Sunday, February 7, 2010

Black History Month Heroes: Azeem from "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves"

The great stories of the past are what motivates us in times of stress: in disconsolate moments; and in the hours when our strength is seemingly gone and all that remains is the weak shell of an emasculated being.

The tales that really matter, those are the ones that give us motivation to endure: to achieve and strive in the face of adversity; to strive, seek and to find and never to yield; and to disregard the odds regardless of how they stack up against us.

How many people have read Homer and fantasized about fighting on the side of the men of Troy, or storming the walls that guarded that great city as one of the Myrmidons, with mighty Achilles as your guide?

How many people viewed 300 and thought - despite the hopelessness of the Spartans stand - that they would love fight alongside Leonidas, knowing full well the outcome?

Stories from the brooding Solomon Kane to the avenging Zorro fill many a young boys days with imagination of something greater than themselves, as they join the hero in fighting for honor, truth and something greater than themselves.

Myths are what bind people together and create a sense of continuity between generations that will never meet in person, except through the medium of story telling.

When one considers history, it is astonishing to find a perplexing lack of history worth of recording, remembering or considering that originates from the continent of Africa.

Like Black History Month in America (sports moments are excluded from this discussion), real heroes are difficult to find throughout Black history.

Outside of Civil Rights agitators and the fight to rectify laws that barred Black's from eating at restaurants or attending white schools, Black History truly lacks any heroes that history has remembered or that bind young Black children to their past.

Sports stars don't count, mind you.

Thankfully, we at SBPDL are for the creation of enduring myths that will benefit all Black people (and white liberals) and find fictional Black History Month must include a dash of international flare.

How many people find the story of noble Robin Hood, who stood against onerous taxation and the oppression of the working and downtrodden, a tale worthy of repeating? How many people haven't lived vicariously through Errol Flynn's version of the film and wondered what it would be like to join Robin's band of merry men, fighting for the honor of a people oppressed by the despotism of a renegade and unlawful state?

For Black people, a problem exists. Their not exactly indigenous to the island where the tales of Robin Hood find there genesis, and Black people weren't brought to England until the 16th century:
Early in the 16th century Africans arrived in London when Catherine of Aragon travelled to London and brought a group of her African attendants with her. When trade lines began to open between London and West Africa, Africans slowly began to become part of the London population. The first record of an African in London was in 1593. His name was Cornelius. London’s residents started to become fearful of the increased black population. At this time Elizabeth I declared that black "Negroes and black Moors" were to be arrested and expelled from her kingdom.
Why is this factoid important? Stay tuned. Who was this Robin Hood and is there historical evidence he existed?:

In popular culture, Robin Hood and his band of merry men are usually portrayed as living in Sherwood Forest, in Nottinghamshire. Much of the action in the early ballads takes place in Nottinghamshire, and the earliest known ballad shows the outlaws fighting in Sherwood Forest.[3] So does the very first recorded Robin Hood rhyme, four lines from the early 15th century, beginning: "Robyn hode in scherewode stod."[4] However, the overall picture from the surviving early ballads and other early references[4] suggest that Robin Hood may have been based in the Barnsdale area of what is now South Yorkshire (which borders Nottinghamshire).

Other traditions point to a variety of locations as Robin's "true" home both inside Yorkshire and elsewhere, with the abundance of places named for Robin causing further confusion.[5][6] A tradition dating back at least to the end of the 16th century gives his birthplace as Loxley, Sheffield in South Yorkshire, while the site of Robin Hood's Well in Yorkshire has been associated with Robin Hood at least since 1422.[7] His grave has been claimed to be at Kirklees Priory, Mirfield in West Yorkshire, as implied by the 18th-century version of Robin Hood's Death, and there is a headstone there of dubious authenticity.[8]

The first clear reference to "rhymes of Robin Hood" is from the late 14th-century poem Piers Plowman, but the earliest surviving copies of the narrative ballads which tell his story have been dated to the 15th century or the first decade of the 16th century. In these early accounts Robin Hood's partisanship of the lower classes, his Marianism and associated special regard for women, his outstanding skill as an archer, his anti-clericalism, and his particular animus towards the Sheriff of Nottingham are already clear.
Well, it has been said that every generation gets the Robin Hood they want and that they deserve and in 1991, we got Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, starring Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman. Black people, through the magic of cinema and the imagination of those hoping to change history by creating new myths, were elated to see a fellow Black person roaming the English countryside in roughly 1194, a mere 400 years before the first Black person would even see England:

Robin of Locksley (Kevin Costner), an English nobleman who joined Richard the Lionheart in the Third Crusade, is captured and imprisoned in Jerusalem along with his comrade Peter. Robin engineers an escape, saving the life of a Moor, Azeem (Morgan Freeman) in the process; Peter dies in the attempt and has Robin swear to protect his sister Marian (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). Robin returns to England with Azeem, who vows to accompany Robin until the debt of saving his life is repaid.

In England, with King Richard away, the cruel Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman) rules over the land, aided by his cousin, Guy of Gisbourne (Michael Wincott) along with the witch Mortianna (Geraldine McEwan) and the corrupt Bishop of Hereford (Harold Innocent). At Locksley castle, Robin's father (Brian Blessed) is lured to the gates and killed by the Sheriff's men after refusing to join them.

The film grossed nearly $400 million worldwide and created a historically false legend in the eyes of those willing to accept falsehood in the place of truth. A Black person helped Robin Hood defeat injustice and in the process, helped bring civilization to a barbarous place. Azeem even has time to chastise Robin for his technologically-challenged mind:
[Azeem shows Guy's approaching men with a telescope. Robin peers at it, bewildered]
Azeem: How did your uneducated kind ever take Jerusalem?
Not to be outdone, but a new BBC version of Robin Hood has Friar Tuck as a Black man. Azeem is truly a worthy addition to Robin Hood's historical correct, lily-white roster of bandits:

As for the character of Azeem, I have some reservations. As I mentioned above, Azeem is not the first Muslim to join the Merry Men (even if Prince of Thieves always seems to get the credit/blame for this in the popular press). And while this film may have purloined the faith (and partly the name), Nasir played by Mark Ryan in Robin of Sherwood and Azeem don't have that much in common. Nasir is silent ex-assassin, whereas Azeem is part scholar and philosopher and part scientist (bringing with him optics and gunpowder technology generations ahead of its time). But I think there's something of patronized sidekick to him. Swashbuckling film expert Jeffrey Richards compares him to an aboriginal medicine man. There's certainly something of that, although I also see a more sarcastic Tonto in him, a hint of Danny Glover's "I'm too old for this sh..." routine and even traces of Star Trek's Mr. Spock comparing Vulcan and human ways.

Azeem has also been criticized for bringing political correctness to Sherwood. Actually, I thought his exchange with Little John's daughter was quite touching.

CHILD: Did God paint you?"
AZEEM: Did God paint me? [Smiles] For certain.
CHILD: Why?"
AZEEM: Because Allah loves wondrous variety."

Stuff Black People Don't Like finds Azeem - like Miles Dyson of Terminator 2 - to be one ultimate representations of our fictional look at Black History Month. A hundred repetitions of a lie does produce a truth, and upon viewing this historical inaccurate film a hundred times one begins to truly Azeem as one of Robin Hood's fellow warriors.

Myths. That is what Black History Month is all about. Black people love this film, for it is precisely the Robin Hood this epoch deserves.


Anonymous said...

This should be posted as part of the accompishment of black history month:

mark said...

When I was mcuh younger, in 1984, I rode my bicycle throughout southern England. I had innumerable experiences, and I will always remember them. One that comes to mind in regards to this Robin Hood legend was when I was biking with an English guy I met and we saw some small roe deer. He said with more than a bit of anger "Not so many years ago they (meaning the landlord nobles) would hang you if you killed a deer that belonged to them."
The guy taught at a local vo-tech.
In England the past is right there in front of you.

Anonymous said...

We need to eliminate "Black history month" for two reasons.

1. Black people don't need it.
2. White people don't want it, and it seems to drive some of them crazy.

I don't know if I can take another 20 days of crying. A lot of you would be shocked by the little attention that is given to this phony crap in predominately black schools.

All of you angry whites would fell a lot better if you just realized that the concept of togetherness and integration are both myths. Everything we do is for economic necessity. We just pretend to like one another.

-Black guy

charlie sierra said...

"We just pretend to like one another". Well Black guy, I'll have to agree with you on that point. I also agree that (guessing here) Black people don't care about Black history month, and/or they know it's just a "guilty" liberal "handout". Whites indeed barely give a shit about their own history much less somebody elses history.

Anonymous said...

The Prince of Thieves movie was hilarious. As my cousins in England said about the movie "Where and when did they think a black man (Morgan Freeman) came to midieval England, from South London?

Anonymous said...

"All of you angry whites would fell a lot better if you just realized that the concept of togetherness and integration are both myths"

Who is angry? this is just funny. Just lighten up (oh is that racist?)

Anonymous said...

I hate Black people :(

Anonymous said...

It seems like more and more lately (with the exception of the Thor movie) people aren't doing this 'put black people in movies even though it doesn't make sense' crap as much. I think it's good. If there was a movie about Zulus I sure as hell don't think it should be based around some English sympathizer and vice versa.

Anonymous said...

We need another month for the lighter-skinned blacks. Since they don't have 'as' much racism to overcome as their darker, only fair they get their own month. Separate but equal.