The New Racism

Robert Townsend is a popular black filmmaker who vaulted to fame six years ago with a film called Hollywood Shuffle. It lampooned the insulting stereotypes of black people in entertainment: Amos 'n' Andy, Uncle Tom, Aunt Jemima. Today, Townsend is back, fighting a new stereotype of black people-in a movie called Meteor Man. But this time the stereotypes he's out to destroy are perpetrated, ironically enough, by other black entertainers. The new stereotype is nothing like Amos 'n' Andy-but it's just as distorting, says Townsend. In the past few years, movies made by black film directors have concentrated almost exclusively on ghetto life. Their characters are gang members, street-criminals, drug dealers. The scenes reek with violence, the language is larded with profanity. White film critics rave about the films, calling them daring, gritty, honest. But they can be deadly to young people who take their characters as role models. Along with hard-core rap music, these films create a media environment that encourages the worst aspects of ghetto life: crime, degradation of women, and hostility toward mainstream culture. Robert Townsend calls this "black-on-black film crime." It takes the worst, the most dysfunctional side of black life, and projects it as the norm. But Townsend isn't out just to criticize. He has also created a positive alternative: Meteor Man, a funny, lighthearted movie with a serious message. It features a timid schoolteacher who acquires super powers from a falling meteor. He becomes a reluctant superhero, complete with cape and tights, and organizes the community to close the crack houses, chase the gangs out, and clean up the neighborhood. All without a word of profanity. Townsend had a clear goal in making Meteor Man. "When I look at what's going on right now in movies and television and music," he said, "the kids aren't getting a lot of morals, a lot of values." Meteor Man is intended to provide some balance to the harsh, nihilistic themes that predominate in black entertainment. Other black Americans are rallying to the same cause. Maulana Karenga, a professor of black studies, criticizes many rap musicians for presenting a distorted public image of black culture. They have "tried to elevate street life into black life," Karenga says. But "the reality is that we are a working-class people and have held things together with religion, self-respect, creativity." The Reverend Calvin Butts of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem has adopted an activist approach, launching a crusade against hard-core rap, movies, and profanity-things that, in his words, "insult our women and degrade our race." We often hear it said that America is in a culture war-but black Americans are fighting a culture war of their own. We ought to support and pray for people like the Reverend Calvin Butts, who are taking a stand for strong morals and strong families. They may not be donning capes and tights, but they're fighting evil all the same. And they need to know that their Christian brothers and sisters are standing alongside them.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary