At Large


By Published On: March 4th, 2024

Childhood memories of black and white television. The Lone Ranger.  “Hopalong” Cassidy. Wyatt Earp. Gene Autry. Gabby Hayes. Bass Reeves.


Bass Reeves. He was not on the list of western heroes who filled the screen with 30-minute installments of fantasies about the taming of the frontier. His moment came many decades later when, after a lengthy development process, the limited series drawn from the deputy’s biographies finally made it to a streaming service near you.  

Bass Reeves shared the distinction of being, like Wyatt Earp, a real, historic character who actually did the things that are filling the HD screen in front of us. It simply took 100+ years for his story to be told. Why the wait? Is it possible that a latent undercurrent of prejudice kept his story from being told? After all, Bass Reeves was a Black man.  

The Oscar race

At the time of this writing, we are in the midst of the swirl of speculation about this season’s Oscar nominations.  The night of March 10, tens of millions of viewers will watch as the envelopes are opened and the fortunes of the already famous and the newly discovered will be announced.

Although Barbie and Oppenheimer seem to be dominating the conversations, we’ve been enthralled with the justified attention being given to two films that confront racism and prejudice. They are both very much worth seeing, and since the pervasive nature of streaming services grants access to big-budget movies shortly after they make their theatrical runs, settling onto the living room sofa and allowing the cinematic magic to embrace you has become very easy.

Killers of the Flower Moon is a long film. It needs to be. The story it tells cannot be neatly wrapped up in 100 minutes.  Legendary film auteur Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Eric Roth adapted the non-fiction book David Gann had written about the Osage murders committed in the 1920s in Oklahoma. The pointed inclusion of footage of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre reinforces the nature of the horror. It is about race, about ethnicity, and about greed. The underlying truth of the story is telling. Surely one of the primary, systemic causes of bigotry is greed.  

American Fiction seemed to come out of nowhere. There was very little buzz before the film opened in theaters. What conversation there was seemed to revolve around the performance of Jeffrey Wright, who plays a character who wrestles with the notion of being an intellectual author and a Black man. Far-fetched as the premise of the film might be, the steady beat of the conflicts within the story ensures that we are never too many frames away from facing up to prejudice, reverse prejudice, struggle, and resolution.

The sins of the fathers

Many of us grew up in families where the understood equality of all people was a signature of our home conversations and the way we lived. That was not true for all of us.

Recently, the FBI announced a chilling bit of data. Between 2018 and 2022, reported hate crimes in schools and colleges nearly doubled. Targets of these crimes, in descending order, were Black students, LGBTQ students, and Jewish students. Since the report ended in 2022, the recent Gaza conflict was not included. University presidents have lost their jobs as the result of accusations of hate speech and hate crimes on some of the most prestigious campuses in the country.  

Whether the divide was ethnic, social, religious, economic, or political, it has existed in dinner table conversations, ill-timed attempts at humor, and ugly acts such as pushing a grocery cart so that it blocks another shopper or angrily elbowing our way to the front of the line to buy a movie ticket. For reasons that were likely tribal in origin, some families needed to exert their “betterness.” Bigotry and prejudice are endemic ways of doing just that. African-American, Irish, Polish, Chinese, Muslim, Roman Catholic or Jewish, to the bigots, it didn’t matter. Anyone different was just “them.”

To change the way people think and behave

Viewing a film or binging a limited television series that has caught our attention and demands that we see it through has the inherent potential for us to see people in a different way. The same family that may have made crude comments about members of ethnic minorities can find themselves perched on the edge of their recliners hoping that Bass Reeves will, in fact, eradicate the evil that has been stalking him.

In so many ways, film and television can hold up a mirror and allow (force?) us to see a different side of who we are. What we do with that information, of course, is up to us. Are we still uncomfortable strolling through a crowd of individuals who look and speak differently from us? Are we eager to crawl behind repressive legislation that barely shrouds the bigotry and fear that prompted its writing?

Ours to answer. Ours to act. •