I’m willing to be brave here on Cultural Revue and take contentious stances on issues like race and bigotry. I do so entirely with the strength of my convictions that I believe wholly in the goodness of people, the dignity of the individual and the need for society to come together on racial issues as much as possible. That said, I completely understand the value of deferring on contentious issues. I grew up in a relatively middle class white family in the United States. By the standards of human history, I am unbelievably lucky that my life hasn’t endured intense pain and struggle.
It is for this reason I always put a great deal of weight in the voices of Black Conservatives. I’m not didactic in this tendency of course. There are plenty of BAD black activists who say conservative things who I don’t choose to associate myself with. I wouldn’t merely place the burden on someone to speak up just because they happen to be a Black Republican.
That said, I have intense respect for people who take up arms as “Black Conservatives” because of the stigmas involved in taking on that. It can mean isolation from the “black community” and it can mean isolation from the more hard-edged portions of the far-right.
As such, I went into last year’s documentary Uncle Tom very interested to hear what it would have to say. The film was produced by the black libertarian activist Larry Elder and scored an astonishing lot of interviews with prominent Black Conservatives like Allen West, Brandon Tatum, Candace Owens, Jesse Lee Peterson, the late Herman Cain and more!
Most of the film is primarily documented by following the paths of its primary subjects. Each of the people interviewed explores their own personal ideological path and how they came to bear the title of “Black Conservative”.
To start our, the film asks most of its central characters two questions:
1. How did you become Conservative?
2. How do other people treat you as a Black Conservative?
As the film’s title would suggest, the answer to the latter question is “not well”. Black Conservatives are regularly dismissed with every horrific slur imaginable from “coon” to “house nigger”. These activists have all paid a public price for their opinions. The film backs up these brains with dozens of pieces of footage of black people being verbally abused on camera by black progressives using these slurs. They’re also shown being dismissed by media pundits as mentally ill, disturbed, minstrel shows.
Each of them comes to their beliefs from a different perspective but the through line of the film is mostly the same: These men and women came to the right when they self reflected and realized that the Democrat Party didn’t represent their values.
Such an experience is never easy or painless. Many of the activists describe just how much this change of perspective has unwoven their personal lives and understandings of the world!
The film skims through a long collection of ideas and conservative talking points that a reasonably engaged partisan will already be familiar with. There are discussions about the racist history of the Democratic Party, the implicit falsehoods of the 1619 Project, the high rates of abortion in black communities and the lost history of Black American accomplishments.
The documentary explores the media’s interactions with prominent black conservatives like Dr. Ben Carson, Kanye West and Justice Clarence Thomas. It also goes out of its way to explore the incredible accomplishments of black intellectuals like Booker T. Washington and Thomas Sowell to drive a point about lacking representation for stories of Black American success and genius.
Good stuff, if a bit overplayed…
These are all familiar talking points of you hangout around the Right-Wing enough. Much of what we hear is indistinguishable from normal Republican Rhetoric. Conservatives like to say a lot of good things about drawing in black support but rarely do so in ways that actually would draw in the black vote. Republican Strategists, behind the scenes, generally consider it a waste of time to campaign in black communities.
Uncle Tom addresses all of these points but generally rushes through the majority of them. At times, the film feels very challenging to get a grip on. It’s constantly circling back to the theme that “The Democrats take Blacks for granted” but skims over entire discussions in under a minute. There are entire documentaries like Fear of the Black Republican or What Killed Michael Brown that solely hone in on individual issues like Republican strategy or black disenfranchisement.
There are times when I looked down at my phone for five minutes, came back up, and realized I’d missed half a dozen discussions and interview segments.
I wouldn’t say Uncle Tom is a bad documentary. It’s tackling a lot of important subjects from an underrated political perspective and brings in some major voices to bolster its arguments. It does feel unfocused and slippery at times though. As someone who is already familiar with the topics, I didn’t gleam much new and just enjoyed hearing people I like speaking their mind.
I’m just not sure how someone who doesn’t share my opinions would react to it. How much would the uninitiated gleam from this film?