Privilege and Art

When I think of privilege, it’s easy for me to think of it only in terms of race: it’s a fact that white people in America are afforded privileges that people of color are not. However, an effect of Spike Lee focusing so closely on communities of color in his films is that he has forced me to consider the role of privilege within the black community. This is an issue that relates not only to skin tone, but to gender as well (both inside the black community and in general).

To say that music is central to Bleek’s character in Mo’ Better Blues would be an understatement. For much of the movie, he considers himself his artwork. As an artist myself, I think it’s interesting and important to think about what it means to be a black man and an artist in this world. At the beginning of the film, I respected Bleek because of his absolute devotion to his craft. However, as the film progressed and I saw how he treated others (namely, the black women of the film), I realized that his character was far more flawed than he at first appeared to be. In many ways, Bleek sees the women in his life as instruments: he wants to use them, to “play” them, to heighten his own sense of self-worth. We see this part of his character when he only returns to Indigo once he is no longer to play the trumpet. I saw these scenes as Bleek trying to find something to fill the void his trumpet left; a new instrument. This reading made the film’s final scenes much more difficult and complicated for me, and I am still trying to reconcile them with the rest of the film.

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