Everyday Philadelphians will tell the stories Hollywood can’t

The 2900 block of Hope Street in North Philadelphia (WHYY, file)

The 2900 block of Hope Street in North Philadelphia (WHYY, file)

As I watched the Oscars Monday night, I wryly smiled as “The Shape of Water,” a film I’d scarcely heard of, took the best picture award over “Get Out,” a picture widely viewed as a seminal portrait of race in America.

While I was disappointed in the outcome, I quickly came to realize that neither film is more compelling than the drama playing out in the city I’ve long called home.

It’s a story that’s dropped more bombs than “Dunkirk.” And while nameless, faceless street soldiers are the casualties in this feature, they’re not the only ones onscreen. Families are featured, too.

Too often, these families are “Mudbound.” Stuck in poor communities and systemic racism. Stuck in inequality and poverty. Stuck in a place where it always seems their lives have less value than others.

This story is the tale of everyday Philadelphians. It’s a story that hides in plain sight.

You can see it in the lives of the denizens of America’s poorest big city. You can find it in the eyes of children who attend our underfunded schools. You can feel it in the calloused hands that work for less than a living wage. You can locate it in the titles of films that Hollywood found worthy of celebration.

The stories of Philadelphians who make it are proof that everyone with a dream can “Get Out,” even when it seems that it is perpetually “The Darkest Hour.”

I know because I am a Philadelphian, and even when you want to “Call Me By Your Name,” I will only answer if you call me by my dreams. Call me by my aspirations. Call me because I’ll tell the stories Hollywood will not.

Ours is the story of the woman who’s toiled six years for a two-year degree. It’s the story of the man who’s working three jobs to feed his children. It’s the story of a community that’s lost its men to prison, or the story of the kids who watch it all take place.

These are the real stories of Philadelphians — people who are routinely left out of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. And while it’s nice of Hollywood to align itself with the #MeToo movement, and call out the suffering of the less fortunate, it’s meaningless if Hollywood’s stories objectify women, exclude people of color, or reinforce stereotypes.

Philadelphia’s stories are genuine. Hollywood’s are not. Even with the advent of films like “Get Out” and “Black Panther,” it will take years for Hollywood to leave behind its legacy of racism and sexism.

That’s why we can’t wait for Hollywood to tell us better stories. We should tell better stories of our own.

So to the child in North Philly who wants to be a writer, you are Jordan Peele, winning the Oscar for writing “Get Out.” For the child from West Philly who lives on the court, you are Kobe Bryant winning an Oscar for writing “Dear Basketball.” For the fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers who are succeeding despite the odds, tell your stories. And when you “Get Out,” when you’re no longer “Mudbound,” when you’re alive like “The Shape of Water,” do something Hollywood doesn’t expect.

Come back and let your stories set us free.

Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books. Listen to him weekdays from 10 am to Noon on Praise 107.9 FM

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