Tommy Oliver, the co-creator of the Black Love docuseries and co-founder of BlackLove.com, premiered a four-year labor of love this week at the Toronto Film Festival with his documentary 40 Years a Prisoner. Author, journalist, and historian Lawrence R. Ross watched the film Oliver shot, directed, and produced and shared his take on the significance of the film exclusively for BlackLove.com.
America demands that you love it, even when it doesn’t love you back. Or perhaps I should say, to be more accurate, doesn’t love you Black. It wants you to proclaim unconditional love of country, to the point of dying for it in war, while always treating you as an eternal outsider.
You’re to love the flag unapologetically, even when it waves proudly over injustice that never says it’s sorry. And of course, you must love the Constitution, the guardian of freedom and democracy, despite the fact that you as a Black person need special addendums, all because the Bill of Rights aren’t enough to protect you.
America’s love is hypocritical.
But we know that, and this story isn’t about America and its hypocritical love. It’s about a Black love. A complete Black love. The Black love of a Black son, Mike Africa, Jr., for his Black parents. A Black son born into that American hypocrisy, but who over the next forty years of his life, refused to allow his love for his parents to wane. In fact, as the years grew longer, his love grew stronger. That’s what filmmaker Tommy Oliver’s upcoming HBO documentary, 40 Years a Prisoner, so expertly details. That in the midst of a white supremacist society, one can still provide a light filled with hope and enduring love.