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Things being in their place is of utmost importance

January 26, 2012

Chinua Achebe is the first the first published writer I read who leveled the reasonable  proposition that Joseph Conrad was a bigot of the highest order, or, in his own words, ‘a thoroughgoing racist’. I have never read Heart of Darkness and I don’t feel the need to (if people call themselves ‘well read’ having never heard of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, I will call myself ‘well read’ without bothering with Conrad).

An Image of Africa, Achebe’s review of Heart of Darkness, is excellent. It was in this essay that I came across the statement, “For Conrad, things being in their place is of utmost importance.”

To explain, Achebe quotes from Conrad’s celebrated work:

“And between the whiles I had to look after the savage who was [a] fireman. He was an improved specimen; he could fire up a vertical boiler. He was there below me, and, upon my word, to look at him was as edifying as seeing a dog in a parody of breeches and a feather hat, walking on his hind legs. A few months of training had done for that really fine chap”

Achebe shows that Conrad throughout his novel refers to people who are ‘in their place’ – namely Congolese citizens ‘stamping their feet and clapping their hands’ and, as shown above, the natives who he finds to be a little more lost. In witnessing a black person light a boiler his narrator finds confusion and Achebe finds  evidence to support the deduction that for Conrad all things, and all people, have a place.

I remembered this because today, I read a throught provoking surmise of the problems George Lucas is having with Red Tails:

“Black Male War Heroes vs Black Men in Dresses”

This was a subtitle in the January 2011 Black History Walks newsletter

Red Tails, a movie now famously self funded by George Lucas (perhaps to make amends for Jar Jar Binks), features an all African-American cast of good looking young men. They are sat in the cockpits of airplanes in World War Two – a time when America fought against fascism but wouldn’t allow black people to ride in front of a bus. I remember in Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour, Cuba Gooding Jnr. was the cook. Now, he’s Top Gun.

Why did George Lucas, Hollywood don, struggle to get this made? The industry universally said it was ‘risky’ and for reasons unknown, it still cannot get a British distributor.

We know black movies aren’t seen as inherently risky by Hollywood. Think about the representation of black people in the following successful movies that studios can’t wait to invest money into:

Big Momma’s House 1,2, 3,4,5, 6…..

White Chicks

The Nutty Professor

And, how can I not mention The Help? *sigh*

 Maybe the film industry thinks things being in their place is of utmost importance too.

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