Kevin Hart’s Guide to Black History

A Comedic Summary of the Achievement of African Americans Throughout History

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Tina Ou

While African Americans have achieved many amazing things in the past, our history is usually boiled down to slavery and the Civil Rights movement when taught in classrooms and highlighted in popular media.

When people refer to Black history in America, they are most often thinking of slavery, abolitionists, or the Civil Rights Movement. Thus, there are very few African Americans that gain recognition without being part of a grand narrative of constant struggle and oppression. While the achievements of Black leaders such as Sojourner Truth, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Madam C.J. Walker and others are commonly known, there is a gaping hole in our history books where the contributions of African American scientists, inventors, writers, and entertainers ought to be.

Kevin Hart’s Guide to Black History aimed to fill the gap in popular knowledge when it comes to African American historical figures. The Netflix movie opens with a scene of Kevin Hart’s daughter Riley and her best friend Jeremy, who is White, sitting on the couch after watching Twelve Years a Slave. The brutality of the heavy themes portrayed by the movie has left Riley frustrated with the injustice embedded in our most common narrative of Black history: slavery. In an attempt to raise her spirits, Hart pulls her aside and shows her The Big Book of Black History, a fictional book that is used as a vehicle to transition from one historical figure to the next. The movie consists of the success stories of various African American historical figures throughout time, using comedy as a way to combat the common theme of suffering, hardship, and despair.

The film is not necessarily Kevin Hart’s best work, but it serves a purpose that goes beyond comedy. It presents the work of African Americans in a positive light and shows that our history is more than just the narrative of slavery and our reaction to it. Moreover, it presents this history in an accessible manner. While Kevin Hart’s Guide to Black History does utilize some of the themes used in movies made by and aimed at black people, the movie is not overly political and can be enjoyed by anyone. With a running time of only an hour, Kevin Hart’s Guide to Black History serves as a quick way to be introduced to many of the more unknown Black historical figures at once. For those that are not a fan of documentaries, the comedic aspect of the film also helps to lighten the dense subject matter.

“American history isn’t just white and I think many people believe that besides slavery struggles for equality, African Americans haven’t contributed meaningfully to it,” said Katherine Doss ’19.

The movie can even be beneficial to the casual Black history fan. Kevin Hart mainly avoids more widely known figures, making it easy for everyone to find a new role model in the movie. Even when he does touch on famous figures like Frederick Douglass and Josephine Baker, he focuses on more unknown aspects of their lives. For example, he highlights that Douglass is one of the most photographed people in American History, yet purposely never smiled to counteract the imagery of happy slaves commonly used to justify and excuse the barbaric practice of slavery.

Despite its simplicity, Kevin Hart’s Guide to Black History is a must see. When Hart tells the tale of men and women such as “Box” Joe Brown and Robert Johnson, he also showcases the ingenuity and genius that Black people possess.

We live in a time where white supremacy is once again clearly present in our society. “I think it’s especially important for a school like Bronx Science to maintain equality in its education since students come from a variety of different backgrounds. American history isn’t just white and I think many people believe that besides slavery struggles for equality, African Americans haven’t contributed meaningfully to it,” said Katherine Doss ’19.

To state it frankly, we have a race problem in America. Kevin Hart’s Guide to Black History will definitely not solve it, but it can be a step towards recognizing that the African American community has just as much to offer as everyone else. Not only have we made many contributions to society in the past, we also have the potential to make wonderful contributions in the future.

African American culture is about more than just slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and rap music. It is also about chasing dreams, living life to the fullest, and making the world a better place. Kevin Hart’s Guide to Black History does a good job of serving as an anthology of men and women whose lives exemplified that notion, while also being a lighthearted movie that anyone can get into.

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