignity that has been asterisked albeit longed for on this side of eternity.
But most importantly, this is why the equalizing and reconciling power of the Gospel matters. This is why those who profess Jesus Christ as Lord must rage against the machines of misrepresented stereotypes, privilege, prejudice, and racism within its walls before we will ever be effective for the sake of His name outside of them.