I Like Empty Movie Theatres
I love seeing a film during a matinee on a weekday. There’s rarely anyone there and I can enjoy (or hate) the film in peace. There was a time when I used to see any film on opening night with every seat filled. (I don’t mind people talking during a film; it’s never offended me. Only cell phones and loud baby cries do.)
When I mention watch a film in peace, I’m speaking specifically about race. I’ve had several instances in a theater where I felt that something was sad or painful, especially something that happened to a Black female film character, or some stereotype about Black women surfaced in the film and angered me and I was in a theater full of Whites laughing, even when the set up in the film was not alluding to comedy. It feels like an assault on me personally. As I always say, films are not “just” movies.
As bell hooks writes:
Movies do not merely offer us the opportunity to re imagine the culture we most intimately know on the screen, they make culture.
After seeing a White woman tweet that she wants Viola Davis (notice her real name was used, not character name “Abilene” from The Help) to rub her back and tell her that infamous line "you is kind, you is smart, you is important" I re-remembered why I like empty theaters or watching films at home. I don’t even want to see most tweets on films. After learning about the racist reaction to “Rue” from The Hunger Games, I was glad that I didn’t attend the theatre opening weekend for that film.
There’s a section of bell hooks’ seminal book on film, Reel To Real: Race, Sex, and Class At The Movies called “The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators” that is exquisite, let alone the whole book. (Yeah you need to read this book. NOW.) It speaks to the experiences of Black women actually viewing film, and what shapes these views…how we deconstruct ideology presented in films.
I remember watching the film Dreamgirls in a packed theatre. Every seat filled. There’s a scene where “Effie” says "It’s about fairness, Curtis. It’s about people paying their dues. Isn’t that what you keep telling me? "Get in line, Effie. Wait your turn". So why am I sitting here without so much as a B-side on a 45, when an amateur like Martin Luther King Jr. gets his own freaking album? I mean, can he even sing?" and the Whites in the theatre DIED in laughter. There is a pause in the film, and then ”Effie” laughs. It’s obvious that she was being flippant and knows who MLK is. The laughter died quickly as the Whites in the theatre realized that they are the ones who have been had. They were quick to laugh at the “stupid” Black woman character who didn’t know who MLK was, not realizing moments later, the joke was on them.
And then when Whites and Blacks clap at domestic violence scenes in films where Black women are being beaten? Yeah…I’ll pass.
I miss the big screen and the experience of film at a theatre at times, as I go much less often now than I ever have in my life, but sometimes a DVD and a big TV at home is just fine.
And yes, I critically think about every film or any visual content I embrace. And no, it is not a chore. It’s a bigger chore to pretend it doesn’t affect culture and life when the overwhelmning evidence is staring me in the face.