Beyond Twelve Years, Beyond Slavery: Future Stories of the Past
By Alexa Day
My good buddy and fellow interracial romance author, Tracey Livesay, emailed me a movie trailer recently. I’m really excited about the film, a historical movie telling the story of a black character’s efforts to live within a predominantly white society.
Here’s the trailer:
What? A historical romance with a black woman and a white man that’s not set in the West Indies? And she’s not a slave? Yes! I’m delighted.
So why am I worried I won’t get to see Belle here in central Virginia?
Well, for one thing, I didn’t get to see Frost/Nixon here. I think it was here for about a week. This is a weird place like that.
But my larger concern is that movie distributors are not terribly comfortable with historical films depicting black people outside the framework of slavery or the civil rights movement. This is kind of a step sideways from where film was several years ago, when roles for black actors were limited to drug addicts and gangsters. Some great movies came out of that era, and I’ve no doubt that we’re being offered some good movies now, too. (I haven’t been to see The Butler or Twelve Years A Slave, but I’m sure they’re both perfectly serviceable movies.) I just don’t think the movie industry lived up to its potential then, and I don’t think it’s doing so now, either.
I have to wonder why we’re not seeing more movies like Belle. Certainly the movie industry’s discomfort with a diversity of roles can’t be the only reason, but what else is in the way?
The stories are there. History is full of stories like the one featured in Belle, although they’re not always easy to find. I watched the PBS reality show, Regency House Party, several years ago, and I was more relieved than surprised to learn that black heiresses from the West Indies often traveled to Britain with their families to do business. Many of them interacted with their white counterparts. While I’m sure racism abounded, it’s easy to imagine that romance bloomed there, too.
Also on PBS, I watched a documentary about the Black American West Museum. Its founder began his research on black history in the West after a teacher told him there were no black cowboys. We’re lucky he didn’t take her at her word – after meeting a black cowboy, he learned that the West was home to plenty of them. So we could be seeing more movies from that era as well.
I just wonder why we’re not. I don’t want to minimize slavery. I don’t want to ignore the history at the base of The Butler and The Help. But black history in this country – in the world – is about much, much more than that. Black people have been cowboys, heiresses, businessmen, starlets, explorers, soldiers, journalists, and more. We desperately need to see those stories, too. When no one sees that side of history, well, that’s how little kids end up hearing that there were no black cowboys.
The good news is that romance novels are taking up the gauntlet. Interracial historical romances featuring black heroines are appearing more frequently than ever. I’m thinking of Afton Locke’s Plucking the Pearl, set in the 1930s, and Koko Brown’s Jezebel from the same era. Sienna Mynx has written quite a few interracial historicals with black heroines, and Beverly Jenkins’s novel, Vivid, while it’s not an interracial story, features a black heroine working as a doctor. In 1876. Beverly Jenkins has been writing black historical romances for a long while now.
And I might have a couple up my sleeve, too, not that you asked. They’re way the hell up my sleeve, so far up that you can see the corner of one poking out of my collar, but they’re up there.
Belle’s release date is May 2, 2014. I’m hoping that it’s the beginning of a new trend, using the momentum of Scandal and Sleepy Hollow to drive some new avenues for storytelling. Most of all, I’m hoping I get to see it here in central Virginia. The nearest “selected city” is a couple of hours away.
Counting the days until May 2? Follow us here at Lady Smut. We’ll definitely keep you occupied until then!