(from Dec 2008)
For about two months now I’ve had City of Men, a Brazilian film I rented from Netflix. Every weekend I’ve said to myself I’m going to sit down and watch it – and then I don’t. Tonight I did and I’m so glad that I let myself press play. I realize that what has been holding me back is that I’m tired of seeing black stories that are associated with destruction, no outlet, no other options. I know this story. Seen it, breathed it – Have seen young black boys in my family fall/fail – living and dying this story. Have seen it in my proximity walking through the Westside of Chicago or riding through Cabrini-Green, seen it from a distance in Trinidad’s Laventille fortress. It’s not that I want to will this structural poverty and violence and dehumanization away by shutting those stories out. But where is our range of possibilities…Why are we still stuck on black life as only being associable with violence. We need new stories, new testimonies, new potentialities, new visions.
I was so afraid that City of Men would perpetuate the trope of black masculinity as dead-end violence. But it didn’t. That reality of no choice was there, but there was also nurturance, humanity, love, tenderness, and the privileging of relationships, of relating to other human beings, other beautiful black stories.
It climaxes with a scene of potential betrayal. One friend holds a gun to the other’s face. Between them a question, “Are you my friend?” And then a statement, “You don’t want your son to grow up fatherless like us.” It ends with both friends holding the hand of the child – the next generation. The last shot is the two bigger boys walking with the child in between them and together they are thinking about their next move, their next possibility. To the filmmakers I say thank you for offering an other kind of cinematic representation of black masculinities. We so badly need it.
My son woke up half way through and watched it with me.