Amoeblog

Black Cinema Part III - the TV age and beyond

Posted by Eric Brightwell, February 15, 2010 12:42pm | 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 II, covering the Hollywood Studio years of the 1930s and '40s, click here



In American silent films, minority roles were almost invariably filled by white actors in exaggerated and offensive make-up. Latinos in silent films usually played greasers and bandits; Asian-Americans usually played waiters, tongs and laundrymen; and blacks usually played bellboys, stable hands, maids or simply "buffoons." Not surprisingly, both Asian-Americans and blacks responded by launching their own alternative silent cinemas. But whereas Asian-American Silent Cinema quickly faltered, silent, black "race movies" flourished. In the 1930s and '40s, Hollywood began to phase out the practice of blackface (while continuing the practice of redface and yellowface) and successfully wooed race movies' sizable and thus profitable audience. By the 1950s, with its enormous budgets and star power, Hollywood had effectively co-opted and destroyed the independent Black Cinema known as race movies. The result was that there were far fewer examples of Black Cinema in the decade. In the years that followed, as TV chipped away at film’s dominance, a few black actors began appearing on the small screen in shows like Beulah (1950-1953) and The Amos 'n Andy Show (1951-1953) which, whilst hardly socially progressive, at least offered more acting opportunities for black actors.

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The Seabiscuits

Posted by Eric Brightwell, January 15, 2008 07:16pm | Post a Comment
  
It's award season, which can only mean one thing: It's time for the Amoeba's 5th annual Seabiscuits! Let me back up for a second. For those who have never worked at Amoeba, our jargon can sound (in my Mr. T voice) confusing, confounding and sometimes downright curious. As a customer, you may have found yourself being told by one of our helpful staff to "check the 'hat' adjacent to the 'blueline waterfall' while I go check 'Wally',"  leaving you scratching your buzzing noggin in psychedelic wonder. Well, one of those jargon words we use is "evergreen" which, somewhat counter-intuitively, refers to titles that will always be in demand (and not to titles that will only sell on "the Green Tag Island," where we exile bargain titles to.

When Seabiscuit came out on DVD, right before Christmas of 2003, there was an audible buzz (or "nicker," in horse language). It was released in widescreen and fullscreen, a sign of its broad appeal to both film-lovers and people who "don't like it when they cut the heads off with those black bars." Several films attached themselves like filmic remoras to Seabiscuit's celluloid whale shark, hoping to feed off of the crumbs of interest -- or maybe to be purchased by the confused and functionally illiterate. There was, as there often is, debate about whether or not the film would be an evergreen. It didn't prove to be ... But let's go merrily back in time to the early oughts, back to 2003. It was the year a second space shuttle blew up, SARS was discovered, Bush landed on a ship flying a banner reading "Mission Accomplished," the last vocho rolled off the assembly line in Mexico, Gary Ridgway (the Green River Killer) admitted to killing 48 women and Jacko was charged with being a chester (again). And in the dream factory the year of the Sheep proved, in fact, to be the year of the horse.

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