MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Log in to your Netflix account, and you will see a new category this week, the Black Lives Matter collection. Amazon Prime and HBO are also featuring black TV and filmmaking. At the same time, HBO Max has pulled from its library the classic film "Gone With The Wind" until it can give audiences context on the movie, on how it romanticizes slavery and the South during the Civil War. Now, all these entertainment companies and plenty more have expressed solidarity with Black Lives Matter, and they are highlighting a lot of good shows, also some not-so-good shows. For some guidance, I want to bring in NPR's pop culture critic Linda Holmes.
LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: Hi.
KELLY: And our TV critic Eric Deggans - hey, Eric.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hey.
KELLY: Let's start with one movie that had shot to a lot of people's viewing cues. It is "The Help" from 2011. And then came this huge backlash. Linda, I'm going to throw this to you first because I know you just wrote a column about the movie and some of the problematic elements that prompted this backlash.
HOLMES: Yeah. "The Help" is a film about black maids in Mississippi in 1963, but it sees their story very much through the eyes and the experiences of a young white woman played by Emma Stone, who decides to write a book about them. And it's very much about her as the person who saves them and helps them out. That's a classic Hollywood trope of the white savior. And, you know, Viola Davis, who plays Aibileen, one of the maids, has talked about this herself and said she regrets doing the film because of that focus on the white character rather than on the maids.
KELLY: To the point about problematic elements of some of these shows, Eric, I will be honest and say I grew up watching and loving "Gone With The Wind." I imagine there are a lot of people out there thinking of a TV show or film that they have loved and thinking, huh, there's actually some pretty problematic characters and storylines in there. As a critic, how do you think about this?
DEGGANS: One of the things I always recommend is paying attention to how characters of color are treated by this storyline. Are they fully realized characters with their own goals, with their own values? Or are they constantly sacrificing themselves in order to aid a white protagonist? I think that Linda makes a great point in her column, where she talks about how the black maids in "The Help" are constantly risking their jobs and their lives to help this white protagonist who just wants to, like, write a book about them (laughter). And the question is always, you know, what are black characters or characters of color doing for themselves? Do they seem like a collection of stereotypes? Or do they seem like authentic people who may have flaws? Are they, like, there to move the story along? Or do they really have agency?
And finally, with "Gone With The Wind," you know, it idolizes the antebellum South. And it idolizes a South that was enslaving black people. You know, what is this story ultimately saying is good? And what is it saying that's negative? And does that really line up with your values as a viewer? You have to constantly ask yourself these things.
KELLY: Linda, to Eric's point about - that we should be aware as we watch black characters on screen - are they authentic characters? Are they fully realized characters? What are some things you would recommend viewers look for?
HOLMES: Well, I want to say first that I think if you're a white person like I am who is trying to kind of do better and understand better, what you watch is always going to be just a compliment to whatever real work you're doing.
KELLY: Watching a movie is not enough.
HOLMES: Of course. And that's why in a lot of ways, what I recommend to people and what I hope people do is just change persistently, consistently, durably. Change the mix of creative voices that you are listening to and that you are giving your eyeballs to and not only when they are specifically addressing race. So, you know, watch Michaela Coel's new HBO show, which is called "I May Destroy You," if you're looking for something that's new. If you want to go a little older and a little more mellow, one of my favorite romances is the 2000 film "Love & Basketball." It matters a lot just what you're putting into your own eyes as far as representations of people. I think it can be really hard to undo repeated exposures to something with conscious explanations of it.
DEGGANS: I would push back against one element of that and say that I do think that one reason why people may have felt more comfortable voting for a black man to be president is because we saw a black man as president on both the hit TV show "24" and the popular movie "Deep Impact." And so I do think that what we allow characters of color to do in film and TV shows expands our idea of what we may accept people of color doing in real life.
KELLY: Linda gave us a recommendation or two. Eric, do you want to weigh in here? What would you recommend that people watch if we are trying to be entertained but also understand these issues better?
DEGGANS: Well, there's a ton of great stuff, but I will recommend Spike Lee's new movie on Netflix called "Da Five Bloods." It is one of the first movies I can remember in forever that is centered on black men's experience in the Vietnam War. It is bloody, but it is also very frank about what black men went through in Vietnam and how they were treated when they came back and how they may still be struggling with that today.
KELLY: NPR critics Eric Deggans and Linda Holmes, thanks, you two,
DEGGANS: Thank you.
HOLMES: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.