Several of my friends were actually surprised when I told them that there was going to be an Uncle Tom sequel. I was surprised as well. I managed to avoid hearing about it until well after its premiere.
I haven’t seen the original Uncle Tom in two years, but I recall thinking fairly well of it, as far as its genre goes. The modern conservative documentary is a bit of a hot mess, with the majority of them like No Safe Spaces or Dinesh D’Souza’s documentaries being pseudo-autobiographies peddling boring talking points from conservative talking heads (many of whom I agree with but find their arguments garbles in execution). Occassionally one of their films breaks out and turns a few heads—ala What is a Woman? or Who Killed Michael Brown?—but the majority of the time conservative documentaries don’t impress me.
Uncle Tom mostly avoided that mess. It did capture a certain feeling in the autobiography of its interviewees; a feeling that the world hates you for refusing to be who it tells you to be as a Black Man in America.
As my Geeks Under Grace colleague wrote of it, “Being a Black Conservative leaves one largely homeless, politically speaking. When I heard that Larry Elder was aiming to put together a documentary film largely giving a platform to blacks who don’t tow the line of what the linguist John McWhorter rightly calls the flawed religion of “Anti-Racism”, my interest was at least piqued. What was delivered proved to be much too slapdash to be satisfactory, but I appreciated the effort and the thoughts presented at least.”
Uncle Tom II picks up where the last film left off. Whereas the first film was mostly interested in interrogating the painful experience of exclusion felt by Black Conservatives, the second part is more expansive and expands outward to explore why the Black community is facing so much poverty, anger, and alienation—as the world has seen in the past decade through huge upheavals like the 2020 George Floyd Protests and more.
As one interviewee says, “It’s ironic. Black People in America are the freest, safest, and most prosperous black people in the history of the world. There is no country in this world where a Black person would rather be unless they grow up in this country. Then they’re fed a lie so deceptive they actually believe the opposite of that which is true.”
The film spends a lot of time interrogating the culture of Black America, exploring its degradation in the past century from the surprisingly prosperous state of the early 20th century to its demoralization and radicalization amidst the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, all the way to modern day where we see how this manifests in the Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street movements.
As with many things nowadays, the answer to the question of “why” is “Cultural Marxism”. I’d call the accusation cliche, but I actually believe that Cultural Marxism is real, so far be it from me to criticize the filmmakers for evangelizing my beliefs. Regardless, the accusation doesn’t feel new. At times the film feels like it is swimming around the same drain that so much of modern conservatism has been sucked into for the last decade and a half.
Like I said with the first film, “Good stuff if a bit overplayed…”
That this is a minor complaint though is a good sign. The film is very much interested in threading the needle of how and why society is demoralized and it does well to address many of the more contemporary arguments for how and why the west has been consumed by Neo-Marxist thought. It doesn’t even have to go far to demonstrate that these ideas are real. Most of the leaders of Black Lives Matter are open about their influences and open about the fact that they believe capitalism, religion, and “whiteness” must be abolished to achieve utopia.
The film is NOT shy about the degree to which is willing to question orthodoxy either. Its collection of Black Conservative activists take pride in their disinterest in the status quo or the narratives of history and question the negative implications of everything, including the Civil Rights movement and the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
The filmmakers do a good job offering receipts for most of their claims. I am happy to say that I did learn a few things. The biggest takeaway for myself was learning the degree to which the 1921 Tusla Race Riots, recently mass-popularized by HBO’s Watchmen miniseries, had a relatively minimal effect on the city that many considered one of the most properous Black cities in America. Despite claims of a massacre of hundreds of innocent Black civilians, video footage shows the city totally repaired and Black families having returned to normal life by 1925 and fully functional for several subsequent decades.
History disputes what happened in that riot, but the footage speaks for itself. Black prosperity was definitely not definitely destroyed by White Supremacist violence. As the filmmakers would suggest though, it was destroyed by the dissolution of the Black Family, the destruction of Black Churches, forced integration with Whites, and the encroachment of federal programs like LBJ’s War on Poverty.
Uncle Tom II‘s filmmakers must certainly be commended for their bravery. They’re aggressively tackling some precious sacred cows. The movie even ends on a tease that Uncle Tom III will be dissecting the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.—which promises to be quite inflammatory given that the venerable Civil Rights leader is a martyred saint of American justice by any reasonable stretch of the modern imagination. I grew up reading MLK speeches in elementary school and I get taken aback sometimes by the filmmaker’s brazenness.
Again, I hope that Uncle Tom and Uncle Tom II are useful for more than just selling DVDs to demoralized conservatives. The best documentaries in history are not just the ones the sell or that are technically accurate—the best ones change hearts and minds: Roger and Me, The Act of Killing, The Cove, This is Not a Movie, etc.
Its easy for me as a film critic to point to the importance of F for Fake or Man With A Movie Camera but how many of them changed political policies? I might not like Jesus Camp or Gas Land, but they actually turned the dial on political issues. K-Mart stopped selling ammunition after Michael Moore released Bowling for Columbine. Conservative documentaries like Frack Nation might be excellent but it sadly did not undo the culture’s fear of fracking.
The documentary Fear of the Black Conservative actually changed my mind about the way I thought of the way Americans deal with issues in the Black Community. I don’t know if the Uncle Tom Trilogy can do that but I am curious who could be swayed by them.