International preview of "A United Kingdom."

‘A United Kingdom’ and the Unrelenting Importance of Race Films

Posted on:

< < Back to

It seems an eternity ago when the 2015 film awards season fraught with controversy following claims of racial exclusivity in Hollywood. The #Oscarssowhite hashtag that dominated social media presented yet another nagging reminder to the American people: race in the United States remains an ever-present topic of discord, even among the entertainment industry.

The subsequent negativity that followed the criticism of Hollywood’s own race problem prompted expected insults of whining, oversensitivity, and the dismissal of racial tension just prior to the most racially divisive period the U.S. has seen since the ’70s. “Why should someone be nominated just because they’re [insert race]? It should be based on talent” was the question asked. What so many failed to realize was the issue was not about recognition solely based on skin color, but recognition at all in an industry where many ethnic films receive nowhere near the amount of attention as their Caucasian counterparts.

In a nearly comedic turn of events, the 2016 awards season saw the domination of color in Hollywood. Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight furiously swept The Oscars, BAFTA Awards, Golden Globes, and other ceremonies. Meanwhile Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures prompted yet another wave of attention towards the American education system and its omittance of significant African American citizens from the pages of history books. Yet still, The Revenant director Alejandro Iñárritu continued to bask in the glory of his 2015 win making it visible Hollywood’s efforts to change… or at least present a trend.
2017 seems to be no exception. While Americanized adaptations of international favorites such as Netflix’s upcoming accused-of-whitewashing Death Note make the rounds, films such as Amma Asante’s elegant A United Kingdom continue in a quest to preserve and present the history of notable figures of color brought to life on the big screen.

A United Kingdom is a gorgeous film which follows the biographical tale of Botswana’s first leader Sir Seretse Khama and his controversial marriage to a Caucasian British secretary Ruth Khama, which resulted in Khama’s exile. It was not just the fact that Khama had married a white-skinned woman after being groomed for leadership, but the implications an interracial marriage presented at the time. The union between the two came just as Apartheid fell under South Africa, located just south of Bechuanaland (which would become the independent country of Botswana in 1966). The British government perceived a black man and white woman in a role of power just north of a land where their marriage was punishable by legal offense would present negative ramifications for all countries involved, prompting the exile of Khama based on his refusal to annul his marriage.

The importance of films like Assante’s is that they force us to remember what exactly is at stake. It is easy to dismiss the reference of Muslims as terrorists or Mexicans as drug-dealing rapists based on the premise that we no longer live in a world where loving one of another ethnicity can lead to banishment, or worse. And it is for that exact reason we need films like this to exist: to remind us of where progress has led us, and where we can so easily fall back if we allow ourselves to.

The aura of racial divisiveness that has surrounded the presidency of Donald Trump has led to an increase in highly-publicized hate crimes, open xenophobia, and acidic nationalism. Perhaps one great shock to all of us has been the number of citizens who have stood up to say “this is not what we are about,’’ in this country. For every one who screams “build the wall,” there appear three who will stand against him.

From these films we are granted a history that may have been forgotten, skimmed-over, or even ignored. One hope is that we will see more racially based films that challenge how we perceive not just Afro-Caucasian American relations, but other challenges in America’s long-running racial history. The Trail of Tears deserves just as much time on the big screen as do Japanese internment camps.
A United Kingdom is currently showing at The Athena Cinema located at 31 S. Court Street in uptown Athens. The film currently carries an 82 percent rating on film aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, indicating favorable reviews. Show times for The Athena can be found in the theater, as well as