Amoeblog

Black Cinema Part II - Race Movies - The Hollywood Studio Era

Posted by Eric Brightwell, February 7, 2010 12:13pm | Post a Comment

This is the first installment in a three part history of early Black Cinema.
To read Part I, covering the independent Race Movie years of the 1910s and '20s, click here
To read Part III, covering the TV Age of the 1950s and '60s, click here


In the silent film era, most roles for minority characters were filled by white actors in make-up. As a result, Asians and blacks began making their own, alternative cinemas. But whereas Asian-American silent film quickly faltered, black silent film flourished and a great number of race movies were cranked out to eager and under-served black filmgoers. 

By the 1930s, though yellowface and redface continued to be common practice, blackface began to disappear from the mainstream as Hollywood began efforts to woo the audience it had previously been content to insult. This meant there were many new opportunities for black actors, albeit mainly as musicians, porters, chauffeurs, waiters, hat check girls, maids, bootblacks, convicts, bartenders, bone-through-the-nose Africans or buffoons. Because of the improving but still less-than-satisfying opportunities afforded by Hollywood, many black actors supplemented their Hollywood bit parts with simultaneous careers in race movies.

Continue reading...

Black Cinema Part I -- Race Movies - The Silent Era

Posted by Eric Brightwell, January 31, 2010 10:11am | Post a Comment
This is the first installment in a three part history of early Black Cinema.
To read Part II, covering the Hollywood Studio years of the 1930s and '40s, click here
To read Part III, covering the TV Age of the 1950s and '60s, click here



Lincoln Motion Picture Company
The Lincoln Motion Picture Company

In most American silent films, minorities were generally played by white actors in make-up. When actual minorities were cast, roles were generally limited. Latinos in silent films usually played greasers and bandits; Asian-Americans played waiters, tongs and laundrymen; and blacks usually played bellboys, stable hands, maids or simple buffoons. Early film depictions of black characters were highly offensive, including those in the films Nigger in the Woodpile, Rastus, Sambo and The Wooing and Wedding of a Coon. Not surprisingly, both Asian-Americans and blacks responded by launching their own alternative cinemas. But whilst Asian-American Silent Cinema quickly faltered, black cinema (blessed with a much larger audience) flourished and soon many so-called race movies were being made by both black and white filmmakers for black filmgoers.

Continue reading...

Black History Month & Black Cinema

Posted by Eric Brightwell, February 1, 2008 09:29am | Post a Comment
 

1915

Birth of a Nation was released. It was the most profitable American film of all time until Disney's Snow White & the Seven Dwarves (1937). In this critical darling, director D.W. Griffith dramatically depicts a mid-19th century south plagued by mulattos and abolitionists who scheme to keep the white man down and raise up the black man in what is, to its intended audience, an obviously grotesque perversion of natural order. In government sessions, the reconstruction-empowered black politicians (played buffoonishly by white actors) take off their shoes and feast on fried chicken. Luckily, the chivalric Ku Klux Klan rides to the rescue.

This version of history was angrily disputed (famously by
W.E.B. Du Bois, among others) but remained pretty much the accepted version of history until well after World War II. The NAACP, founded just five years earlier, organized nationwide protests. There were riots in Philadelphia and Boston. Cities in Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania refused to show the film. In Indiana, a white man murdered a black stranger and blamed it on having seen Birth of a Nation. However, the film received a special screening at the White House, where president Woodrow Wilson supposedly remarked, "It [the film] is like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true." The quote was later argued to be from someone else but the film was still marketed as "Federally-endorsed."

BACK  <<  1  2  >>