Recently I scribed a tweet that read “ARGHHH! If I see another Damn Slave movie… “ which garnered lots of attention. Some positive and some negative, but attention none the least (which everyone knows I love.) I am thrilled that this simple tweet sparked so much interest and allowed us all to have a health conversation. Now I feel I should explicate my statements regarding this budding film genre. A lot of people agreed with my emotional opinion that I spewed out in less than 140 characters. While others took my tweets as some un-thought-out ignorant rant that attacked our American History.
People said things like “How else are we supposed to learn about our culture?” “Slavery happened, these films are a reminder and as a Black Man you should be proud of what your ancestors went through so you can be rich and famous today.” REALLY?!! So in retaliation, I slid in my intellectual Poker Chips and tried to one up the HATERS (nowadays, that’s what we call people who don’t agree with us,) with a visual. I instagrammed and tweeted an actual photo passed down to me from my Grandmother of her own Grandmother. The message attached to this photo was simple, #AllTheReminderINeed. That word “reminder” stung me to my core. Why do people think we need reminding of a subject that we will clearly never ever forget? Undoubtedly even in 2013 our society is still shaped and structured with the scars of slavery. Scars that we are still healing from, scars that hide with Hollywood style make up, scars that many are proud of and many are shameful of, but scars that no one can ever ignore. So it boggles my mind why one would think that we need a “reminder” of these permanent scars on our nation. That’s like reminding a blind man that he cannot see. Trust me, he knows! But this word “reminder” feels threatening, like a historical noose that hangs over our people’s head. As far as we have progressed and overcome detrimental obstacles as a people we are constantly “reminded” that Black people are perceived in an inhumane manner. I’m sorry, but I don’t need that type of reminder. It’s as if society is saying, “Yeah, we know about Obama but don’t forget about Toby.” I also tweeted that statement in reference to our first black President and the lead character who had to change his African name of Kunta Kente in Alex Hailey’s “ROOTS.” And to those who believe these films educate us, I beg to differ. These films are made for entertainment purposes and ultimately to benefit the movie studios monetarily. Profiting from our pain, sound familiar? Is this really the way we should be teaching this generation about our history? I learned about Slavery from my family, school and accurate Historians. I don’t believe it’s Hollywood’s job to teach history. I am extremely proud of my ancestry and the adversities that we have overcome as a people. I am honored to be apart of such a powerful heritage, but I don’t believe that it needs to be overly commercialized. How would we feel if the next Hollywood idea was to create Slavery Cartoons or Slavery Video Games? It’s all to make money and regardless if people believe it to be telling our history, some things shouldn’t be sold. Some people thought the statements I made regarding Slave Movies were about Steve McQueen’s “12 Years A Slave.” This is incorrect. I personally consider this film to be brilliant and truly believe it is a cinematic masterpiece. I hope it wins big at the Academy Awards, but my fear is Hollywood’s reaction to such success. As of lately Black films have been bringing in the Yen at the Box Office. Just recently ‘The Best Man Holiday” opened to over 30 million dollars and such films like the one starring one of my best friends Kevin Hart, “Think Like a Man” made over $100 million. With various topics and plots, it is refreshing to see our stories being presented in cinema with such a great appetite. I am a fan of all African American Storytellers. I believe for every Spike Lee there is Tyler Perry, different storytellers with different ways of telling their stories. The problem is when we allow Hollywood to dictate which stories we tell. Like most Quentin Tarantino films, I loved “Django,” Jamie Foxx was Bad Ass and gave a marvelous performance as a (Alpha Type Action Star) Super Hero Slave. Although “The Help” and “The Butler” both displayed African Americans in subservient roles, I too enjoyed the acting and the art in which these stories were told. I even went as far in a recent blog to write that “The Butler” made me feel more proud as a Black man than any other film in history. But we are treading on very thin, dangerous ice here. What’s next, The “Shoe Shiner?” See this industry is filled with followers and they leach on to success. There are a few innovators who seek brilliance, but the majority of Hollywood just gets caught up in the hamster wheel of unoriginality. “Let’s do what the next man is doing…it worked for them…etc.” This is the reason we have so many “Super Hero” movies or “End of the World” Epics. One studio makes a billion dollars with an idea and all the others copy. It’s a vicious cycle that Hollywood needs to lose. As an industry insider I caught word of several “Slave Concepts” being shopped around and purchased. This is what forced me to speak out. When I wrote the tweet I had just heard that the History Channel was remaking “Roots.” I’d had enough! Don’t get me wrong, I grew up with Roots and believe it is a genius piece of art. Alex Haley, and everyone involved with this unparalleled project, I hold in the highest regard. But why would someone think that it needed to be “re-made?” Would a network or a studio want to remake “Schindler’s List?” Absolutely not, because it is a delicate work of art that shouldn’t be tampered with, just like “Roots.” It is insensitive to our culture and is insulting to an audience to think that we want regurgitated ideas and concepts. Hollywood trends are distasteful on every level but even more so when it makes light of our history. Slavery is not a trend nor should it ever be profited from. Yes, this is my humble opinion but there are millions of ticket buyers that agree. Like many others I try to support all films that are produced, directed and starring African Americans and I have seen the ones with Slavery plotlines. I tip my hat to those brave souls who have been a part of some of those wonderful projects. But as an actor I will NEVER play a SLAVE! I just can’t. I have been offered roles in this fashion and I turned them ALL down. Maybe I am being closed-minded or too sensitive, but a man must stand for something. Don’t get me wrong, I know I have and will continue to be a part of projects that are deemed controversial and even distasteful at times. I recently wrote and directed a raunchy teen comedy for Lionsgate that will be released next spring that already has the NAACP sniffing at my door. So by no means am I hopping on my righteous soapbox and getting my Al Sharpton on, I am merely telling everyone to beware. Take notice on how Hollywood and these other billion dollar industries view us. They don’t care about our anathemas or our compassions. They don’t care about our sensitivities or our prohibitions. All they care about is the almighty dollar. No subject is too taboo to exploit. This is the nature of American culture, run it into the ground until its dead. We do this in every industry; fashion, music, food, even automotive. Have you noticed recently that every car on the road looks exactly the same? I digress…I just wish to inspire originality and creativity, while maintaining dignity and self-worth. I recently had the distinguished privilege of sitting down and having lunch with the Great Actor/Activist/Artist, Mr. Harry Belafonte who is one of my mentors and has dropped gems of wisdom on me periodically. I first met Mr. Belafonte on a film we both starred in called “Bobby”, which was fictionalized account of the hours leading up to the June 5, 1968 shooting of U.S. Senator Bobby Kennedy, that was released in theaters in 2006. Since then I have kept in contact with Mr. Belafonte knowing that his wisdom is priceless and that many of the steps that I wish to take he has paved. From marching with Dr. King and being one of the cornerstones of the civil rights movement to being the first person ever to sell a million records, not to mention being a Tony Award winning Broadway Actor and starring in many classic films, needless to say his opinion means a great deal to me. When we sat down, Mr. Belafonte was well aware of the statements I had recently made on twitter and at this point in the press about my aversion to Slave Movies. He never expressed how he personally felt about the subject matter but he opened my eyes and inspired me to do just what I am doing now. He kept saying to me, “There is something special inside of you that has to get out.” He told me that he keeps a close eye on all that I do and often wonders what will become of this Nick Cannon. My voice, my art, my talent and my passion all will soon align. Mr. Belafonte spoke this into my life and I receive it. When writing my rant filled tweets about Slave movies and Hollywood I ended the tirade with a empty promise to develop more meaningful projects and put my money where my mouth is. I believe the tweet said something like, “Why don’t they make movies about our African kings & queens? #OurHistory I would love to see a film about “Akhenaton” and his beautiful wife Queen Nefertiti! Or Cetewayo, a King who was a war hero. “Im about to drive to my office RIGHT NOW and start the development!” #NewHollywoodTrend, Black King and Queen films! Starring Black People!! #NoDisrespectToElizabethTaylor.” But since those tweets, I have been contacted by several credible filmmakers and storytellers who want to join the mission, not to discredit any other projects but to create an alternative trend in Hollywood. This is now my true goal. I have been one of the few who have been blessed to have a long sustaining career in Hollywood going on 2 decades and have made more money than most in my position as an executive and entrepreneur. So it is now my call to action to step up and create entertainment with some more substance. I have to do more practicing and less preaching. I take this as a challenge and as growth as an artist. I know I won’t get it perfect out of the gates, but the importance of this idea is that I am constantly trying to improve. I am overly excited to announce that I am now embarking on producing some major Historic African titles. One of which I believe I spoke into existence through my tweets. I have always been a huge fan and student of the remarkable life of Nefertiti and her husband the young Pharaoh Akhenaton. This vivid love story must be told about how a humble yet crafty young woman empowers her way to become the queen of Egypt. I was pleased to find some very accomplished filmmakers, writers, director, and actors share my passion for this project. You can only imagine how thrilled I was to read a phenomenal screenplay and it’s sequel all in one sitting. Trust me, the words, the plans, and the cast are all extraordinary! Also another project that I am developing is an African Arabian Epic called “The Great Antar” A film about the 6th Century African Warrior and Poet whose true-life stories have inspired tales of Aladdin, Sinbad and The Arabian Nights. The Great Antar, a black man whose poetry still hangs at the entrance of the temple of Mecca. He is known throughout history as the “Father of Heroes.” So if Hollywood can make movies like “Braveheart,” “300,” “Lord Of the Rings,” and “Gladiator,” then I believe Antar’s epic tales can be legendary at the box office. Antar, whose mother had been enslaved after a tribal war, eventually became the leader of the Tribe of Abes. This was granted by his father Shaddad the Prince when the tribe needed Antar’s Super Human strength during a battle against an invading tribe. He was a mighty warrior, a suave romantic, an incredible hero and an accomplished poet. Sounds like a hit trilogy to me! So to make a long story a little bit shorter, I challenge all my storytellers and artists the same way Mr. Harry Belafonte challenged me. Find that special thing inside you and pull it out. If you are a consumer and not a creator, you job is even more important. Support projects that uphold our culture with dignity and creativity. Don’t let Hollywood force feed you the same concepts over and over again. Demand to be entertained with respect and call out the charlatans. I, Nick Cannon, will also try my hardest to hold myself accountable as a consumer and a storyteller to these duties. We deserve the best and with such great momentum behind us, let’s all continue to strive for the best of the best. Good Luck! See you at the movies!