It’s time for less Black trauma and more Black joy

Recently social media was set ablaze when Lena Waithe’s Them hit streaming services and the backlash was almost immediate. The series is about a family moving to an all-white neighborhood during the Second Great Migration. The show has been described as unnecessarily violent and gory.

One scene, in particular, shows a black woman being raped as her infant child is murder. Another scene shows a black couple being burned to death but a group of white people after being blinded by hot pokers. For some viewers, the violence was seen as black trauma porn with no real purpose.

For some reason, it seems the media has a hard time realizing black trauma is not the only story being told. Year after year, the majority of black stories being told on screen are too often filled with grief and strife. 12 years a Slave. Underground. Harriet. Fruitvale Station. This list goes on and on.

Cynthia Erivo as Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman in “Harriet.” Photo credit: Focus Features

While it’s important to display the injustices committed against Black people in this country on screen, it’s even more important to recognize that we experience moments of joy and those stories deserve to be told.

Lately, I found myself indulging some of my favorite black movies to take my mind off the deaths of George Floyd, Daunte Wright, and now 16-year-old Ma’Kyah Bryant.

I don’t think people realize how traumatizing it is to keep up with these cases while trying to keep peace of mind. It’s almost impossible but escapism helps. Here’s a list of TV shows and movies that remind me that black joy exists and deserves to be showcased.

  1. The Wood

The Wood is a 1999 coming of age movie about four black men reliving their teenage years in Inglewood, California. The movie stars Taye Diggs, Omar Epps, and  Richard T. Jones. In this film we see three black teenagers navigate friendships and crushes while growing into grown men. The Wood is a refreshing take on the teenage years of black men in California. Many movies tend to show black childhood, especially those based in California as violent and gang-ridden but The Wood basically shows these boys just being children., something black men are rarely afforded.

Where to watch: Available for rental/purchase through Amazon Prime, Youtube, and Google Play.

  1. Insecure

When Insecure debuted on HBO in 2016, it became a social media phenomenon. You could not get online without seeing someone, if not everyone talking about it. The show revolves around Issa Dee and her 20 somethings friends. Insecure has something for everyone but especially black women. We watch Issa Dee deal with the aftermath of a failed relationship with her longtime boyfriend, all while working a job she feels completely unfilled at. Besides being relatable as hell to millennials, Insecure is filled with great jokes and a wonderful soundtrack.

Where to watch: HBO Max

Photograph by Merie W. Wallace/HBO
  1. The Princess and the Frog

What’s a list of movies about Black joy without Disney’s first black princess? The Princess and the Frog are based in 1920’s New Orleans and tell the story of Tiana, who has big dreams of opening her own restaurant. She is unfortunately turned into a frog after kissing Prince Naveen who has also been turned into a frog by an evil witch doctor. The movie follows Tiana and Prince Naveen’s journey of trying to return to human form with them eventually following in love. The movie, while marketed to children, is a family favorite that can lift the spirits of almost anyone who watches it.

Where to watch: Disney+

  1. Dope

Written by Rick Famuyiwa, who also wrote The Wood, Dope is another coming of age movie about three teenagers living in Inglewood, California. The movie follows Malcolm Adekanbi who has big dreams of attending Harvard University. While on a quest to make himself look more interesting on his college application, Malcolm accidentally becomes involved in a drug deal and must figure out how to get rid of the drugs before he and his friend get in deeper trouble. The movie is a hilarious ride and a refreshing take on the plight of inner-city kids’ relationship with drugs.

Where to watch: Available for rental/purchase through Amazon Prime, Youtube, and Google Play.

BLACK-ISH – “Move-In Ready” – Against the warnings of Dre and his coworkers, Junior is resolute about his decision to move in with Olivia. They go on an apartment hunt together, but tensions rise when Olivia compares Junior to Dre. Meanwhile, Bow challenges Dre to get comfortable being alone on an all-new episode of “black-ish,” TUESDAY, APRIL 6 (9:00-9:30 p.m. EDT), on ABC. (ABC/Richard Cartwright)
ANTHONY ANDERSON, MARCUS SCRIBNER
  1. Love Jones

I can’t write a list about black joy without including my favorite black romance movie of all time. I’ve probably watched it 100 times and will watch it 100 more before my life is over. Love Jones tells the blossoming romance between Nina and Darius. When Darius meets Nina at a poetry bar in Chicago, he is immediately smitten with her and performs a poem that he dedicates to Nina. Initially, Nina finds the poem off-putting and refuses to give Darius her number. Days later, Darius runs into Nina at a music store and the rest is history. Love Jones beautifully displays the ups and downs of black love while offering its characters space to be soft and vulnerable.

Where to watch: Available for rental/purchase through Amazon Prime, Youtube, and Google Play.

  1. Black-ish

Black-ish is a comedy series created by Kenya Barris. The stars Tracee Ellis Ross and Anthony Anderson who play husband and wife, Rainbow and Andre Johnson. The thing that I like most about Black-ish is that it is a portrayal of an affluent black family. Rainbow is a successful doctor and Andre works as a marketing executive. It’s very rare for a rich black family to live their best lives on national TV. While it is a comedy series, the show also touches on serious things like natural hair, divorce, and numerous social justice topics.

Where to watch: ABC and Hulu

Featured Image: BLACK-ISH – BLACK-ISH – “Our Wedding Dre” – Pops and Ruby are getting re-married! And Dre’s intimate wedding plans go awry when Pops’ brother, Uncle Norman, shows up unexpectedly for the festivities. Meanwhile, Ruby refuses Bow’s offer to help with preparations until an unanticipated situation gives her an opening to save the big day on “black-ish,” WEDNESDAY, NOV. 18 (9:30-10:00 p.m. EST), on ABC. (ABC/Richard Cartwright) MARSAI MARTIN, MILES BROWN, YARA SHAHIDI, JENIFER LEWIS, LAURENCE FISHBURNE, ANTHONY ANDERSON, TRACEE ELLIS ROSS, MARCUS SCRIBNER