All Articles Tagged "black cinema"
Oscar Micheaux has been credited for the being the first independent black filmmaker in America, creating his moving picture shows and taking a makeshift screen and projector on the road. It’s what Moikgantsi Kgama and her husband Greg Gates started to do 15 years ago in Harlem. Before Magic Johnson’s theater and Ava Duvernay’s AaFIRM movement, they were showing independent black films, growing an audience that appreciated them and forming invaluable relationships with filmmakers abroad.
Kgama founded the ImageNation Cinema Foundation, a Harlem-based film and distribution exhibitor who has helped to usher in a new era for movie makers. Thousands of loyal patrons have seen true independent films, listened to live musical performances and become educated at ImageNation events. The company boasts programming partnerships with Lincoln Center, City of NYC Summer Sound Stage and the Schomberg Center in Black Culture. This year, it will open a new venue space in Harlem, a place where people gather to appreciate great movies, good music and good company.
Madame Noire: What is ImageNation and who are the clients that it serves?
Moikgantsi Kgama: ImageNation is a nonprofit media arts group that promotes black world culture through film and music events. Our efforts were aimed toward developing audiences for independent films about people of color. Now we’re focused on opening the doors to our cinema venue at 2031 Seventh Avenue [in Harlem]. We offer numerous exhibition vehicles including a quarterly film series at the Walter Reade Theater due to a partnership with the Film Society of Lincoln Center and a film series at the Schomburg Center. We also produce a summer-long outdoor film and music series with the City of New York.
MN: Talk about your upbringing as it relates to your work with ImageNation.
MG: My father is South African, my mom is African American. My parents were pretty progressive, especially my dad. He was a political refugee and growing up in the 70’s, he always emphasized having things that look like you; having dolls that looked like me, watching shows that looked like me. As I grew older I realized that my peers didn’t have the same upbringing and most of their perceptions of themselves were based on what they saw in the media. I became very interested in how black people were depicted.
MN: You’ve been producing events for independent filmmakers and musicians over ten years now. Has your mission changed?
MG: We did our first event in ’97. Our goals have not changed. From the time I opened ImageNation, I’ve always wanted to open a chain of cinemas; to establish a brand, build an audience and take that audience into the cinema. I think what’s changed is my approach. When I started I was really young and idealistic. I thought if you do it, somebody will fund it. So now, my approach has changed but the goals are still the same.
I don’t know what kind of star treatment Jay-Z and Kanye West are accustomed to when they travel abroad to Paris but for regular negroes living in the capital city’s country, let’s just say the sentiment toward their presence in society doesn’t appear to be a welcoming, “we’re glad you’re here.” That’s evident by the latest racial fiasco plaguing the nation: a ban of Steve Harvey’s film adaption of “Think Like a Man” which will not be shown in theaters there. Fabienne Fessell of Global Voices says simply put, the look of the film is “too black.”
“Surprising as it may be, the answer lies in the fact that the film has an all-black cast. French cinema is often pointed at for not fairly displaying all components of the country’s multiethnic population. Although the recent success of the movie Les Intouchables, which earned French African actor Omar Sy the Cesar award for Best Actor in 2012, caused great pride and hope among French nationals from Africa and the Caribbean, it was not to be the turning point for a deep and lasting change.”
That’s painfully obvious. The issue with France is somewhat two-fold though. It was not even a full month ago that we were discussing the country’s objection to the Miss Black France pageant which was being held in Paris. Opposition suggested that singling out black beauty went against the country’s nationalist identity of being Frenchmen not hyphenated factions of afro-French or Caribbean French, and so forth. The message was that the singling out of black beauty was somewhat hypocritical because in the same breath that black people in the country were asking to be included more in society, they were turning around and excluding the rest of the population from their celebration. What was missing in that discussion was an understanding of why such pageants are needed and how white beauty is celebrated in an exclusionary fashion on a non-stop basis. It’s just that when something has been the status quo for so long and those images look like the ones you see in the mirror, it’s not so easy to pick out what’s wrong with the picture.
When it comes to “Think Like a Man,” that same attitude is evident. Martinican blog People Bo Kay reposted a note published on the Facebook page of Negro News, entitled “France does not want all-black couples in movies,” that says the film won’t see the light of day in French cinema because it’s romantic element not diverse enough.
“The French state has had a sociopolitical strategy which favors interracial relationships rather than valuing communities,” the note reads. “In the comedy ‘Think like a Man’, the focus is on black couples.”
I wonder does that same argument hold strong when it comes to all-white couples in romantic comedies. Who’s the person checking to make sure there are interracial couples celebrated on screen then? I didn’t think so.
The second piece to this ban is the overarching issue of black cinema as a whole. I can’t help but think about the recent uproar over the all-black remake of A Streetcar Named Desire and ask, what is it about all-black cinema that’s so threatening anyway? I feel like the idea is almost like, let’s not give them any ideas. If they see themselves on film they might start to think they matter, they have talent, they can rise above their current circumstances, they can be equal to white people. You wouldn’t know it was 2012 looking at these examples of exclusion, which is so bold that those responsible for and attempting to lessen the black influence don’t even feel compelled to mask their motives.
In the Negro News note, the authors go on to offer another explanation of the ban that’s less about black cinema as a whole and a more calculated. They suggest the ban is part of the country’s singling out of two men who have risen above their assumed place in society so to speak, given the fact that no Tyler Perry movie has been shown in the country either. The note says:
“Black actor and producer Tyler Perry’s movies are never scheduled in any French movie theaters or are only released in DVDs, even though he has been used to leading the US box-office, as with ‘Why did I get Married’ and ‘For Colored Girls’. The French society acts hypocritically, when it refuses to show movies from black producers who earn millions from conveying a positive message to the African diaspora through their films.”
I know we often get hung up on Tyler Perry’s simplistic, one-dimensional portrayal of African American life but his movies do have positive messages and his very own story of success is a testament to the multi-cultural audience black film producers, directors, and writers can bring to the theater. But those in power don’t want to see that. Much like the expectation that “Think like a Man” would only be half of the success it actually was in its opening weekend, and the New York Times laissez faire approach to a critique, female bloggers at Condemns say the powers that be in France simply can “not understand how a movie with a mainly black cast could actually lead the box-office!” Perhaps they should look to their American alley for the Blueprint on that $33.7 million opening weekend success.
Nationalist pride is a noble goal for the French people to aspire to but achieving that by forcing cultures to assimilate to the white standard is not the way to go. The measuring stick by which this film has been judged ought to be the same one used for films featuring other races or else onlookers have no choice to assume the motive here is to silence black representation not just celebrate the French national identity.
What do you think about this ban of “Think Like a Man?”
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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So I am a bit of a cinephile. What’s that you ask?
Well according to Wiki, I am a person who has “a passionate interest in cinema.” In other words, I not only like watching films but I also like dissecting the plot elements and the cinematography. But occasionally I do…ahem…lower my high cinematic principles and indulge in the trivial and lowly.
I will admit to liking the SyFy network Mega Dinosaur versus Giant Crocodile movies of the week. And yes, I have tuned in to once or twice, okay several times for one of those Black gospel plays starring Vivica Fox or Ralph Tresvant or some other d-list celebrities. I admit that I really enjoy the rom-coms about the successful female journalist/bookstore owner/fashion magazine intern falling for the hot yet womanizing/self-absorbed/underemployed male, who doesn’t know that he is in love with the protagonist until a misunderstanding/breakup/seeing her without her eyeglasses and in a beautiful dress for the first time forces him to realize that he loves her too.
Oh did I mention that I absolutely love – with a capital “L” – those direct to video movies from Nigeria? Nollywood? Are you serious? Yes, very.
Yes I know, the clumsy and very low budget cinematography, almost as if it was filmed on a flip camera, the shoddy editing which looks like it was done on Windows Move Maker and the overly dramatic and exaggerated acting and facial expressions is enough to warrant me to lose whatever credibility I have as a person who claims to have discerning taste, especially in films. And while I might never be accused of being next the Siskel and Ebert, I do know what entertains me. And there is nothing better than curling up in a blanket on the couch with a bowl of popcorn, watching the tantalizing tomfoolery that is Nollywood films.
If you never seen a Nollywood production, imagine a BET movie of the week meets a Daytime soap opera – American, Spanish or otherwise. I’m talking about intrigue, plot twists, bad singing, car chases, gangsters, casual sex and juju, wrapped up into four of the most entertaining hours you will ever spend in front of the television. Yes, I said four hours because that is the average length of a Nollywood production. So grab plenty of popcorn because you are going to be there for a while.
Over the weekend, I found a YouTube channel called Nollywood Love, which host dozens of fairly recent films, mostly English-language films, from Nigeria. I started on late Friday night watching a movie called Beyonce and Rihanna,” a film about two singing rivals fighting each other over a chance at stardom – and a dude name Jay. You couldn’t make this up if you tried; however Nollywood can and did.
By Sunday morning I realized that I had spent the entire Easter Holiday weekend on films like African Queen, BlackBerry Babes, the Return of BlackBerry Babes, Jenifa, White Hunters and my personal favorite: The Return of White Hunters, a comedy about gold diggers on the hunt for white husbands, which features probably the most political incorrect theme songs ever made in history.
While the films might be classified as amateurish at best, these Nigerian directors have managed to take only a few thousand dollars, a digital camera, and a couple of local actresses and turn it into a film industry worth an estimated $236 million. In fact, Nigeria has the world’s second-largest film industry second only to Bollywood (India’s film industry). Yes that’s right, Nollywood produces more films than Hollywood in a single year. And with audiences growing beyond the continent of Africa into places like Europe, the Caribbean and the United States, the potential for growth might be enough to push Nollywood to the number one spot in terms of content creation.
Earlier this week The New York based hedge fund group Tiger Global, who is also an early investor in Facebook, has announced that it is investing in iROKO TV, a Nigerian version of Netflix, which has the largest licensee of Nollywood movies, with more than 3,000 titles in its library. It is YouTube’s largest African partner contributing content under its Nollywood Love account. While quality of film remains a concern, not everything coming out of Nollywood is low budget. Recently the New York Times profiled the Nigerian film industry and focused on a film called “The Figurine,” which they describe as an “aesthetic leap,” from what we normally associate with Nollywood films. In fact, critics have praised the film, which actually made it to theaters and is said to hold its own on the international arena of quality filmmaking.
While it is too early in Nollywood film history to declare the second coming of an Ousmane Sembene-type filmmaker coming out of Nigeria, the stories being produced right now provide the type of escapism from the heavier African tales of war and famine we regularly see of Hollywood. This ability to portray a more human and universal image of folks with dark skin – regardless of criticism over quality – might mean that the Black Hollywood that we longed to see in America has already been created and flourishing in the motherland.
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by Charing Ball
Spike Lee has a new film, Red Hook Summer, premiering at the Sundance Movie Festival, which runs through January 29th. Lee told the New York Times that “it had been too long since I’d done a film, and I couldn’t wait on Hollywood anymore.Too many meetings, too many false starts, too many stuck projects.”
In the same article, Lee revealed that he didn’t bother taking the film to any of the major studios and had opted to financed his latest project on his own, much for the same reason as George Lucas. Likewise he is hoping to walk away from the festival with a distributor. Will Spike and Red Hook Summer get as much of a push when – and if – the film is released later this year? Will folks flood my Facebook timeline with the same urgency to see this film because Lee invested his own money? Will folks debate endlessly about the future of Black cinema if Red Hook Summer bombs at the box office? Probably not. That’s the point that I was making earlier this week in regards to Red Tails. This mad dash to “show Hollywood” that we could be good consumers has dulled the conversation on why we haven’t been out here supporting independent Black cinema.
But let’s not rehash that debate again. Instead I am more curious if we as a country are emotionally ready for a film, which has Lee reprising his role as Mookie and is said to be a sort of follow up to “Do the Right Thing?
There are no clips or a trailer for the new Spike Lee Joint as Lee wants to keep this one under wraps. However, published reports suggest that this film chronicles the gentrification of Brooklyn New York. And according to the synopsis of the story, which had been co-penned by Lee and James McBride (Miracle at St. Anna):
“When his mom deposits him at the Red Hook housing project in Brooklyn to spend the summer with the grandfather he’s never met, young Flik may as well have landed on Mars. Fresh from his cushy life in Atlanta, he’s bored and friendless, and his strict grandfather, Enoch, a firebrand preacher, is bent on getting him to accept Jesus Christ as his personal savior. Only Chazz, the feisty girl from church, provides a diversion from the drudgery. As hot summer simmers and Sunday mornings brim with Enoch’s operatic sermons, things turn anything but dull as people’s conflicting agendas collide. Playfully ironic, heightened, yet grounded, Spike Lee’s bold new movie returns him to his roots, where lovable, larger-than-life characters form the tinderbox of a tight-knit community. A story about the coexistence of altruism and corruption, Red Hook Summer toys with expectations, seducing us with the promise of moral and spiritual transcendence.”
It has been 23 years since Lee’s groundbreaking film, Do the Right Thing, aggressively illustrated the very real realities of a racially and ethnically divided America. It was the film that garnered Lee the label of Angry Black filmmaker. In the film, Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, N.Y would act as a microcosm of America in which a mix of African-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Italian-Americans and Koreans lived and worked and sometimes played together. I hadn’t watched Do the Right Thing in over a decade, but I remember it being both groundbreaking and inflammatory.
From the first few scenes of Rosie Perez feverishly dancing over Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” to the scene in which Radio Raheem, a towering young Black man with Love and Hate tattooed on each hand, gets choked out by the police for refusing to turn down his ghetto blaster at request of Sal, the Italian American pizza shop owner to the powerful final scene when Mookie throws a trash can into Sal’s Famous Pizzeria, the entire film served as reminder that despite our best efforts to co-exist peacefully together, there lingers inevitable chaos. A chaos that has resulted from our inability to deal with and address issues around race and power.
No better landscape in the flick illustrates that more than the scene where five characters, all belonging to different racial and ethnic groups, turn directly to the camera and furiously spout off a laundry list of racial slurs, stereotypes and generalizations, ultimately leaving us, the viewers, wondering what just hit them and yet scratching our heads, wondering about if the stereotypes are exceedingly untrue than why do we still hold on to them?
I went to go see Pariah over the weekend and actually, I really enjoyed it.
The film, which was written and directed by Dee Rees (protégé of Spike Lee’s protégé’), is a coming of age story of Alike, a 17-year-old Black girl from Harlem coming to terms with her own sexual identity as a lesbian and must waver the waters between her conservative mother, played by Kim Wayans, and her contradictory father, played by Charles Parnell. The film has been getting lots of praise for highlighting the invisible voice of black female queers in the community; however, the intense and strained relationship between mother and daughter has such a universal theme, which makes it relatable to just about anyone, who once struggled in their youth.
Yet the awesomeness of Pariah has been pretty much been overshadowed by the hype over Red Tails. Despite the film, which centers on the plight and fight of the Tuskegee airmen, being well in the works for well over two decades, the hype around it didn’t start until recently, when folks began to spread the fear of God that if the film is not a box office success than all hope for the future of black films is doomed.
It all started when George Lucas, the Star Wars guy and creator and financier of Red Tails, appeared on The Daily Show to promote the film and started talking about racism in Hollywood. In a follow up interview, Lucas hinted that if Red Tails was a failure, it could have negative repercussions for black filmmakers: “I realize that by accident I’ve now put the black film community at risk [with Red Tails, whose $58 million budget far exceeds typical all-black productions],” he said. “I’m saying, if this doesn’t work, there’s a good chance you’ll stay where you are for quite a while. It’ll be harder for you guys to break out of that [lower-budget] mold. But if I can break through with this movie, then hopefully there will be someone else out there saying let’s make a prequel and sequel, and soon you have more Tyler Perrys out there.”
Oh great, more Tyler Perrys.
Interesting enough, Red Tails was created by the same guy who brought us Jar Jar Binks, the computer-animated character who appeared in the Star Wars prequels and which generated much controversy over its racially charged, Rastafarian mimicry. So why there is such a heavy emphasis on supporting Lucas’ Red Tails while genuine black films like Pariah are left to their own devices?
First off, I take issue with what is essentially has been a fear and race-based marketing campaign by Lucas to persuade moviegoers, particularly Black moviegoers, to see this film. We are told that if it would be the end of Black filmmaking as we know it. Never mind, if the film is interesting or compelling or even entertaining. We have a racial duty to unite to see this film or else we make Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. weep?
And never mind that Hollywood has been operating with the same M.O. for decades and decades. The industry will not likely change even if the film magically breaks box office records, which it will probably not. Why? Well stories told from the black perceptive have always had trouble finding dedicated audiences outside of the community. Point blank, the mainstream is less inclined to see films featuring black actors. And if we are to go on the long rationalized reason that Hollywood is a business, than we can be certain that Red Tails, even if it is moderately successful, will not inspire the business to take a chance on us.
But of course, Black filmmakers have known this little secret, which Lucas appeared to just discover, for years. This might explain why Black filmmakers haven’t been waiting around for Hollywood to give the proverbial green light to make and finance their own films. They may not get the big audiences and big box office numbers as their mainstream counterparts but the lack of financial support from inside tinsel town isn’t stopping brothers and sisters from picking up cameras.
However, all may not be lost in the world of Black filmmaking if Red Tails tanks. As reported, Rees is currently working on a project for HBO that will feature actress Viola Davis and a thriller flick called “Bolo.” And on Sunday night, Pariah received a special shout-out at the Golden Globes by legendary film actress Meryl Streep. Likewise the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement, also known as AFFRM, has been steadily pushing for the theatrical release of quality independent African-American films through simultaneous limited engagements in select cities including I Will Follow and Kinyarwanda. In short, the future of Black film – with or without the success of Red Tails – will survive.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the effort of Lucas to bring more Black films, or at the very least a black film funded by a white man, to the big screen, but if this flops, I think it is less likely that we can count on him bringing a sequel to the screen. And that is all. So folks can stop with the “must read” emails and Facebook invites for bus trips to the movie theater. There is no more of a moral obligation to see this flick as there would be for any other mainstream film, which lets us carry the lead.
Long gone are the days that we should have to feel a need to prove anything to Hollywood. If anything, it is the reverse. And if Hollywood is as racist as we all know it is why should we feel the need to let the decision of what images gets green-lighted continue to be placed in the hands of those, who don’t see us as human beings? I mean, the last time Hollywood took interest in the black market we got a bunch of one-dimensional Blaxiploitation and gangster flicks in both the 70s and in the 90s.
Instead let’s throw our support – and dollars – behind filmmakers, who continue to make conscious efforts to not only make films despite not having the blessings of mainstream Hollywood but make good films period.
Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.
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by Selam Aster
We all know that African-Americans don’t necessarily represent on the big screen, but is that anything to be crying over? New York Times critics A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis may think so. The film aficionados reported on the fact that no Blacks were up for Academy Awards this year (was there anyone worthy of a nomination?) and the regression of Black cinema in terms of output and quality (how true that is). But instead of blaming the Hollywood studios, shouldn’t we blame the Black talent who now have the power to greenlight and produce projects.
At the end of the day, a project will be greenlit based on the genre and quality of the script. It seems that only action films and slapstick comedies are the movies that studio execs order in batches and that’s because there is a money making formula in Hollywood. Movies represent a marketplace and the supply of that marketplace is dictated by demand. And what’s always in demand? Good films and bad action films. Unfortunately, Hollywood can’t churn out enough of these. And the fact there aren’t many good Black films being produced for the marketplace has more to do with the availability of good scripts. Until we know what’s passing through the hands of execs, nobody can truly say that there is a deliberate whiteout of Hollywood. The music industry has the same type of suits running the business but the quality and output from Black artists is so plentiful, that it would be impossible to discriminate against Black talent.
For more, go to The New York Times…
Film festivals like Sundance and Cannes are well known for making otherwise unknown indie flicks into blockbusters, but black film festivals like Urban World and Pan African also highlight quality films. Last year’s festival favorites included a variety of black films about everything from 30-something romantic dilemmas to an infamous thoroughfare in Detroit. The casts are just as diverse as the plots. Wood Harris, Tisha Campbell-Martin, Omari Hardwick, Golden Brooks and Meagan Good are just some of the actors in theses movies.
Here are five black films from the black film circuit that you just might see in a theater near you this year! Click here to see the list! Are some of your favorite actors in these films?