Words, Jesse Jackson IV | firstname.lastname@example.org
Photography, Reed J Kenney | @reedjkenney
One look at this ensemble is a dead giveaway for the inspiration. The Cat, John Robie, played by Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief. (Sans espadrilles, of course.) As for many others, that era of film is of great inspiration to me, papered over socio-political-economic conditions notwithstanding. The absence of Black people never stopped us from enjoying the work of masters of mise en scène; after all, given the environment in which the stories take place, it makes perfect sense that black folks would be absent.
Works of fiction though they may be, cultural norms still bled through. Of course, one cannot overlook the contributions of titans like Sidney Poitier or Paul Robeson to the canon, and we are ever grateful for it. However, the burden of being one of such a small number is heavy. All of our Black icons in film are tasked with telling the stories of our pain, often to critical acclaim.
While that is an undeniable piece of history, there is an increasingly acknowledged sentiment that perhaps it’s time for less of those films, and more reflective of Black achievement, exuberance, even extravagance.
We do not discount Eddie Murphy’s run in the ‘80’s - Trading Places and Coming to America could both be said to do those very things - but the comedic tones of the films allow a less serious viewing. We look to a future portrayal of Black people, living beautiful lives, exuding the class and elegance of Grant and Kelly, where status is unquestioned, where there is no undercurrent of otherness. We welcome any suggestions for films that do that very thing.
Of course, this perspective comes from a certain space, a certain expectation or picture of class and elegance that has been dictated to us by a culture not our own. We must admit to a degree of subliminal indoctrination to the European Old World ideals of decorum and the mannerisms of the well bred. Interestingly, with streetwear having taken the throne and the casualification of the male wardrobe, we may be closer than ever to a truly diverse expression or representation of New World/New Money class.
The closest approximation of these ideals we have today lies at the feet of athletes, actors, and artists - people who have achieved greatness in their craft, who have often come from very little to become who they are. While those stories are inspirational to us all, we believe they place such success on a pedestal too far removed from the every day.
They suggest that if one were to simply win the lottery, one too could live life beautifully. We are more interested in the excellence of the every day, in seeing Black and Indigenous men and women who dedicate themselves to working honest jobs elevated societally and culturally. We strive to create such an environment in these editorials.
If we don’t see it elsewhere, it falls on us to create it, it whatever small way we may.