“Black Museum” is the most satisfying episode of Black Mirror season four. There, I said it. Sure, It wasn’t my first opinion, but I’ve changed my damn mind. This isn’t some independant, just-gotta-be-different critique either. It’s a simple, take-it-as-I-now-feel-it, “black man” critique. And yes, it doesn’t make a whole lotta sense. This is Black Mirror we’re talking about here. That dystopian, fuck your iPhone, embrace that dark nihilism, dank as hell Black Mirror, Black Mirror.
But full disclosure, on first watch, my views pretty much went in line with most of the predominantly-white reviewers. From Collider, to the New York Times, The Atlantic, The AV Club, The Guardian, Vox, The Boston Globe, and NPR; there was this wide cast of white perspectives that all seemed blind to the episode’s overarching thesis on race. Instead, we got terms like “dud,” “needless,” and “unhinged.” Several reviewers understandably trashed the episode over the trio of scenarios that seemed to play parody to itself. Hell, I personally called it forgettable.
It was as if we couldn’t see beyond some superficial base flaws.
On its face, it was framed like another tired revenge story. You had a British girl Nish (Letitia Wright) who visits a house of tech horrors at some remote joint. Owner, and former supervisor over said horrors, Rolo Haynes, welcomes Nish, and in his very tongue-in-cheek way, tells three stories around three distinct pieces of brain tech. One that can transition the pain receptors to another; a second that can take someone’s mind and inject it into the host body of someone else—thoughts and senses and all included; and a final story which completes the triangle. Here, a black man is wrongly imprisoned for murder. In the event of death, agrees to abandon his essence to Mr. Haynes in exchange for a cash dowry for his kin. The man finds himself executed, revived, and used in some form of holographic torture-spectacle. Which brings us back to Nish, who isn’t who she seems to be. She isn’t even British, but the daughter of the accused.
As a black reviewer, I often feel like a lot rests on my shoulders when I view works of art like this. Audiences expect me to view the culture through an anti-oppression, non-status quo lens because there are so few others able to put industries in check. Yet at the same time, there’s an expectation to be “accessible” and “objective”—or at least, not too burn-it-all-the-fuck-down radical. Like on some “colourblind” mess.
During the times when I give into the latter, I’m liable to get responses like these in my mentions:
In all their black-splaining forms, they’re often right, and often keep me grounded and mindful of an unspoken responsibility. A responsibility which demands that I listen to voices like these. Whereas other writers may choose to cast them aside like a piece of trash, I choose to take it personal. Because in that overall, tired sameness of every film event that has me being the single black dude, there’s something to be continually said about how painfully white and how comparatively black I am in contrast in the critic community. It’s the reason why certain voices on Black Twitter made their requests for black writers, despite the unfortunate unlikelihood of being heard regardless.
Because I’m some black dude, I’m capable of viewing all this with a second lens, with its many nuances around race that need to be felt instead of just observed. So with a second, unfiltered, uncensored watch I took on the challenge. I began to see how Nish is British but also unmistakably black in her objective. Rolo Haynes is of course a figure of the white and the western, who senselessly use the black and the misguided for personal gain. Clayton, father of Nish, is the standard black man—me. He begins with enthusiasm and ends with exhaustion—a vegetative deadness, which I’ve often felt during certain moments in my life. Like the entire weight of the western world that just wanted to fuck folks like me over so they could reach ever so higher and gain ever so much power. And the mother/wife that comes to the Clayton’s aid—the same kind of black woman that always comes in support of the black man at the cost of their own well beings; my mother, teachers and friends. And yes, Nish herself, the modern day, educated #blacklivesmatter yute. Able to blend into higher society through a simple accent change, from southern to British. She’s uncaring for the white man’s justifications. Uninterested in the classic turning of the cheek. She’s in it for the pure educating of a man that used her people without mercy. That’s the kind of satisfaction I’m talking about. That’s the kind of raw interpretation that I simply couldn’t imagine a white reviewer putting down into words. The unfortunate reality of the predominantly pale crowd of reviewers amounts to a risk in the whole critique game becoming hamfisted in its racial commentary. Unless the message is blatant—so much so that you can practically hear the damn slavery chains, with white boys screaming “get em Jim Bob”—we’ll continue to find more and more messages entirely missed by those with the power to observe rather than feel through experience. Flicks like Get Out by contrast offer a nuanced take on racism that wasn’t as much “we talking ’bout racism!” racism. With a more diverse crowd of reviewers, in the vein of how Black Twitter reacted to Jordan Peele’s creation, we wouldn’t need such important messages to be spelt out.
But listen, I’m not trying to say that “Black Museum” was peak Black Mirror. I’m not even saying that all its concepts are put together well. What I’m saying is that we need more people like myself and more women of colour in general that can see these messages and interpret them for the masses—free of filter. Because diversity on the big screen without diversity among critics is like planting fruits without tending to the damn weeds. The message is liable to get lost. Follow Noel Ransome on Twitter.