Thursday, July 24, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and its Parallel to the Plight of Black People

I like monkeys; I always have. When I was in 8th grade, I actually wanted my father to buy me a monkey as a pet. I’m too young to remember the original movie, Planet of the Apes but, I did grow up watching the Planet of the Apes TV show; it was one of my favorites.

So, when Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out in 2011, I was there. I fell in love with Caesar. So, I was kind of geeked for the sequel because it was Planet of the Apes, but I wasn’t super excited because sequels aren’t usually as good as the original. Well, this was not one of those times; Dawn is an action packed, heart tugging movie that kept me entertained from beginning to end. I had to go to the bathroom badly and I was afraid I was going to miss something, but my bladder won, and I had to leave. But boy! You should have seen me booking it back to my seat!

I love movies, and I critique them based on how well I believe the unbelievable and rather or not the characters elicit emotion—good or bad. The story seemed real to me, and there were characters that I loved as well as ones that I hated. As I sat glued to my seat watching Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I could not help but find parallels between the plight of the apes in the film and Black people all over the world—especially in the U.S. This sci-fi fantasy in which the apes are on par with humans is a good analogy of the relationship between an oppressed group of people and its oppressors particularly people of color. 

I don’t know when the comparison to Black people and apes came about, but I do not that it is a universal phenomenon that’s been going on for hundreds of years, especially now that we have an African-American President. A Google search of President Obama and his family returns countless images of them as apes. Former President George Bush has also been likened to an ape, but not to the extent that Obama has, and the photos of Bush do not include pictures of his family.

It’s no secret that Black folks have been identified with apes in an attempt dehumanize us and justify our mistreatment in this country. And we need to look no further than the last few months as verification of this centuries-old foolishness. In anticipation of the Obamas’ visit to Belgium in March, a Belgian news paper depicted Michelle and Barack Obama as monkeys. In April, during the World Cup Soccer games, a banana was thrown at Brazilian soccer player Dani Alves as he was about to take a corner kick. He peeled it and ate, and later said that he appreciated having some potassium. In May, the North Korea State news agency referred to the President as “reminiscent of a wicked black monkey.” And another news outlet went so far as to say the President “should live as a monkey in an African natural zoo licking bread crumbs thrown by spectators.” Just this month, a furor erupted on social media over the insertion of an African-American boy’s face used for a monkey T-shirt for the Just Add A Kid brand of children’s clothes. We are strongly entrenched in the monkey business.

And as I watched the film, the comparisons between us and the apes was evident. Set in an apocalyptic future, Cesar and the apes are minding their business when the humans stumble upon them. The humans need something.  And even though the apes show up in force and tell the humans to leave, the humans decide that they will get what they need no matter what the cost. Sound familiar? The humans think they can and will take on the apes if necessary to secure their own needs. The humans don’t care about the apes; the apes are an inferior species, and the humans have resources that the apes don’t have. Even when they see for themselves, that the apes are not as dumb as they think, the humans still refuse to believe what’s in front of their eyes. This is the same issue that Black people face.

There are people in the world who look at us as being inferior in every way, and the continued use of systemic and institutionalized racism reinforces this idea of inferiority no matter how much we are able to move beyond our circumstances and not only survive, but thrive. Black people are not monolithic in neither though nor action and we vary across the social spectrum as much as any other group, and yet we are ALL defined by the most marginalized among us. White people are not defined by violence even though most serial killers and domestic terrorists are White, but Black people are defined by violence because of the prevalence of violence in urban areas where many of us reside.

I thoroughly enjoyed Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and I believe that there are lessons in this film. Here are five that I learned while watching:

  1. There is strength in numbers. When Caesar showed up with the apes to confront the humans, there were hundreds of them. Looking at the swarm of apes, the humans knew that the apes meant business. Solidarity is key to bringing about change. United we stand; divided we fall. All of the apes came together—gorillias, monkeys, orangatauns etc. They didn’t divided themselves superficially because they knew that to the humans they were all apes.
  2. The world is not black and white. We look at life through a prism that does not allow us to see the varying shades of grey of the world we live in. A lens that sees only black and white colors our judgment and limits our perspective. Both the apes and the humans only saw the world from their viewpoint, and it did not give them an accurate picture of what was happening. Their limited perspective put both groups in harm’s way.
  3. All your skin folk ain’t your kinfolk. Both the apes and the humans learned that just because there was a Team Apes and a Team Humans that not all the members of their respective teams were on their side. We always have to be mindful of those who have their own agenda. Trust should be earned—not automatically given because we belong to the same tribe.
  4. Different is Different. We like to think of those who are different as better or worse instead of just accepting that they’re not like us, and that’s ok. The humans thought that that being human automatically made them superior which caused them to underestimate the apes.
  5. Doing the right thing is ALWAYS the right thing to do. We support wrong doing out of loyalty or fear, but wrong is still wrong. Both the apes and the humans suffered as a result of doing something for the wrong reason. Doing the right thing is the hard thing to do, but it’s the right thing to do.
If you haven’t seen Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I urge you to see it, and tell me what you think. If you’ve already seen it, share your thoughts with me.

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