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A Breakout Year for Black Film? Not Quite.

by Anthony Kaufman
June 3, 2013 9:23 AM
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After chronicling the struggles of black independent filmmakers to get their movies made recently, in stories for Filmmaker Magazine and this blog, I was surprised to read New York Times reporter Michael Cieply's overly upbeat take on what he calls a "substantial new wave" of African American themed films, which seems to me like an irresponsible and overly rosy characterization of the number of black films in the U.S. marketplace, particularly those of the sophisticated or dramatic variety.

Cieply's story is pegged, in part, to Ryan Coogler's Sundance winner "Fruitvale Station," which certainly marks a veritable reason to celebrate for filmmakers of color. But, of course, the proof will be in the pudding when The Weinstein Co releases the film. It could be another "Beasts of the Southern Wild" or "Precious," but one breakout a year does not constitute any significant new wave or uptick for these kinds of films about the African American experience.

Cieply notes that 10 new films will be released, but when those 10 include Tyler Perry's annual Lionsgate release, Lee Daniels's squeamish-looking "The Butler," and  black comedian Kevin Hart's concert doc, can you really claim anything has shifted in the film industry? This is not to discount another doc about a black comedian or Tyler Perry's output, but these are examples of the kinds of films that have already proven safe and unremarkable bets.

More interesting is the appearance later this year of Kasi Lemmons's "Black Nativity" and Steve McQueen's “Twelve Years a Slave,” which, if successful, could help pave the way for more black films that don't conform to the usual stereotypical stories. But. as I've been told by several filmmakers of color working today, they are not received with open doors, particularly in the international marketplace, which remains a key facet of any film's financing structure.

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  • BillyDe | April 1, 2014 4:15 PMReply

    Isn't it time these racist/anti-whites awards shows be treated like thee KKK-like organizations they are?

    African American Literary Award Show (AALAS)
    African Film Critics Awards
    African Movie Academy Awards
    American Black Film Festival
    BEFFTA Leadership Award
    BET Awards
    Black International Film Festival
    Black Movie Awards
    Ebony Magazine Awards
    Ebony Magazine Beauty and Grooming Awards
    Hollywood Black Film Festival
    Mid-Atlantic Black Film Festival
    Montreal International Black Film Fest
    NAACP Image Awards
    National Black Theatre Festival
    NCTE Advancement of People of Color Leadership Award (APCL)
    Soul Train Awards
    Steve Harvey’s Neighborhood Awards (formerly known as the Hoodie Awards)
    The Black Reel Awards
    The Black Reel Awards | Saluting African-Americans in Films
    The Black Weblog Awards
    The Source Awards
    The Trumpet Awards
    Twin Cities Black Film Festival
    University of Michigan Outstanding Women of Color in Film Award
    Urbanworld Film Festival

  • BillyDe | April 1, 2014 4:19 PM

    Well, I guess:
    African Film Critics Awards
    African Movie Academy Awards
    are ok,
    included them by mistake,
    was that racist of me?
    I'm sorry,
    hey, I lived in Africa for 7 years so shut the F up.

  • Rif | June 3, 2013 7:34 PMReply

    African-Americans make up about 14% of the population, and movies reflecting the concerns of African-Americans aren't going to be of pressing interest to the other 86%, even assuming African-Americans generally want to see indie-type movies, which doesn't appear to be the case. This doesn't mean that the 86% are racists or boors.

    As for Hollywood, try going to the movies sometime: Hollywood is far less about white people than about the fantasy of privilege - privileged possessions and privileged experience. Ethnic filmmaking of any kind violates that convention. For all the white Jewish males working in the movies, how many, other than Woody Allen, make specifically "Jewish" movies? These guys make movies about goys and blonds. Generic fantasy, get it, Ken and Barbie?

    And there are OTHER poorly represented minorities. How about Hispanics? Asians? African-Americans have actually done pretty well. And when an African-American complains, particularly a woman, it gets results. Less feared minorities can yell and scream all they want, and they'll just get banned.

  • Bill | September 11, 2013 10:41 AM

    "86% of aren't going to be of pressing interest" Maybe that's you jut you pal! So you can keep your negative attitude at home when and "African American" movie comes out. They don't need your support!
    Why the hell was "The Butler" number one for practically a month? Why was "Django Unchained" Taratino's highest grossing film ever! Also I can bet you when "12 years a slave" comes out, it is going to make a lot of money!! So, it's bullshit that people don't care about what's going on in other cultures. It's just that studio's want to make money, and are dumb and think that the only movies that make money have a white male lead. Which is why ever summer is like four superhero movies!! The studios are obviously pretty strong, they got you!

  • facethemusic | June 12, 2013 4:14 AM

    The music industry renders your argument moot: the other 86% of the population is overwhelmingly interested and has been for over a century. See no reason film should be any different...both within our borders and abroad. All about authenticity and the powers that be deeming that enough to greenlight these films

  • MINCE | June 3, 2013 11:24 AMReply

    Ten black films by black directors theatrically released in six months is significant. Because you've done a blog and an article about it (are you flippin' serious?!!!!), doesn't mean you have any insight into the impact of black directors actually getting work OF ALL KINDS out there. The impact this might have on black community and black filmmakers at all stages. Black directors making black movies is something you don't even realize the magnitude of. Black directors making black movies. Not rich white kids getting Academy Awards for going into the backwoods and making fantasies about little black girls. Not rich white men making save fantasies. Not that. Your post reeks of white privilege.

  • No | June 3, 2013 10:30 AMReply

    Yes, I thought that story was a way bit too rosy for the normal course of things re black films. Ten? That's like hearing the press carping about the number of Obama prosecutions under the Espionage Act: six.

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