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Filtering by Tag: Movies

Black Film?

Trying to define what makes a "black" film, television program, play, book, any form of art has to be analysed from the standpoint of its motivation, purpose  and not just whether the participates happen to have a certain hue of skin tone and cultural background.

I'm always struck sometimes as to just how "white" so-called black films, black media really are. In some ways to be very super critical most "black" media (not being a student of media created by black folks throughout the Diaspora, I'm referring to media created by black folks in America) is in many ways an "aping" of white media forms and conventions. Because in many ways that is what we all have been conditioned to expect.  Every mode of expression contains two essential elements, form and content. Both should be taken into account when defining what makes a film or any other mode of expression "black."

Most "black" storytelling in the commercial space copies the same "western (white) narrative" form and conventions when it comes to film, television, theater, etc. Anything which strays "outside the lines" is considered "experimental" or avant-garde. Black film/media has essentially been boiled down to stories that have black characters as their protagonists and told by a "black" artist.  

The problem I've always had with this definition is that it is shortsighted and does not take into account POV, (point-of-view), or motivation, which are the two key elements that truly set a story apart as being "black." I think for example you could have a "black" film that wasn't primarily about black people, but about "white privilege," and its destructive nature. 

Black when it comes to African Americans is never just a color, but must always have a cultural component and perspective. Black has to capture the universal as well as the specific. It has to seek to free our minds -to enlighten, inform, entertain, and most importantly, inspire. It must always not just deal with what is, or was, but what can be, possibilities. It must seek to change how we think about ourselves as humans be-ing, not just as "black folk." 

I am reminded of the so-called Black Arts Movement that came alive in the 1960s and 1970s, where poets, writers, playwrights, visual artists, were experimenting with new forms of expression that sought to break the bonds of white convention. Today we have settled in to a place, artistically speaking, that seems less about braking barriers or inventing something new or being creative and more with being popular.

Black media can be both "black" and popular. We only have to look at the history of "black music" as an example. There are no black filmmakers working today (commercially) who can claim the same kind of creative innovation that a Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, had in the musical arena. These "innovators" created a whole new musical genre with that same "raw material" that was available to every musician.

When will "black" film artisans do the same for the motion picture, or television program that these black musical artisans did for records?  


Black Odyssey

The Odyssey (Greek: Ὀδύσσεια, Odýsseia) is one of two major ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer. It is, in part, a sequel to the Iliad, the other work ascribed to Homer. The poem is fundamental to the modern Western canon, and is the second oldest extant work of Western literature, the Iliad being the oldest. It is believed to have been composed near the end of the 8th century BC, somewhere in Ionia, the Greek coastal region of Anatolia.[1] -From Wikipedia

The Hero's Journey in Western (nee White) Culture that is the "classic" Hollywood movie plot is clearly defined in Homer's Odyssey. Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy has trials and tribulations to conquer before he can win back girl in the end. The base that under-girds all Western Drama - Man Against Man, Man Against Nature, Man Against Himself - drives the action of the story -conflict.

With movies like Lee Daniels' The Butler (which I have not seen at this writing) the hero, the driver of he action is a Butler. And there-in lies the problem.  We know that "blacks" in America have had to do some of everything to survive. And have had to overcome all manner of obstacles, challenges that white folks haven't had to do. So their is real "heroism" in every "black" story regardless of a person's "station," because of racism and "white privilege." The black servant is an archetype in movies since their inception and many a black Hollywood star has had to "tom" or "coon" or "mammy" or "buck," in Donald Bogle's terminology.

But my question in 2013, where are the depictions of "the black Odysseus?" Why are there no Epic stories where the hero must set sail from distant shores in one's imagination, conquer the forces of evil then return home triumphant to find his true love waiting for him with open arms and baited breath; all this from a "black" perspective. While using the male form (Hero), the same applies to stories of "black" females (Heroines). History is replete with these stories. But when will they find their way to the Big Screen? There is more to African American existence, real and imagined, than gritty urban dramas, or cross-dressing romantic comedies.  

When I was a kid (I'm 65), I could spend hours at the movies, seeing double or triple features and imagine myself as the larger than life characters depicted in those images I saw on the wide screen in Technicolor. Isn't it high time there were big screen images that kids and young adults can want to be, "blacks," particularly? 

It's not enough that we have a "black" President we still need those larger than life "black" images, characters "that can leap tall buildings with a single bound."

Walter Harris Gavin is the author of the Epic story of identity -The Autobiography of Obsidian Dumar.