Getting Off: What Black Trauma Porn Is and Why We Hate It

Maryam Muhammad
Jun 2, 2019 · 4 min read

A favorite pastime of mine is to go to the movie theaters and see various films and documentaries. I purchase my seat, get snacks from the concession stand, and go into a dark theater in front of a large screen. Being the movie lover I am, I often go to see movies of various genres whether it be adventure, action, drama, or comedy. However, I’ve noticed that most drama movies I’ve gone to see are often about Black struggles, such as the Civil Rights Movement, slavery, colonialism, and Apartheid. Of course, I can understand why these movies are so crucial and that they have a point to make about historical events and society. Still, I have to ask myself: Where are the movies about happy Black people? Why don’t we have more of our own science fiction movies? Is it too much to ask for little Black children traveling in outer space or developing superpowers? What about the Black mermaids, centaurs, elves, or fairies? Are we not allowed to have those? Why should every mystical creature or magical adventure be limited to whiteness?

Movies such as Fruitvale Station, Selma, and The Hate U Give are absolutely necessary; they highlight the injustices that we as a people have gone through and are still going through to this day. But as Black people, we’re more than that; many things are born out of trauma and pain, but others can be born out of love and joy. When I walk into these box office smash hits with my family, I notice that we are some of the few (if not the only) Black people in the theater and that the rest of the moviegoers are white. Here’s what I’ve realized about this: They’re looking to get off on or explore our trauma, when for us it is merely being reinforced. The non-Black audience members are looking to understand and relate to our oppression and suffering in the mere span of an hour and thirty minutes to two hours. Now, perhaps many of these people go into these films with pure intentions, hoping to really learn about our history in order to be better allies. Some, however, might just want to alleviate their white guilt by thinking “at least that isn’t me” when they see agitators with their skin color on the screen.

Here’s what I’m NOT saying: I’m not saying to stop making movies on racism and our fight or struggle. What I am asking for is equilibrium and balance in the film industry. For every movie dealing with Black death, rape, or imprisonment, there should be something to go watch after, just to take your mind off of it since it might bother you. Every Fruitvale Station should have a Black Panther, and every The Hate U Give should have an A Wrinkle in Time. I don’t want to see the young Black boy get shot by the police and die, I want to see him sprout wings and fly away instead for a change. Not only do we owe this to ourselves, but also to the future generations of Black children who deserve to learn about our reality and what we want our ideal reality could be. These films should be used as mirrors to reflect our society, not as post-racial propaganda. We can’t put bandaids on race problems in our world without actually attempting to find solutions. As Brother Malcolm X once said, “If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there’s no progress. If you pull it all the way out that’s not progress. Progress is healing the wound that the blow made. And they haven’t even pulled the knife out much less heal the wound. They won’t even admit the knife is there.”

I’m beginning to wonder if these depictions are a ploy to make us think that trauma is all we are or all that we’ll ever be. While trauma is deeply embedded in our culture, we still have to recognize that we are more than just that. We’ve done groundbreaking things before these horrific things occurred, and we’ll continue to do them long after they stop happening. I’m sick of white liberals online saying things like “Black people are so resilient and powerful, look what they’ve been through. I wish I could be like that.” No you don’t. It’s hard to believe in yourself and create your own narrative when the world already has it planned out for you due to the past. It’s like the story of the two fleas in a jar. They jumped and jumped until they finally gave up. And when the top of the jar was taken off, they didn’t realize they could go any higher. I love our fight, and I love our resilience. But I also wish that they wouldn’t make our reality out to be so limiting. Yes the fight is powerful, and I stand with it, but does it have to be the essence of my very being? Should my existence be based off of the recurring fear that I’ll cease to exist? Everywhere we look, the world is constantly reminding us of or adversity, and it’s as if we have no escape at all, nowhere to turn. Perhaps all of us need a break.

Culture | Music | Opinion | TU’23 🍒⚪️ | Hip-Hop Head | Pisces | INFP | Twitter: @OilyEyelids | Instagram: @NeptunesNegress

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