Why movies like Mudbound are still a bare necessity.

Dec 8, 2017

While watching Mudbound, one of Netflix's recent original feature films, I honestly felt disgusted. Not because it was a bad movie, I actually thought it was a damn good one, but because of the way black people were treated in it. Not only does it show how a black family that pays rent to a white family to work on a piece of their land is basically treated as property. It also shows how people of colour were forced to use the back door when entering a store, how they had to sit on seperate seats on the bus, how they were contantly pestered, denigrated and even attacked and violated in the most horrible ways.

The story sets long before I was born, starting right before WWII and ending a few years after it. So, it would be easy to accredit the blatent racism that is depicted in this flick to the period in which is sets, and to think that this feeling of superiority towards everyone who is remotely different than us, is a thing of the past and we have evolved long past it.

But then, that would be a bit blind. As a reviewer on Rotten Tomatoes said: "The film could easily be remade to fit modern times, which is dissapointing." I'd rather say it to be devastating and excruciating, but okay. On the other hand it shouldn't be surprising. After all, the people who grew up with this sick and twisted moral of white superiority are still alive today.

I remember my boyfriend's granddad commenting a few years ago on one of his favourite football players, that it was such a shame for the man that he was "that black". This grandfather I'm talking about is a kind and simple man. He certainly did not mean any harm with it, he was in fact trying to express his sympathy. It's just that he didn't realise that there is absolutely no shame in having a skin colour that is not white.

The problem is that racism is all around us and that getting rid of it is way more complicated than just teaching people that "you can't say bad things about people with a darker skin tone".
Because racism is about more than that. It's about bundling individuals into a group (in this case based on their skin colour or religion) and stuffing them in a container which you also fill with nasty adjectives (like lazy, smelly, stupid, primitive or whatever). By doing this, you reduce all the people in your container, to nothing but those adjectives. Putting groups of people in containers like that, gives us feeling of control, of being able to grasp a very complicated world and society. And by feeling in control, we think we will be safe. But by doing this, you de-humanise other people. You make yourself forget that they are all people with their own characteristics, their own feelings, their own stories, their own experiences. And once you've convinced yourself that they are not truly human, that they are fundamentally different from you, you decide that you can treat them as you will. Ignore them, keep them out of "your country", blame them for everything that is wrong in the world, but also hurt them, steal from them, lock them up, rape them, sell them, sell their organs, you name all the disgusting things people do to each other.

This same mechanism is not only what is behind racism, but also sexism. It's what gives a lot of men the feeling that they can say stuff about women as if they were one homogenous group. "Women aren't ambitious, women are always jealous and gossip behind each other's back, women like a man who gives them guidance, the only way women can get to the top is to fuck their way up, etc." It's also what makes it okay for them to objectify women, to see them as sex dolls, to claim them as their own.

But it's also what causes bullying at school (or at work). "That kid is red-haired and weird, so he deserves to be laughed at". Kids reduce one of their peers to nothing but the few characteristics they see and don't like, and therefore decide it's okay to ridicule them, hit them, kick them. We don't teach our kids that the weird kid will feel just as hurt as they would themselves.

This objectivation of the other, I believe, happens mostly out of fear for the unknown and it can only happen because most of us fail to show the least bit of empathy for other people, or at least for people they don't know well personally. And that is were movies and books play an important role in my view. They can show us how all sorts of characters think, act and feel, show us their flaws and their strengths, make us see what they see, feel what they feel. They can litterally put us in someone else's shoes.

And then maybe we can all stop being so self-centered, so focussed on keeping our ego safe, and start to see that by hurting other people, we actually hurt ourselves. Because a person who runs on fear and hate, will never be at peace. He might feel "safe" in his own little fort, but never truly happy. Because true happiness comes only from sincere connection with others. True happiness comes only from love.

I did not make up all this stuff myself of course. I got it from living over 20 years with highly compassionate parents, meditating and reading (I highly recommend Matthieu Ricard if you want to know more about the ego and empathy).

I also want to state that I in no way try to claim that bullying, sexism and racism have caused or are causing the same amount of grief during history. Though all three of them are terrible, I being white myself have no personal experience with racism and can only try to understand the struggle people of colour have lived through and still must live through every day. If I have written anything you don't agree with or experience as hurtful, please let me know in the comments and I will try to rectify it.