At first glance, They Gotta Have Us appears to focus on the history of Black cinema and how black artists achieved success in Hollywood and the film industry. But this 3-part docuseries speaks on more than just history, it shows how the Black pioneers, such as Sidney Potier and Harry Belafonte, paved the way for the next generation of black actors and filmmakers to become recognized as a necessity in the film industry. It highlights the importance of, and the lack of spotlight on, the amazing Black women actresses and filmmakers like Hattie McDaniel, being the first black actress to win an Oscar and Julie Dash, opening the door for Black women directors. It showcases the triumphant moments when Black artists said “You were wrong and you need us” to Hollywood’s face.
Our History can get easily lost and forgotten about and the poor representation of black people in Hollywood is just another way for white men to profit off of Black culture. From the thugs and gang members to the angry stepfather and deadbeat dad, They Gotta Have Us shows you how Hollywood portrays Black men as nothing more than angry and violent; Black women were nothing more than eye candy. BLACK PEOPLE KNOW THEIR STORY. We know our history and we are engulfed in our culture and Directors like Spike Lee and Robert Townsend showed that on the big screen. They Gotta Have Us tells us that Black people can and should make Black films. Taylor Hackford, Director of the film Ray, said it best in the documentary, “The first thing I did with Ray... I found a Black writer. He was from the south. And he was writing about a culture that he knew intimately”. Who better to write a story about a Black person than a Black person?
But a new age in film, ‘A renaissance’ as Jill Scott calls it in They Gotta Have Us, is slowly but surely making its way to this generation with movies such as Academy award-winning movie Moonlight, showcasing a side of Black people that’s never been seen on screen. Even Black Panther, A Black superhero movie breaking box office records, was expected to crash and burn. Jordan Peele’s movie Get Out, broke the genre barriers, and won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay, for Black people in the film industry. They Gotta Have Us illustrates the range and depth we have as Black artists and Black People. John Boyega, Star of the movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens, spoke on being a Black male playing the leading role in a genre we’re normally seen in: “The fans have spent so many years away from their beloved Star Wars, and the first person to pop-up, he’s got hair that you can’t necessarily rub a comb through”. He told the Director of the movie, J.J. Abrams, “You’re gonna get few people mad, JJ, but I like it”. Many continue to try to keep Black artists in a box and we continue to struggle to this day.
Even Black British Actors felt grief from other Black actors for taking roles as African-Americans in Hollywood films. They Gotta Have Us speaks heavily on this topic while handling both of the conversations. Some say Black British Actors do it for the money, to come to America, and build a repertoire. But David Oyelowo, A British pioneer who acted in movies like Selma and The Help, defending this claim by saying “I have told 150 years of African-American history through movies I’ve done, I had an education, the likes of which a lot of African-Americans haven't had the privilege to have. So what I bring to the table is very unique”. Many British actors and actresses also performed in theatre, only lessening that claim. However, Kasi Lemmons, a Black woman Director and Actor who directed Harriet and starred in the movie School Daze, brought up a good point: “Is it somehow easier, for both the performer and for the audience, to take out the specific genetic component”. She goes on to say that she can’t help but feel a safety net being cast, no pun intended, for casting British actors and actresses in African-American roles, “the pain is not as specific” she stated.
This continues to be an ongoing conversation but They Gotta Have Us concluded the docuseries by speaking on the outcome of Black actors/actresses, directors, writers, and everything in between pushes against the grain and goes outside the box. Movies like Sorry To Bother You were an intense mind trip if you know the feeling. Director Boots Riley described it as “An absurdist dark comedy with magical realism and science fiction, inspired by the work of telemarketing”. Many highly coveted filmmakers like John Singleton continued the path of “Hood films” or films that depicted the realism in the African-American community and diminishing the poor stereotype Hollywood put on us. Either road a Black artist is willing to take, We know that we can overcome and succeed in our goals to make our version of the world real and that is what the docuseries, They Gotta Have Us accomplished in these 3 short episodes.