The Black Image in Classical Hollywood Cinema
To obtain an ethnographic understanding of the volatile history of the black image on the American screen we need only to view a few minutes of early cinematic footage. The long legacy of black mis-representation is arguably fueled by three (infamous) films: D.W. Griffith’s silent movie Birth of a Nation (1915) — known for its ground-breaking cinematography and odious racist content. Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1927), the silent film adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s world-wide best-selling novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin and “The Jazz Singer” famous for being the first “talkie” and also for Al Jolson’s minstrel makeup that was common in its day.
Needless to say a discussion of Hollywood and the black image veers wildly away from the other groups we have studied in the past weeks. One notable reason is simply skin color since unlike the Irish, Italian, Jews and Latinos with European backgrounds, there was no “wiggle” room for blacks to morph into a generic (WASP) white image to either stay in the film industry and/or to expand their roles.
Therefore in response to Hollywood’s limitations for blacks with aspirations in front of or behind the camera and in reaction to the incredibly offensive and untrue depictions of blacks in early cinema, Oscar Micheaux, the first black filmmaker, set out with little to no money to create films that showed blacks as ordinary people with all the traditional human frailties in his cinematic stories about love, adultery, murder and a myriad of family dramas. In his 1919 film “Within Our Gates” Micheaux attacked the racism depicted in D.W. Griffith’s film, “The Birth of a Nation.”
- Read the paragraphs described in the “Reading Schedule” below
- View as much of D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” (1915) as you wish to get a sense of the depiction of “blacks” (white actors in dark makeup were used for principle roles – even a white men in black face and head scarf plays a “mammy”) and View as much of the film adaptation of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” to get a sense of the origin of the term “Uncle Tom” or “Tom.” Also View the three minute clip of Al Jolson’s Jazz Singer (in blackface).
- View as much of Oscar Micheaux’s “Within Our Gates” (1920) (silent film) as you wish to get an example of his contrast to the black image in films compared to those conveyed in the movies mentioned in my first paragraph above.
- View also the movie whole clip of “Judge Priest” (1934) (w/Will Rogers, Stephen Fechit + a clip of Hattie McDaniels) as an example of the pervasive images 15 years later. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NY-8759iP_M
- View part of Oscar Micheaux’s “Lying Lips” (1939) as an example of the alternative view of blacks in cinema for the same period. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82lT_aQyUP0
page 76-77 (begin with 2nd paragraph “Film historian Donald Bogle…”)
page 78 (last paragraph “A few black filmmakers…”)
page 79 (first paragraph “The most famous filmmaker…”)
pages 80-81 (“Blacks in Classical Hollywood Cinema”)
pages 85-top of 86 (“The Rise and Fall of Blaxploitation…”)
pages 88-89 (“Hollywood in the 1980s…”)
View Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled” (2000) in its entirety – film is accessible via the Movies section of the content area of our Bb course site.
OPTIONAL Read pages 93-94 “Case Study: Bamboozled (2000)”
WRITE A PAPER THAT RESPONDS TO THE FOLLOWING DIRECTIVE:
There was a lot for Spike Lee’s fertile mind to comment on in his movie “Bamboozled” (2000). The television show “In Living Color” had had a very successful three seasons (1990-1994) before it imploded over creative differences between the Wayans brothers and Fox executives. Also rap music — though controversial at the time of Lee’s film — was still at the top of the charts and in the collective pop consciousness.
So how does Spike Lee’s film “Bamboozled” address something said in my paragraphs above, something said in the textbook pages, and various portrayals in the films “Birth of a Nation”, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “The Jazz Singer.” Conclude your paper with an answer to this question: can you find the normalizing of the black image in Spike Lee’s film that could be equal or an homage to Micheaux the filmmaker?
I am assuming you have opinions on the volatile subject of blacks in film historically and blacks in film in the 21st century simply as a thinking moviegoer and that the information provided for this Midterm Paper will inspire you to write without further research. If you MUST use the internet because you cannot think on your own make sure to cite EVERYTHING – otherwise it will be plagiarism which means an automatic zero (“0”) for the assignment and the more quotes you use that is not provided by me via my comments or the many links I have provided the less points you will receive. I am interested in your thoughts developed from the information I have provided. Please read and view all hyperlinks.
avoid extensive summarizing (synopsis) of movies and extensive quoting of the text. Follow the MLA rules
question 1:Some critics argue that the five stereotypes of African Americans found in early cinema (the Coon, the Uncle Tom, the Mammy, the Tragic Mulatto, and the Black Buck**) can still be found in contemporary Hollywood films. Can you think of recent examples of at least three of these stereotypes? [Paraphrased from question No. 1 on page 95 of the textbook]
separate this answer from the one page paper….
**Click on each stereotype for website background information: Coon Uncle Tom Mammy tragic mulatto [the “black buck” stereotype is so problematic that I could not find a website with an acceptable definition so I had to resort to Wikipedia: “According to popular stereotypes during the post-Reconstruction era, “Black Buck” was a black man (usually muscular or tall) who defies white will and is largely destructive to American society. He is usually hot-tempered, excessively violent, unintelligent, and sexually attracted to white women. Most often, any attempt to restrain, reprimand, or re-educate the individual will fail, necessitating the individual’s immediate execution (usually by lynching).”]