Mya Baker is a Bed-Stuy resident and pre-school teacher who is close to completing a feature-length documentary about black male stereotypes entitled, “Black Men Afraid of Dark.”
She says the goal of her film is to begin a process of healing— for black men and for society as a whole.
A Chicago native, 38-year-old Baker said she didn’t start the film intending to talk about racial stereotypes. Her intention was to deal with sex and relationships. But she soon learned that so much of what guided her subjects’ opinions on relationships had to do with how they viewed themselves.
And so much of what informed how they viewed themselves was tied to how society viewed them: brute, oversexed, violent and angry.
“Trust me, I didn’t want to make this film about race; I want to believe we have gotten beyond all of this, I really do,” said Baker “I grew up an alternative queen, listening to rock, Suzie and the Banxies. As a teen, I was always like, ‘Love is colorblind; you shouldn’t judge people based on race.’ And I dated white guys."
Baker insisted the film’s changing topic emerged all on its own. However, a closer look at Baker’s own life suggests that it wasn’t totally by accident. In fact, filming the documentary seems to have served as a catharsis, an outpouring of some unresolved conflicts of her own:
“I remember so clearly, when I was 5 years old, my mother, my brother and I were chased out of a Chicago neighborhood called Bridgeport when we were young. A gang of boys were waiting for us as we walked out of this church, and they started chasing us with bats and bricks yelling, 'Nigger go home!'
“We were all so scared. We ran for our lives, all the way back to the car. I was quiet all the way home. But when we got on the elevator in our building, I finally turned to my brother and asked, ‘What’s a nigger?’ And he said, ‘Aw man, that’s what they call black people.’
“And I said, ‘But I’m not black, I’m brown.’ I was totally confused. That was my first time really thinking about color.
“My pre-schoolers don’t know about race yet. They don’t describe people as black or white. They say, that boy over there with the pink shirt hit me. Society teaches kids that there are differences, and I think it’s a shame.”
Still, as a young girl, Baker refused to believe there was a difference between her and the next person of any other race. And why would she? She was surrounded by positive black role models. Her mother had her master’s degree and worked for the EPA for 33 years. Her father, an electrical engineer, held a senior position at Amoco. And her older brother, also academic-minded, went on to earn his Ph.D in history.
But she also remembers watching her father grow depressed, as he complained constantly of the racism he experienced on the job at Amoco, and the further devastation he suffered when his own business start-up failed and he had to file bankruptcy.
And she remembers as well how broken her brother became after he was told to stop teaching African history to his young students. He also holds a master’s degree in special education, so the school where he worked moved him to the Special Ed. Department instead.
“I don’t think that people know that black men go through a lot of sh**,” said Baker, who has a 13-year-old son. “I mean, I’m totally aware and also always afraid of the fact that the minute my son steps out the door, he becomes a walking stereotype.
“And yes, in Hip Hop we see the images of black men being violent and angry. Yes, you see men hanging on the corner that ain’t about nothing. But you also see black men on the train every day going to work, black men picking their kids up from school. When is the last time you’ve seen that on TV or in the media, except for in a Tyler Perry movie?”
But at the core of what Baker wants to examine in her film is how black men view themselves. Since 2008, she has interviewed men of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds, including a few well-known media figures such as actors Vondie Curtis Hall, Malik Yoba and Lou Myers, author Kevin Powell, NY Senator Eric Adams and Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
Some of the themes Baker explores are men and their relationship with their mothers and how that informs how they deal with women, their views on manhood, monogamy, physical abuse, sexual abuse and their relationship with God…
“By the end of each interview, the men often tell me, ‘Wow, that was healing,’” said Baker. “Because they realized they’ve never really talked to anyone about a lot of the questions I asked.”
“Black Men Afraid of Dark” is completely self-funded. Baker now needs $25,000, which she is fundraising through a Kickstarter campaign. She hopes to finish filming by the end of June.
“We as black women also are guilty of painting this negative picture of black men. But are they?” said Baker. “My brother is a beautiful man. My father was a brilliant, responsible and hard-working man. He died of cancer, never being able to be the man and the business person he wanted to be for us.”
“I guess I’m making this film for my father, my brother and every black man who struggles every day to rise above stereotypes,” said Baker. “I want to leave something for my son. A legacy.
“Even if it doesn’t make a lot of money, I made it with my heart, and it’s going to matter.”
To donate to the Kickstarter campaign for “Black Men Afraid of Dark,” go here.