Monday, November 16, 2009

Five-Year-Old's Body Found: A Story Nearly As Ugly As Precious, the Movie, but at Whom Will Black People Be Angry?

Reports CNN and bloggers, the body of 5-year-old Shaniya Davis of Fayetteville, NC, has been found. Earlier today 200 people searched for the child's body after police received a tip that she was dead, say news sources.
Police have charged the girl's mother, Antoinette Nicole Davis, with trafficking and other offenses, authorities said. Davis was "prostituting her child" ...

... The mother told police last week that the child vanished from their mobile home in Fayetteville.
Hotel surveillance video taken around the same time Shaniya was reported missing showed the girl with a man identified as Mario Andrette McNeill. He was charged with first-degree kidnapping.(CNN)
The Hinterland Gazette, a blog of black political thought, also posted on this sad story. Shaniya, a biracial child, black mother/white father, had been missing since November 10.

That's her mother's mugshot there. McNeill, her boyfriend, who is also black with a similar look. He's confessed to kidnapping Shaniya, per CBS News. Janet Shan at The Hinterland Gazette would like to have the mother and boyfriend waterboarded, and that was before her body was found.

From the Charlotte Observer:
Shaniya's father, Bradley Lockhart, told The Associated Press that he raised his daughter for several years but last month decided to let her stay with her mother.

... Shaniya had only been living with her mother since last month. Davis reported the girl missing Tuesday morning from a mobile home community in Fayetteville, and authorities began searching nearby wooded areas. The following day a man described as Davis' boyfriend was charged in the kidnapping, but the charges were later dropped and he was released. Charlotte Observer/Associated Press.
At last week I posted my review of Sapphire's novel Push on which the movie Precious is based. It's in part the story of a black girl being sexually abused and more by her parents, both her mother and her father. With the release of the movie, some black folks are up in arms that black people would be portrayed this way, as though amongst black people are only angels and no demons at all. Both Laina Dawes and Megan Smith have covered how black people respond to negative images, bickering down to the finest points even such as why Ms. Rain, the savior school teacher, becomes light-skinned in the movie when she was dark-skinned with dreadlocks in the novel.

Oh, how I wish more than ever director Lee Daniels had made Ms. Rain dark with dreadlocks in the movie Precious as Sapphire makes her in the novel. Seeing the picture of Shaniya's mother, I wish she could have been a Ms. Rain and not what seems like a type of Mary Jones, the abusive mother of Precious fiction.

Megan, who is African-American, saw the movie and was honest enough in her post to share that as she watched it, she grew angry at men in general, black men in particular, despite knowing intellectually that child abuse is an equal opportunity destroyer across ethnic groups. And she despised Mary Jones, the mother in the book and movie.
At this moment, so soon after seeing the movie, I hate men so much I can barely stand it. I especially hate black men because I'm black and feel ashamed to share even a tiny bit of the same heritage of a man who would do this.

You see, I've met Mary. I've met Precious. Maybe we weren't close, maybe we weren't related but I know that in my life, I've met them both.

Sitting in that crowded theatre, watching the fictional Mary do her dirty work, all I could think was that I hated her. (Megan Smith)
Laina in particular made the point in her discussion of people's reactions to the movie Precious that indicate we may be more concerned about white people's impression of black people and the black image than cruelty to children and addressing our own dysfunction:
And instead of being ashamed when a story, a difficult, harrowing story in which I believe (despite my concerns about Daniels) is a story that could potentially start some frank and honest discussions - not about Sidibe's weight or how dark she is or how attractive she is - but about what we are going to do about the real boys and girls who are facing these issues. In our communities. Everyday. Are we going to stop being bourgeoisie and do something about it? (Lainad)
I'm looking at this current news story in which a white father pleads for the safe return of his half-black child while the mother shoves the child into prostitution, turning her in to a sex slave. I don't know what this Davis's story is. Was she abused herself? Is she a crackhead who'd do anything for money?

All I know is that this is a true story not a novel, and I wonder if some black people, seeing how this true story of little Shaniya Davis's death is told--seeing the black mother's mug shot, her dead-eyed look and dreadlocked hair--will be more angry at the factual storytellers than they are at the people who abused and killed Shaniya Davis. Will some deflect from the tragedy and say the media's only covering this story because Shaniya was light-skinned? Will we feel CNN, Fox, the Associated Press, CBS and others are going overboard because the facts of the case are steamy like a cheap novel?

Let's wait and watch. As I said in my review, Push is fiction and yet non-fiction. Is that what makes us so outraged at these tales, that through them people can look into our closets and see we, African-Americans, are as imperfect as other humans? Are we then ashamed and afraid because we know some ignorant people will paint us all with a broad, ugly brush, ignoring that these kinds of crime stories are not a black tragedy but tragedies in which some of Americans happen to be black?

But what's more important to us in our enlightened age of increased opportunity? How much of our accumulated baggage from being told and sometimes fearing we are inferior prevents us from seeing past our own skin when we hear stories like these? Will it be our image or the plight of abused children in our own communities that calls us to take effective action that surpasses crimes against our children and our intractable fears?

Here's video of Lockharts's plea for someone to return his daughter before the child's body was found. I don't present him as any type of angel because I don't know why he returned Shaniya to her mother after years of taking care of her. All I know is that he wasn't the one who killed her, and unless something comes to light to say otherwise, he didn't farm her out as a sexual slave. Her mother did that. Unless I learn my sympathies are misplaced, I feel for this man, however, because his guilt at giving Shaniya back, possibly against better instincts, is probably unbearable.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

CBS also has other still shot photos related to this case.

This, readers, is a Greek tragedy retold for a multi-cultural, modern, scandal-addicted America, but unlike Medea from Greek literature, who murders her children to spite her husband, we may never know the depth of psychological garbage that caused Antoinette Davis to allegedly murder her daughter's spirit by making her a sex slave, subject her to abuse that probably led to her death. We don't know her specific demons, but we should know ours.

This post is cross-posted at with edits.


Unknown said...

Well written commentary. I am sure that many will attempt to sweep this under a rug, but the problems will not go away. Sadly, Shaniya Davis is only one of many children who are living in the most horrific conditions. Just last week a 76 year old old and his nephews and sons were arrested for raping small children. I didn't follow that story, but from the little I heard, it was just horrific.

msladyDeborah said...

I am truly sad to learn about Shaniya's death. It is definitely a real life tragedy.

Why is it always necessary for Black folks to trip about every movie that is made? Either we have grown to be an intelligent movie viewing public or someone needs to grow up. I read the novel that Precious is based upon. I think it is far more important to consider what needs to be done about children who are living in abusive circumstances than it is to trip about what actress is in the film versus the character in the book. If that's the focus that someone considers to be important-that is their personal hang up. I have recommended the novel to several people since I read it a few years ago. It is a dynamic story and it should be on everyone's personal library shelf. I'll hold my judgement about the film until I see it.

RiPPa said...

This was a great read Nordette. The emotional Black rage often seen among us is in many instances emotional reactions produced without much rational thought. Internalized oppression is and has a helluva number on us all. You do a movie with positive images of Black people and folks will still be mad and say it was not an honest representation because they didn't "keep it real".

It's all foolishness

Pamela Lyn said...

I'm not surprised about the backlash against "Precious" and "Push". No group wants to air their dirty laundry before the world. However, the black community can't have it both ways. We can't complain that the media ignores missing black children and devotes hundreds of hours to the JonBenet Ramseys and Elizabeth Smarts. Stories like "Precious" and "Push" as well as the real life tragedies of Shaniya Davis and Charmae Wise need to be told. They need to be told not because they are "black" stories but because they are human stories. Maybe one day the audiences will understand that

Kitlat said...

As you've no doubt heard by now-excellent post.

My personal issues with 'Precious' are centered around the skin tone issue (which is so cancerous, I don't know if it will ever really go away) and the fact that it seems like the only stories about Black people are worth promoting and paying attention to by the main stream are these "my life is a train wreck because that's what it means to be Black and then I either overcame because of a Magical Missionary or Magical Negro or we don't make it."

I keep thinking at times, "Where's our 'Serenity,' or 'Star Trek,' or 'The Reader' or 'Mamma Mia' or 'Julie & Julia' or 'Sex In the City' or 'Up'? We've had some movies that show the diversity of Black life, good and bad, but we need more and we need them championed just as much as a movie like 'Precious' or like 'The Blind Side'.

I don't have a problem with seeing the ugly because I know that Black people are capable of ugly just like any other race, culture and orientation. I guess I take issue with that being the only stories that get the BIG PUSH from the mainstream.

Regarding Shaniya Davis - Sheesh. And it's not like I don't know that this happens in real life, but how messed up do you have to be to treat your child as that disposable? Admittedly I don't know the whole story between Shaniya's parents, but man, to try to do right by your daughter and have this happen...

And I'm still seething at the Black guy who seemed to follow in the footsteps of Ed Gein and the pig farmer in Canada.

Cold Spaghetti said...

This was a wonderful post. I enjoyed your thinking about your recent book/movie review and the conversations around race and abuse that it conjured up.

Culturally we like to give the boogieman a face and tend to chose brown and black ones to fit it -- it would make sense why this would create outrage... it should! There is so much cultural and social history vested in making black men 'scary' -- and so, so much work we have to do to get past that. But you do a good job of showing that reality is more mixed. All people are capable of both good and bad actions.

I feel mixed on it, too... yes, reality may be that way, but if we're trying hard to reduce stigma and hate, maybe we should just lay off the portrayal of black aggressors for awhile?