Review by Yolanda D. White
A white woman, an Asian woman and a Black woman walk into a Hollywood film screening of a new documentary produced by Jon Wesley Covington, Black Man. This is not a joke. And this one is not just for men, honest.
Black Man opens starkly — with a profound stillness, cool and hushed, an onyx black backdrop; a narrator’s voice — reminiscent of James Earl Jones, opens a brightly lit dim door into Producer John Wesley Covington’s cadre of men, beginning with a history lesson, well, more than one, profound ones that many (including my black womanself) did not know when I sat down. He booms, “William Tucker was the first black man born, free, in America in 1623 in Hampton Virginia.” I felt forced to let that be still, solemn — stick in my mind — we are not brand new.
“There are [approximately] 22 million Black Men in America, the documentary resounds.” We receive confirmation…affirmation, that Black men were elected office into public office in the 1600s, starting in Maryland.
Black Man introduces us to heroic non-celebrities, normal everyday black men engaging in moments of crisp rawness and vulnerability, not always afforded to, nor elicited from, Black Men.
These stories are “Straight Outta” Michigan… Muskegon Michigan to be exact. Covington asserts that Muskegon is really, “Anytown,” USA. Originally planned as a five minute vignette of an art exhibit on the story of black man for his local Art Museum, this nearly 80 minute appeal is told through the eyes of men like “Marvin” who calls his involvement necessary because, “the story that has been told about black men has been distorted.”
Filmgoers are warmly greeted by a courageous young man who taught himself how to read, in and after college, while others around him focused on his athletic prowess, he focused on his academics and later went on to become a school superintendent.
An attorney, who is “mixed,” reveals that while he was growing up, he felt a sense of familiarity, as well as a striking sense of being different — concurrently. A church pastor shares how “church groupies’ challenged his early commitment to his family and to God and he overcame them and other distractions, by remembering the wishes of his father’s wishes for him, to serve as a Bishop.
At times, each man hints to, at some point, feeling invisible to someone who they desperately wanted to be seen by; for some it was their fathers, who typically shape the impact their children are expected to (but not explicitly taught) have on the world — absent of relatable images, of present black models. It is not a unique revelation that the depiction of Black Men in the public eye is incongruent and deficit-based.
Black Man is embolden with power-full, frank men, all of whom were forced to move gracefully from crisis to crisis, pushing themselves through high school — despite bullying, getting smart due to accidental drug overdoses and surviving health challenges as serious as Sickle Cell disease. Entrepreneurship is a common thread, as the big reveal at the end shows us their actual professions and careers.
Those final moments forced me to confront my own stereotypes, and ways I have emotionally lynched black men, in my own eyes. As these men are telling their stories, you make up an existence…a path. I did not expect to meet doctors, surgeons, lawyers, builders, teachers, counselors, and clergymen on that journey.
In a short while, we see men confront secrets, replacing them with a renaissance of hard-fought forgiveness.
When given the chance to say anything they wanted to their parents (moms or dads), a strong man contemplates the question for what seems like an eternity, then says, “I’m mad at you Dad,” he muscled through the tears, “I love you but I’m mad at you,” — he steeped in more of his own painfully, lovely silence, ending, “…but I forgive you.”
And you don’t need to be a Black Man to understand that.