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Flashback To 1981 - "Race And The Movies" (How Much Has Really Changed In 30+ Years?)

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by Tambay A. Obenson
May 27, 2014 1:03 PM
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Below you'll find a 1981 televised discussion between Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, in which they discuss, broadly, the *state of blacks in American studio cinema* at the time (again, 1981), compared to years prior. 

I repost here in part to serve as a trip down memory lane, taking us back to the early days of what would become the most popular film review TV series of all time, but also because just about everything they talk about within the 9-minute conversation are all matters we've discussed and debated ad naseam here on S&A (and elsewhere), 33 years later!! 

So what does that say about how far what we call "black cinema" (specifically, studio-based movie-making) has come after 3 long decades of "progress"? And even more maddening is that, the previous 25 years (before 1981) of film history, where blacks are concerned, provide the context for the 33-year old conversation below, as the hosts ponder just how little had changed in that time period as well, up to 1981.

So really, I could rephrase the question and ask just how far "black cinema" has come in the last 58 years of film history. How much has really changed for blacks in cinema over almost 6 decades?

The fact that we're still having many of the same conversations about the *state of blacks in American cinema*, decades later, suggests that there hasn't been quite as much progress as we might think.

Long time readers of S&A will know that I like to point out these realities/reminders from time to time, because, often, we get so caught up in discussions about what's *wrong* with Hollywood where blacks are concerned, today, as we analyze and criticize, without realizing and acknowledging that our parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents had very similar conversations about representation (or lack thereof). The end-goal here is simply to emphasize that our words alone haven't, and probably still will not have much of an impact on the state of things. The words must be accompanied with some kind of action to propel movement forward. Otherwise, in another 25 years, we just might still be discussing what ails us creatively, which would be absolutely terrible in my humble opinion.

So much of what they say below can still be said today, and I think that's really sad, given all the talk about how liberal Hollywood is, increases in participation from under-represented groups, etc. There's obviously still much work to be done. 

The below video is part of a 3-piece series titled Race And The Movies, presented by a previous incarnation of Ebert's At the Movies.

The other 2 parts give brief summaries of blacks Americans in cinema since the days of Oscar Micheaux, to black Americans in cinema today.

I embedded parts 2 and 3 below (Click HERE for part 1):

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