Hurt acknowledged that some viewers thought — and still do — that he was attacking the institution of soul food. He said that there were critiques levied against him that the documentary was an indictment of a staple of the community. He argued, though, that his message is one of understanding and moderation. And while, yes, he does make this argument toward the latter part of the movie, it feels tacked on. The movie feels as if it’s building to a crescendo in its case against soul food and then makes an abrupt left turn.
Experts, scholars and other pillars of the black community itself are peppered throughout the film; Dick Gregory, Michaela Angela Davis and others give context and perspective on the subject. Gregory explains that the soul food from his day is completely different from that of today. With homegrown animals and vegetables, the food — which wasn’t exactly healthy even then — was at least lacking in the chemicals and hormones that our current food contains.
The conversation that Hurt desires to spark within the black community is valid, and one that’s desperately needed. And while the film creates an amazing starting point, it leaves a little too much behind. Many topics are touched on — from historical facts such as the type of nutrition slaves needed, based on the calories they burned in the fields, to the effects of different types of food on the body — but needed to be presented in more detail.
While I strongly recommend that people see Soul Food Junkies, I’m actually more excited about the possibilities this film creates for future exploration of the topic. I’m excited about the young filmmakers who will see the space that Hurt has created and will desire to pick up the ball and keep running, examining in greater depth the health disparities within communities of color in America.
Soul Food Junkies is a love letter from a black son to his black father, with the backdrop of a discussion of black health and food justice. The documentary is less heady than some, but its more palatable presentation will hopefully engage, entertain and educate.
Soul Food Junkies will be screened on Thurs., Aug. 30, at 7 p.m. in New York City at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, 165 W. 65th St. There will be a live performance by Dead Prez and a panel that includes Sonia Sanchez, Marc Lamont Hill, Byron Hurt and others.
Elon James White is a writer and satirist and host of the award-winning video and radio series This Week in Blackness. Listen Monday to Thursday at TWIB.FM and subscribe on iTunes. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Tumblr.