For the Culture
Representation can be the catalyst in the career of a young artist
#4MyNegusandMyBishes (All Words Matter)
Episode 5 of Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It follows Jamie Overstreet and our darling Nola sitting on her bed and discussing the indecent fact that Nola has had to come out of her pocket with money for supplies for the art students she's been teaching. Jamie is talking about the fancy Heights Prep, where he spends thousands (a whopping college tuition amount of $45,000 to be exact) for his son, Virgil, to attend. Where the teachers don't have to use personal funds to help their students.
~~I understand that private schools receive private funding, while public schools live off the backs of the taxes of the middle class- while the 1% get unreasonable, no criminal, tax breaks- but that doesn't make it any better/understandable that teachers in public school districts make mediocre annual salaries, and they are still forced to pay out of their own pockets if they want to provide more quality education for their students.~~
As Jamie brags about the life he has been able to provide for his son, the amazing school he has been able to send his son to, and the leader his son will soon become, Virgil's mom, Cheryl, is watching their son rap in a Youtube video with his non-black friends in black-face and saying the n-word.
When Cheryl and Jamie meet up to discuss the video with their son, she immediately blames it on him. With this, there is more of an understanding of their relationship introduced. Cheryl is the bougie, overbearing, and judgmental wife that feels responsible for Jamie's social and financial climb. She immediately points her "too-good" finger at Jamie and his "hood rat genes" to blame for the way Virgil is acting. I find it actually very hilarious, since I am sure the only people doing black face and posting videos about it on the internet are NOT black kids. As Cheryl is ready to jump on Jamie's past and make it all about him, it becomes clear throughout the conversation and the episode that it really boils down to their failing marriage to be the reason their son is "acting out." They are obviously too busy hating each other, and Jamie is too busy in Nola's loving bed or just trying hard not to be at home, that they have no idea what's going on with their son.
When they go to Heights Prep and speak with the principal, they not only find out that the incident was not seen wrong by any of the other parents, but it was also a school assignment to create a video that would go viral. What if it were another race/belief/or sexuality being mocked in the video? That's the question being posed to the principal. Would the other parents of Heights Prep then be outraged? If it were their child being mocked, degraded and humiliated so freely for the entire internet to see? The principle knows that what is being done is wrong, and he is trying to downplay their worry and offense, to make it seem trivial and just a joke, but is it just a joke if you're so threatened by it being exposed to the entire public? Is it a joke when the words you use are turned around to degrade others?
Finally, when Jamie sits down with his son and tries to explain to him why the video was insulting and self-degrading, Virgil defends that "everyone uses the word at Heights Prep." He refers that his generation is "different." That word is just used in songs, and it's just used to call your friends, but that's not true, is it? Jamie reminds him that that word will always hold historical context, and the current climate is not one of peace and prosperity. The community he comes from still suffers; African Americans are gunned down like animals that aren't deserving of life, Native Americans are being pushed out of land that they own, immigrants are being hunted and sent to camps like we live in Nazi-Germany. The times have not changed; racism has just advanced and become under-handed. Virgil and his friends are not an anomaly. In society, the use of the n-word is done so nonchalantly by many Americans, many Americans who simply don't care about the historical weight of the word. Virgil is just a kid trying to get in where he can fit in, and no matter how much money you think you have or how different you think your friends/communities are, you are not exempt from the social scrutiny and degrading that many go through when you are a minority in America.