All Articles Tagged "black film"
“Sit yo five dollar azz down before I make change.” There’s no way we can talk about this movie without that line coming up. Mario Van Peebles, in his directorial debut, struck gold. New Jack City was a cult and commercial classic, becoming the highest grossing independent feature of 1991. You know the story, you quote the lines but we bet you didn’t these behind the scenes secrets about the film. Check them out.
Ava DuVernay is one of the few Black filmmakers making waves in the industry. In January, she became the first black woman to win the best director award at the Sundance Film Festival for her film “Middle of Nowhere.” The filmmaker sat down with 24wired.tv to discuss why she supports Tyler Perry, the need for more black film directors and the honor of winning Sundance. She’s definitely a Black woman we respect and admire.
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I don’t have to know anything about the Hunger Games to know that it’s leaving its mark on American culture in some huge ways. This weekend, the movie made the third highest-grossing debut in North American box office history raking in $155 million. It’s also exposed something we knew was true about black men, women, and children in real-life but apparently also carries over into fictional cinema—we cannot be innocent, good, or cared about instinctively.
I know nothing about Suzanne Collins’ novel except for the fact that the book has cultivated a Twilight-Harry Potter-cultish-like following of which my little cousin is a part of. As is expected with diehard fans, there are going to be indiscrepancies between the way they visualized things in the book and how they are portrayed on film, but I don’t think anyone expected so much outrage over the character of Rue, played by Amandla Stenberg, a biracial black girl.
Call me crazy, but if I’d read page 45 of the novel and saw this sole description of Rue, Amandla is exactly who I would have expected to see on screen:
“…And most hauntingly, a twelve-year-old girl from District 11. She has dark brown skin and eyes, but other than that’s she’s very like Prim in size and demeanor…”
Apparently for “Hunger Games” readers, dark brown is like the “I’m the same color as you” comments I get from white people during the summer when they come back from an island vacation and think we’re skin twins. They thought Rue would be a dark-skinned white person, and to say they were disappointed that Rue was played by a black girl would be an understatement. The Tumblr Hunger Game Tweets, set up to expose people who talk a bunch of ish but aren’t really fans of the book, as evidenced by their lack of knowledge, caught a startling number of angry responses to Amandla’s character that weren’t just about being shocked that she was black, but more so her blackness changing their entire opinion of the character and the movie. Tweets ranged from:
“Why does Rue have to be black not gonna lie kinda ruined the movie” to
“I was pumped about the Hunger Games. Until I learned a black girl was playing Rue” to
“Kk call me racist but when I found out Rue was black her death wasn’t as sad. #Ihatemyself” to
“Sense when has rue been a n***er” I don’t even have time to go into all that is wrong with that statement.
The viewers weren’t too thrilled about Lenny Kravitz playing Cinna either, although since his dark skin wasn’t mentioned in the book, they weren’t totally blindsided into liking a black person. As for another character named Thresh, there apparently was no clue he’d be black either, despite this description: “The boy tribute from District 11, Thresh, has the same dark skin as Rue, but the resemblance stops there. He’s one of the giants, probably six and half feet tall and built like an ox.”
Another tweeter sent this reaction on the collective inclusion of black characters:
“Cinna and Rue weren’t supposed to be black. Why did the producers make all the good characters black smh”
The most ironic twist in all this discussion is when it comes to the lead character Katniss no one has said a word. That’s most likely because the producers cast a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl by the name of Jennifer Lawrence as a character that was described in the book as having olive skin and straight black hair. To their credit, they did manage to dye her hair dark— it all sort of reminds me of Elizabeth Taylor and Angelina Jolie playing Cleopatra. The lack of outrage over that change proves this argument is not about incongruences, it’s about the inability for black people to be seen as anything but villains in real life and in cinema.
What’s worse is we talk day in and day out about how we need to change the images on the screen. We need more positive images of black people, we need to be seen in leading roles, but will it make a difference? If we’re talking about black films the people who need to see these images likely won’t even bother to watch the movies. And in this case we see that having positive images didn’t challenge any of the viewers internalized ideals about black people, it simply made them view the portrayals as unrealistic, even making them angry that they had somehow been tricked to care about a little black girl when they didn’t think she was a little black girl. If we can’t soften the youth when it comes to stereotypes and prejudices about black people through an entertainment medium of all things, what can we possibly do that will make a difference?
Since buzzfeed and other sites have run stories about these fans’ racist reactions to the film, Hunger Games Tweets has proudly reported that the number of tweets about Rue and Thresh being black has greatly reduced, but I wouldn’t count that as a victory just yet. I’m willing to bet those people have only stopped commenting because they don’t want to see their twitter accounts blasted across the Internet. No one has had a sudden change of heart about the audacity of movie producers invoking sympathy for a black character. Of course, the fans’ reactions aren’t totally startling considering all that’s going on around us in black America today, but to say they’re disturbing, yet sadly, somewhat expected, would be an understatement.
Are you familiar with The Hunger Games at all? Do you think having more positive images of black characters in films is really the answer in situations like this?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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We caught up with the beautiful and dynamic actresses Tatyana Ali, Anika Noni Rose, Nia Long, and Yvette Brown at the Eye on Black event in Hollywood and asked them about their thoughts on diversity in cinema and the state of African-American representation in Hollywood.
by Steven Barboza
Great black stories almost never get shown at America’s megaplexes. The reason? They are an endangered species.
In a perfect world, major studios would green-light a dozen films per year with mostly black casts, and audiences of all persuasions would pay to see them. But Hollywood moguls seem stuck on the color of actors’ skin. Either major studios don’t think white audiences would pay to see universal human dramas played out by black actors, or studios are bewildered by black films. Many fail at the box office for a host of reasons, including lack of audience development and badly hatched advertising and publicity campaigns.
“Ultimately, to reach an African American audience, there needs to be a cross-section of tactics,” said Ava DuVernay, filmmaker and publicist. DuVernay, who helped to market such Hollywood releases as “Dreamgirls” and “Invictus,” has formed an alliance that aims to bring more black films to commercial theaters. The African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (or AFFRM) uses social networking and grass-roots tactics to reach its marketing goals.
The alliance hopes to overcome a host of mistakes being made by otherwise savvy producers and film makers. Many black films fall victim to their creators’ good intentions but inept marketing practices. “I think that a lot of people overshoot in terms of the number of screens that they put a film on,” said DuVernay, “and I think that a lot of people undershoot in terms of the type of marketing that they apply toward certain types of films. But in cases where there’s been a happy marriage of distribution and marketing, you’ve seen modest and successfully distributed films that give nice returns to investors.”
The film “Just Wright,” starring Queen Latifah and Common, was “on too many screens,” DuVernay said. “And it was a campaign that didn’t integrate any kind of grassroots effort or real local outreach. They had a very national campaign, and they were relying on their stars. If they would have had some boots on the ground, it might have made some difference.” The film only grossed $21.5 million.
Other black films succeed if producers employ the right marketing mix. “You look at something very successful like ‘Jumping the Broom’ — they had a full-fledged publicity campaign, a very aggressive advertising campaign and local support on the ground — and you get a hit,” DuVernay said. “Same thing with ‘The Help.’ With the right marketing, the right push, the right kind of perfect storm of elements, you can actually have a successful release.”
She herself has left nothing to chance. She has written and directed a film titled “I Will Follow,” starring Salli Richardson-Whitfield, who plays a woman sorting through memories of a dead aunt. The film was the first to be marketed by the AFFRM. “We couldn’t afford big advertising so we upped our ground game,” DuVernay said. “We did more grassroots organizing. We did heavy, heavy publicity. We were in a market for six months, when you’d [customarily] be in a market for 3 or 4 months before opening.”
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?
2011 was a good year for blacks in film. From comedy to drama, to independent films gone mainstream, we did our thing this year.
If you don’t believe me and need further proof, check out this list of stars in black who dominated this year at Black Voices.com.
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Octavia E. Butler is considered the first black woman to gain national prominence as a science fiction writer, so why haven’t any of her books ever been turned into a movie?
I mean, its not like her work is too hard to translate visually: Butler’s last novel Fledging, the first in a series which was released after her untimely death in 2008, is actually told from the point of view of a 53-year-old vampire who happens to look like a 10-year-old black girl. Can anyone say Twilight or Let the Right One In? Kindred, her first novel, is a time travel story revolving around an African-American woman in 1976 Los Angeles who is pulled back in time to the 1800s and has to reconcile the two eras. Hello? That’s just like Back to the Future. And let us not forget The Parable of the Sower/Talent, in which Butler shares a coming of age tale about a black woman, weaving and surviving her way through post-apocalyptic California. Well that’s just like The Road, The Book of Eli and just about ever post-apocalyptic films, which has come out in the last twenty years or so.
In a few interviews, Butler had once teased that she had been in “talks” with studio execs about some of her work, including the Patternist series, and that some of her books had been optioned for film, but “unfortunately,” people have not been able to find the money to make the movie.” But why? It’s obvious that Hollywood loves a book adaptation. And other classic and equally esoteric science fiction writers such as Robert Heinlein, Philip K. package, Frank Herbert and Stephen King have seen their work on the big screen. Yet finding the funding to support a film adaptation of a Butler book is hard to come by.
These thoughts were at the forefront of my mind as I read about the recent uproar over the reviews of The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry, a collection compiled and introduced by Rita Dove, an African American former US Poet Laureate and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. In particular, Helen Vendler, author of the Harvard Book of Contemporary American Poetry and so-called renowned poetry czar, was particularly harsh, if not borderline bigoted, in her New York Review of Books critique of the anthology in which she basically attacked Dove for including “a dubious and incoherent selection” of poets in the anthology. This “dubious” selection includes black poets likes of Amiri Barack and Gwendolyn Brooks for whom Vendler suggested showed Dove preference for “multicultural inclusiveness,” at the expense of more classic favorites such as Eliot, Frost and Stevens.
Where does the man find the time? Whether you love or love to loathe Tyler Perry, you’ve got to admit the man hustles like no other. In the midst of television shows (plural) on TBS and a Christmas play on DVD, the writer, actor and director has managed to produce a film: “Good Deeds.” The plot centers around an insipid Ivy Leaguer who decides to help someone out. His decision ultimately changes him.
Check out the trailer below:
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In 2008, filmmaker Dennis Dortch was living the life that many independent film directors and writers aspired to. After being rejected by Sundance the previous year, his film “A Good Day to be Black and Hot” was gaining well-deserved praise and attention.
“It was probably the greatest experience in my filmmaking career. It’s the time that every filmmaker wants. To be recognized in the street, have your film be talked about,” said Dortch. “People come pat you on the back. That happened for like two weeks. They take care of you very well and make you the star when usually the stars are the people in the film.”
Nicknamed “Blackdance,” it’s apparent that since 2008, there has been an increase in the number of African-American filmmakers showcasing their work at the most esteemed film festival in the country. In 2010, there were just over a dozen, still a significantly low number compared to the 113 films that were accepted. One of the most prevalent black films that did make it to theaters was Tanya Hamilton’s “Night Catches Us,” a romantic drama based on the 1970s Black Power movement.
Though beyond the Sundance Film Festival, there lies a misty void in African- American culture that many in the film industry are working hard to solidify. Organizations like the Urbanworld Film Festival, the American Black Film Festival and distributor Codeblack Entertainment (Qasim Basir’s Mooz-lum and Laugh at my Pain) significantly contribute to the cause every year. However, it’s using the foundation that these organizations have built, breaking out of a subculture and making an impact on the general indie film market that will garner lasting effects.
While countless theatrical projects find themselves birthed at film festivals and carried by unwavering support to neighborhood theaters, black independent films are still lagging behind. From their presence in the general independent film market to their journey onto the big screen, an inquiry constantly hovers: what’s the hold up with black indie films?