Posted in Historicals, Reading
November 10, 2013

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.

Sienna Mynx has the hottest covers, right?
Sienna Mynx has the hottest covers, right?

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.

Another awesome cover -- this one for Beverly Jenkins's Vivid.
Another awesome cover — this one for Beverly Jenkins’s Vivid.

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!

Tagged with: , , ,


  • Post authorMadeline Iva

    I grew up in a house with a lot of mental illness. But I’m glad I don’t see mental illness always presented with a straight jacket. Sometimes movies about it are light and daffy, sometimes intense and dramatic. That pretty much sums up my experience growing up with it.

    So it’s unfortunate that most movies dealing with black characters in the past are uniformly dramatic and heavy. I would love to see a movie about a black heiress coming to England to enjoy herself and to one degree or another succeeding at love and marriage–in the way that any heroine might to one degree or another succeed. Yet movies about history and black people tend to go heavy and stay heavy.

    The first black student at an all white male college was asked how bad the racism was. He said “No, it’s not like you think. They don’t see in black and white there, they see in green” Meaning that what counted more than race was money and class. I wonder to what degree regency heiresses from the Caribbean were seen through these same green spectacles.

    Reply to Madeline Iva
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      I had actually heard this — maybe on Regency House Party — that the color that mattered was green. When Tanya Samuel arrived at the party, her character’s financials placed her at the top of the women’s pecking order with regard to her desirability as a match. That clip teases it a little by saying she’d have been the most sensible match for the lord of the manor, and of course, I got really excited about that, but it looks like I’ll have to write that one myself someday.

      You described that lack of balance in storytelling so much better than I did! What makes a body of work … work … is that balance. It’s the difference between something feeling true to life and feeling like an enormous guilt trip that should win awards because otherwise what does that say about people.

      Belle’s got a lot riding on it! Hopefully that means we’ll get to see it here.

      Reply to Alexa Day
  • Post authorLizEverly

    I hope you are wrong, Alexa. I live in Central Va. and I WANT to see that movie. It looks fantastic. Still, I know what you are saying is right–there’s a lot of movies we don’t get to see until they are out on DVD. and wow those books you listed look very good, as well. First, to check out Beverly Jenkins! FABULOUS post.

    Reply to LizEverly
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      Yeah, I hope I’m freaked out over nothing. Maybe we’ll start seeing ads for it a little closer to the release date.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post! Have fun with Beverly Jenkins. 🙂

      Reply to Alexa Day
  • Pingback: Goodbye, Summer; Hello, Year Two! | Lady Smut (Edit)

  • Pingback: A More Diverse Union: Interracial Romance Spreads Through History | Lady Smut (Edit)

Comments & Reviews

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.