There’s a Bale of Cotton in Harlem

Although I was somewhat limited to plot summaries and youtube videos, the film adaptation of Cotton Comes to Harlem didn’t seem to deviate so much from the book and even portrayed certain scenes and characters as I’d envisioned them. Our detectives had the witty banter and relationship construct as I’d imagined, but it was easier for me to pick up on their humor when I was watching it as opposed to reading the dialogue in the book. As my title would suggest, the movie did seem to focus a little more on the bale of cotton than I had noticed while reading the book. I enjoyed the movie a little more because of the humor and lesser violence, but I’d have to say that I was pretty disappointed with Iris in the movie vs. Iris in the book. I had high expectations for the way her character was written, and especially for the girl fight, that were simply left unmet by the movie, even down to her appearance. Various qualms I had with the book, such as the violence and convoluted plot sequence, were resolved by watching the movie. Overall I found it more enjoyable.

Something that we discussed in class but I feel like failed to really go in depth about was the violence of the 60s. We literally have multiple serious events for almost every year of the decade, leading up to the Kent State Massacre of 1970, where the violence continues on for a few more years. We have to take it back to our junior year history class in high school, which is where we learned about African Americans being victimized during sit ins, something they did just as an attempt to establish their rights. People would yell in their ears, spit on them, call them names, throw things on them and at them, even getting to a point where these people would be physically injured, and for what? Simply sitting at the bar stools where white people did. There were various attacks an all sorts of racial ethnic groups by different groups, and riots were a big fad of this time period. What can you expect from a decade that began with an event with such magnitude as the bombing of Birmingham? Half a century later, I read a poem based around these events that brought me to tears in my modernized AP English class; I couldn’t imagine having endured anything consequent of these horrific acts.

Even when we talked about Himes’ acid experience as a child when neither he nor his brother would receive help from white doctors, we can kind of get a feel as to why such dramatic violence and racism is laced throughout this book, but especially when looking at the time period historically. We see now that the racial slurs that would be incredibly inappropriate to audibly utter today were acceptable then and, not only that, but common. In hindsight, the goings on of this book almost pale in comparison to the bigger picture of what was happening epidemically. As we also mentioned, although pop culture sells the 60s as a great time period, I’m somewhat glad to have been born passed that. I feel like having to deal with some many events in one’s lifetime could be the equivalent of 9/11 happening more than once. Of course I say this without actually knowing what it would be like, but it’s just an estimate.

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