Race Traitors: White Filmmakers Who Make Black Films

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by Andre Seewood
July 5, 2012 2:33 PM
69 Comments
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One of the hazards of provoking thought is that you can often provoke ignorance, just as when you give a less than glowing commentary upon the idols of sycophants (Spike Lee or Tyler Perry) you can often run the risk of being the target of abusive ad hominem criticism; that is, criticism that summarily dismisses your arguments and attempts to besmirch your personal character as a means of telling others: “Stay away from that guy, he’s crazy!”  For my part I have been called everything from a “Pied piper” leading Shadow & Act readers down a primrose path to their doom, to a delusional self-serving prick who must be receiving some kind of “bribe” to dare suggest that things may not be as they appear.  But these hazards and dangers one should willingly face if you have the courage and the passion to fight for that which you believe.

Last weekend (6/29-7/1) Tyler Perry’s MADEA’S WITNESS PROTECTION grossed 26.3 million dollars which was the,” 3rd highest opening for a Madea movie and the 4th highest opening for a Tyler Perry movie (he’s directed 12 movies).” (1)   In a previous article about the power and financial structure of the American Entertainment Complex I was taken to task by commentators for asserting that,” Without any major competition it is useless to complain about the quality or the content of Perry’s work, because at the end of the day the Hollywood studios have entered into a tacit agreement to “kill” any competing African-American filmmakers whose work might challenge the box office of their token.” (2)

The commentators stated matter-of-factly that everyone knows that the studios stagger the releases of movies with similar target audiences to protect and insure that each film makes a profit (for instance THE AVENGERS and THE DARK NIGHT RISES are not going to open on the same weekend).  But what these commentators fail to notice is that the overall effect of this innocuous business practice is that all films directed by African-Americans with a majority African-American cast are undifferentiated and treated as one singular genre which it is then assumed to only appeal to one singular Black “monolithic” audience by the Hollywood studios.   In short, the notion that Black films only play to the African-American domestic box office is discriminatory and prejudices foreign film distributors, producers, directors, writers, and actors from seeing a film made by an African-American beyond the context of race.  Hence, those African-American movie-goers (and movie-goers in general) who want to see something different than Tyler Perry’s work are discounted and/or reabsorbed into the box office grosses of other white majority cast films of other distinct genres as was the case with Seth MacFarlane’s 54 million dollar grossing R-rated comedy TED which opened on the same weekend as MADEA.

And yet last weekend Tyler Perry’s MADEA’S WITNESS PROTECTION did actually play against another majority African-American cast film: BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD which grossed $220,000.  Keeping in mind that BEASTS opened on just 4 screens nationwide,” averaging about $42,000 per screen,” this per-screen average was far ahead of Perry’s MADEA which opened at 2161 screens and averaged $11,749 per screen. (3)  If we look solely at the numbers, one can make several startling conclusions, one of which is that had BEASTS received a marketing budget and screen ratio comparable to MADEA it would have had an equal or larger box office gross than MADEA last weekend.  The potential success of BEASTS, in direct competition with MADEA, would have revealed that African-Americans and other racial audiences will support a majority cast African-American film in a different genre other than Tyler Perry’s work.  And let us remember that competition among artists is a good thing; it aides in allowing an artist to refine his or her work as opposed to simply resting on their laurels or their healthy bank account statements.  Competition, when fair, puts fire in the belly of any artist to do more than just make a product, instead they create at their personal best.  

Even if we consider the numbers as they are, the simultaneous openings of MADEA and BEASTS gives credence to my assertion that in spite of those who believe in Tyler Perry’s talents, his success,” within the cinema is a wholly manufactured product of Hollywood’s power and control over its audiences through its incontestable horizontal affiliation,” among film studios and theatre exhibitors. (4) In this case, between MADEA and BEASTS, a major contributing factor that allowed MADEA to make 26.3 million dollars and BEASTS only 220,000 dollars was the manipulation of screen ratios [2161 screens for MADEA, 4 for BEASTS].  The “tacit agreement” between films studios and theatre exhibitors concerning the allotment of screens during a film’s initial release (in general the more screens in major markets, the more box office revenue) is but one of the strategies deployed by the American Entertainment Complex to give the appearance of competition when in fact these studios, distributors, television networks and exhibitors are in collusion with each other to maximize their profits at the expense of our simplistic illusions about their business practices.

Although the success of BEASTS opening simultaneously with MADEA, albeit in select cities and on significantly fewer screens, does provide us with some compelling evidence that a film with a majority African-American cast of a different genre has the potential to compete and make a profit without diminishing Perry’s core audience, as the French say,” Il y a un os,” or there is a catch.  That catch is the very subject of this article.

The film BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD is a film with a majority African-American cast that was made by a white filmmaker of Jewish descent, Behn Zeitlin and co-written by a white woman, Lucy Alibar.(5)  The question begged here is does a film with a majority African-American cast but directed and/or written by whites still qualify as a “black” film?  If the answer is no, then we have a lot of great films to throw out of the canon of black cinema.  If the answer is yes, then we have to include and celebrate a great many more films that have been neglected, overlooked and ignored into the canon of black cinema.

In a detailed chapter in my book, Slave Cinema, I discuss White filmmakers who make Black films by defining them with the term, Race Traitors.  “To begin with, I do not use the phrase “race traitor” in its negative or pejorative sense, but instead I use it as an emblem of a certain kind of selfless artistic heroism that honors an individual white filmmaker’s sacrifice of immediate commercial interests in the effort to shift narrative focus from whites to African-Americans within a film.  As a consequence of this shift of narrative focus and sacrifice of commercial interests, the resultant film elicits a penetrating social criticism that extends beyond the circumstances presented and casts doubt upon the values and prejudices of the spectator, both white and black alike, who observe those circumstances.” (pg.159)

It is important to note that these white filmmakers who make the deliberate choice to use a majority African-American cast, usually in the face of great skepticism and racial criticism, are the least understood and their films are, at times, the most ignored by Black and White film scholarship.  And as it turns out, many of these genuine “race traitor” filmmakers have made some powerful contributions to African-American film history, but for our own racial chauvinism and the indifference of many whites in the industry these films have not been celebrated nor discussed openly because many of us are uncertain as to whether the white filmmaker’s intentions are without exploitation. (6)

In my book I discuss several powerful films directed by “race traitor” filmmakers like: John Cassevetes’ SHADOWS (1959) which discusses bi-raciality and the perils of unintentionally passing for white in New York city and German filmmaker, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s incredible 1970 film, WHITY which was the first film made by a European auteur to present a negative, some would even say perverse, portrait of a white slave holding family and the violent rebellion of a formerly docile black servant.

There are special conditions and circumstances that define a genuine race traitor filmmaker from the notion of a white director that was simply hired to complete a product, as was the case during the height of the “blaxploitation” era.  I define a genuine race traitor filmmaker by the fulfillment of at least two of these special conditions listed: 1) The white filmmaker has had extensive Biographical contact or an extended artistic collaboration with African-Americans before or during the production of the film; 2) The white filmmaker usually makes some kind of great personal, professional and/or financial sacrifice to bring their racially challenging vision to the screen; 3) The film differs greatly in emotional tone, acting style, script and/or formal design from conventional Hollywood representations of African-Americans or even contemporary African-American representations of themselves in film; 4) The film usually has a difficult or unsuccessful distribution by skeptical and prejudiced whites which is intended to keep the film from reaching the wider African-American audience; 5) and finally, but most importantly, these films have universal humanist themes; that is to say, the thematic underpinnings of the film are less race specific and do not attempt to identify, defend or accentuate the cultural and moral differences between African-Americans and whites.  Instead, the themes within the film pertain to what is human in all of us beyond our racial, class or cultural differences.

This last aspect, universal humanist themes, is the most troubling aspect of most films by genuine race traitor filmmakers in that the onus of a stereotype or definitive cultural difference is left wholly in the minds of the spectators and is not explored within the fiction in a conventional manner.  The resultant film makes white spectators uncomfortable with whether or not they are seeing a stereotype and black spectators are unsure if the characters are ‘truly’ black folk if the characters don’t respond in ways that have been culturally defined as ‘black’.  Ultimately these films challenge the supremacy of ‘whiteness’ by challenging the notions of ‘blackness’.  (Slave Cinema pgs. 233-234)

I believe that we, as an African-American audience and as critics and scholars, must reclaim and celebrate the previously neglected films made by race traitors, as well as, come to grips with those current and future films like BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD or Tarantino’s upcoming DJANGO UNCHAINED because if we summarily dismiss these works as simply white appropriation of our culture/history or exploitation we are missing the richness of the social critique within the films and the opportunities such films provide to break the entrenched stereotypes (Bogle’s pentad of Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, & Bucks) within Hollywood cinema.

One of the first genuine race traitor films ever made was King Vidor’s HALLELUJAH (1929).  A film that was conceived from Vidor’s extended biographical contact with African-Americans during his childhood and one that he felt so strongly about making that in the face of intense studio resistance to an “all negro” film, Vidor gave up his director’s fee in the effort to convince the studio to make the film.  And it is this film that highlights the difficulties African-American critics have had embracing the works of race traitor filmmakers because as many black critics were celebrating HALLELUJAH at the time of its release, Zora Neale Hurston denounced,” certain black intellectuals for what she perceiv[ed] as their self serving complicity in popularizing the distorted white depictions of black folk culture…” (7)

Hurston’s comments (even engaging in her own form of abusive ad hominem criticism by calling those black intellectuals “the Niggerati”) are a measure of the difficulty and the fear-mongering rhetoric within the African-American community that causes many of the films by genuine race traitors to be neglected, dismissed and in some cases forgotten.  These films do not pander to the stereotypes African-American hold against themselves (as the measurement of ‘real’ blackness) nor the stereotypes whites hold against African-Americans (as the confirmation of black ‘otherness’ and inferiority).

To dismiss these films as white appropriations of “black culture” or sheer exploitation is to dismiss a rich and powerful collection of works that challenge the racial perceptions and distortions held by both blacks and whites alike.  During my recent discovery of Jules Dassin’s UPTIGHT (1968), a film that was co-written by African-American actors and activists Ruby Dee and Julian Mayfield, I was dismayed to discover that the usually perceptive critic Nelson George dismissed the film as a,” rather incoherent look at infighting among black revolutionaries in Cleveland.”(8)  To the contrary, I found this film to be a powerful and emotionally unsparing look at infighting among black revolutionaries in Cleveland that was directed by a white filmmaker who had been blacklisted during the Macarthy Era and returned to America just as Martin Luther King was assassinated; the film contains authentic color footage of Dr. King’s funeral which sets the urgent tone for the entire work.  UPTIGHT was a film the U.S. government deliberately attempted to interfere with during its production.  Perhaps it was all too clear that Dassin had something urgent to say about civil rights in America that we all should have cause to see and hear.

Returning to the film BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD which has already won the Camera d’Or award at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and the Grand jury prize at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival (providing more evidence that African-American films do have audiences in international markets and that African-American filmmakers are being deliberately discriminated against by the industry), domestically the film is receiving the typical “art house” or limited release treatment that many other films made by race traitors have received historically.  Robert M. Young & Michael Roemer’s remarkable 1964 film NOTHING BUT A MAN, which starred Ivan Dixon, was given a limited release and played outside of Black populated urban markets, to insure that film would not reach its intended audience.  Although BEASTS will be opening in several more theatres this weekend (7-06-12) it is highly unlikely based on the historical precedent set by other race traitor films that the film will play at an equal or greater amount of screens as Tyler Perry’s MADEA.

Why you might ask?  In my opinion it is because the films made by genuine race traitor filmmakers often reveal to us certain truths about ourselves as a human race that we would much rather sweep under a rug.  For whites in control of the film industry, the works of race traitor filmmakers are treated as a rarified anomaly that should be seen but by the chosen “elite” few.  For African-Americans who lack power and control in the industry the works of race traitor filmmakers often does not “feel” true because the characters don’t respond in the stereotyped “black” ways that we have chosen to believe we all would do.  But as I have stated,” These race traitor filmmakers commit their treason to “whiteness” because they are loyal to humanity,” would that we all had such a loyalty in the face of great ignorance and even greater fears.(9)

NOTES

(1) http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/box-office-for-6-29-to-7-1-madea-is-clearly-here-to-stay-beasts-rules-the-averages

(2) Evidence of Things Not Seen: The Structure of Power: Notes for a Revolution in African-American Filmmaking (part 2)

(3) Per screen averages taken from Boxofficemojo.com on July 2nd, 2012.  These numbers are subject to change daily during the films theatrical run.  

(4) The Shopkeepers Till and The Devil’s Pie: Notes for a Revolution in African-American Filmmaking. http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/the-shopkeepers-till-the-devils-pie-notes-for-a-revolution-in-african-american-filmmaking-part-3

(5) Of course I am broadening the term “White” to include various European ethnicities (Italian, Irish, etc) and Jews since Zeitlin is of half-Jewish descent.

(6) I use the qualifying term, genuine, because I describe three distinct types of race traitor filmmakers in my book (Genuine, Mercenary and Reparative), but for reasons of space I cannot describe them all here.  

(7) Pg. 184, RETURNING THE GAZE: A Genealogy of Black Film Criticism 1909-1949 by Anna Everett, Duke University Press, Durham: 2001.

(8) Pg. 7, BLACKFACE: Reflections on African-Americans and the Movies by Nelson George, HarperCollins: New York, 1994.

(9) Pg. 250, Slave Cinema by Andre Seewood

Andre Seewood is the author of SLAVE CINEMA: The Crisis of the African-American in Film. Pick up a copy of the book via Amazon.com HERE.

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69 Comments

  • jc | July 9, 2012 12:39 PMReply

    ..Why do we keep calling a film "black" or "white". If a movie is good..people we see it, if it stinks then we will not.

    The Color Purple was done by who? Yea..Steven Spielberg..

    We just need to make GREAT movies..

    The title of this article was to grab attention to is...in a tacky way I think "race traitor? really...

  • justsaying | July 8, 2012 6:45 PMReply

    @Charles Judson, you really hit it on the nail with the "Whose the man?" and your followed points. Yes, there are many Black fathers out there who prepare their children for our world in this manner, but I feel we make a big leap when we appropriate this intention to Wink without further insight into his story in the film or indication from the director. It's a bit too much and way too easy to do. When I go see a film I'm looking within the film for understanding, and my experiences may or may not enhance my understanding. Where is the motivation in the world that the director has created for Wink to want to be this way, or is the director just borrowing from real life because it will be easily accepted? At what point do true to life experiences become stereotypes?

  • justsaying | July 9, 2012 12:01 AM

    @Charles, I appreciate the reread. I am not mixing the two. His character is indeed a stereotype. It is put into play within the film, which ultimately shapes the plot, the intimacy of their father-daughter relationship, and Hushpuppy's arc within the film. Without the stereotype, I don't see the direct link between the fears, concerns, and situations in the film and his overt choice to prepare his daughter for the world in THAT manner. I am looking for something within his character that informs his decision to act this way. I didn't see it...

  • Charles Judson | July 8, 2012 11:01 PM

    Now that I reread what you're arguing, I think you're mixing stereotype with archetype. With varying degrees of success. The tough loving father is an archetype. The stereotype that all Black father's are extremely tough on their children does exist. In the context of the film, a lot of Wink's behavior is shown as rational, flowing from the larger community and influenced by his situations. The Bathtub is cut off from the rest of the world and that physically impacts their community and their environment. His suspicion and distrust of outsiders is justified after the storm in the film both by what happens to The Bathtub--the damn has a huge negative impact--and in how the outsiders treat Wink and the others later in the film--as exemplified when they force Hushpuppy to wear the blue dress. He also at one point in the film is willing to overcome that distrust because he truly wants a better life for Hushpuppy. His stance on being strong is reflected in the lesson the teacher teaches at the beginning of the film. It's a way of living for that community. However, even that "be strong stance" is undermined and shown that it comes with major consequences after the storm. Lastly, Wink is dying and Hushpuppy has no mother, so she does have to learn how to live without him. So is Wink like he is because he's Black, or poor, or because of his community and situations? Based on those points, I would say in BEASTS he's more an archetype than a stereotype.

  • monkeysuit | July 8, 2012 9:51 PM

    Yeah, we'll have to agree to disagree because I can think of several moments where his worry and love for Hushpuppy shows beyond just inference. And this black father stereotype is completely new to me. Obviously, the strict father figure character has been done countless times with white, black, yellow and purple alike. But to call it a black stereotype....I don't know. I'm not buying it, sorry.

  • justsaying | July 8, 2012 9:26 PM

    @Moneysuit, We can agree to disagree. The director did not give us enough to view or to understand his motivations for his behavior toward Hushpuppy. We see him learn that he is dying, yes. We know that Hushpuppy's mother left, yes. I don't see much worry or love but rather a man going through the motions... I didn't say we needed to know everything, but definitely needed a bit more to seal the deal. Wink was shortchanged as well. In regard to stereotypes, there is definitely one on the rise. When I said Charles hit it on the nail I was referring to this statement that he made "A lot of the flaws in the these fathers are generated by their own circumstances, their own struggles with living within their respective communities while also being shutout from larger ones, and their drive to raise their children so that they can one day live on their own" THIS is what we needed MORE insight into and uncover the nuances about Wink's life to better understand his "tough love" actions. I'm saying that we DON'T see enough of this, and thus this idea of him showing tough love and trying to be a good father is presented as a given instead something developed within his character that we come to learn. And while it's a great/smart thing to want to prepare your child for the harsh realities of life, it becomes contrived here. The 100% well intentioned -tough love - I know and will only do what's best for you OK!-Black father stereotype is on the rise. Now every stereotype has some truth to it so there will be many people who identify with a father figure that prepared you for the real world. And because it's a stereotype that reflects upon good intentions and positivity, many won't even recognize this as a stereotype because most stereotypes are generated from negativity. But I want developed characters through and through because they make better stories.

  • monkeysuit | July 8, 2012 8:06 PM

    And I'm curious, what stereotypes do you see in Wink? Cause I'm running through all the portrayals I cringe at when I see it on screen, and I can't place Wink anywhere. He's not dumb. He's not violent. He's not weak. He's a leader in the group. He's hard on Hushpuppy, but I wouldn't call that a stereotype. He's not abusive. A bit neglectful, at first, but not abusive. He's not perverted or over-sexualized. White people don't save him since he doesn't need saving. I guess he drinks a lot. But is alcoholism a black male stereotype? I don't think so. From what I gather your issue with him is that 1) he slapped Hushpuppy and 2) he yelled at her too much. But you see that "harsh father" character with any race. So is it just the portrayal of country fathers you have a problem with? I can see your point there if that's what it is. I don't agree since I think he was a well-rounded character and he wasn't harsh for harsh sake, but I understand it more. But if your issue is with a black man being harsh, you lost me.

  • Monkeysuit | July 8, 2012 7:48 PM

    Like I said in my other comment, I think the director gave us all we needed to know about his motivations. He's dying, his lover left, his home is under threat and he loves and worries for his daughter who is about to be left alone in the world. Being a hard man, he expresses this aggressively. "Brevity is the soul of wit." Knowing his whole life story woud've been extra especially since the protagonist is Hushpuppy. All his motivations are clear in the context of the film.

  • IJustGottaSay | July 8, 2012 5:39 PMReply

    I'm going to avoid discussing the 'race traitor' title as other commenters below have done a great job of batting that back. My takeaway is that 'race traitor' is a great title to drive traffic to the site (and perhaps increase your book sales), but a flimsy post conceit.

    The bigger fundamental flaw with your post is from the audience vs. business angle. And you are also committing the same crime that you accuse Hollywood of: boxing in films. By your definition/label, a film with a majority black cast is a black film. Which is the same thing that Hollywood, primarily the 'big' studios, have done and will continue to do. Comparing Madea to Beasts is the same as comparing ground beef to foie gras. Madea (Lionsgate) is made for the masses: not too offensive, simple story, a frivolous escape, uncomplicated cinematography. The marketing is easy - pre-established audience, hit the fans with the easy laugh. Beasts (Fox Searchlight) however is classified as an art film: concentrated themes, magical imagery, a play on words and visuals, an attempt to make you pause in your own view of this world. The marketing is difficult - 100% review driven; who is the audience? where do they live? where is money best spent to reach them and drag them into the theater. Ground beef = the majority of us understand how to work with it. But foie gras = a small percentage has heard of, a smaller percentage has tasted, and even smaller enjoy, plus it's expensive. So with these factors in mind, why would any business person release a risky art film on anything but a platform release? Other distributors who either don't know the kind of film they have or believe their own indieWire press (acquiring for too much money or opening too wide) and have taken the hit: Jeff Who Lives at Home, Another Earth, Like Crazy. Deliberately I am citing white directors with white films as these films are in the same 'arty' class as Beasts.

    So with entertainment becoming so fragmented with the dawn of the internet and the cost of distributing films rising astronomically as theatrical films need to compete with those other forms of entertainment, specialization increased. Hence the rise of the indie distributors starting in 1998, crashing and burning in 2002, and trying to rise again now. Audience is key. Sorry to be so 101 on this but the basics are getting lost in what is still a business. I think what is a bitter pill to swallow for many posters on this board to swallow is that the type of 'black' film hungered for may be getting made and may be getting distributed but when the audience doesn't show, it impacts more on 'black' film than on white. Both Pariah (Focus Features) and Medicine for Melancholy (IFC) had great reviews and major film festival cred. But upon release into the public which is what counts, the public did not support with its $$$s. Lesson learned: reviews and tweets are not enough. Of course there will always be exceptions. Precious (Lionsgate) did very well at the box office but was that also due to the Oprah/Tyler effect? Does 'black' film have to have that kind of stamp of approval for the target audience of influential blacks (and yes, every film has the target audience as that is where the majority of marketing dollars is aimed) to show up? IF you were a development or distribution exec, would that not appear to be the case? So as a Fox Searchlight, would you not be a bit hesitant to release a film like Beasts on more than 4 screens to begin with? I agree with the early poster about Medicine not being released in places like Atlanta, but IFC does not have the marketing cash to do that, nor is a purely theatrical release their core business (day and date all platforms is).

    The tacit agreement in the industry is "we are here to make money" (with some racism and sexism thrown in but primarily let's make money). Madea is money. It's not art nor is it trying to be. Lionsgate has a good estimate as to what it will make in its theatrical run and so plans for it accordingly. Beasts prior to release was expected to do well in cities with arthouse theaters on the coasts. Everywhere else is pure speculation and hope. It's hard to bet screen #'s and marketing $s on the hope that overwhelmingly great reviews and word of mouth will carry a film.

    We should all take a pause and really look at this, an industry that would rather say "hey, at least we are not music", as opposed to making and distributing films that are inventive, smart, entertaining and GOOD. The 'race traitor' films as cited in this post are in the past (great list by the by). The business was way different than it is today. Today's industry, gobbled up by conglomerates and fortune 500's, can not support those 'race traitor' films nor even the amazing ones that Paramount put out in the 70s long before Viacom took over (Godfather, etc). It's hard to not put an emotional value on 'black' film when there are so few to see in theaters. But the business is putting a $ value on these films based on what the black audience has supported previously. Is this a losing battle for screens.

    Side question: does Beasts still come under 'race traitor' banner when the play it is based on was an autobiographical piece by Lucy Alibar about her and her father, and featured a white boy?

  • CareyCarey | July 8, 2012 11:36 PM

    From top to bottom... fair, open and honest... well written... easy to understand... so pleasingly plump.. you sir IJustGottaSay, get my "Most Insightful Comment" award. Charles Judsun wins my blue ribbon in another catagory, but this one is all yours. Good Job! **Two Thumps way up**

  • Asar Nebankh | July 8, 2012 9:34 AMReply

    If a Black film maker makes a film about caucasians would he be a race traitor?

  • juliaj | July 7, 2012 2:27 PMReply

    I hate the term "Black film." Why is it a black film, and not just a "film." I've noticed that many black people are quick to label something as a "black film" but then we get mad because a white person calls it a "black" film. Who cares if a white person made the film. A black director could just as easily have made the same film on the same budget. I am thrilled to see a loving relationship between a black father and daughter on screen. The more strong black relationships we see, the better

  • monkeysuit | July 9, 2012 12:27 AM

    @Judson That's really interesting about Hushpuppy having to be both parents in her community now. It goes right in line with the consistent androgyny-zing of her character that she must take on both male and female, father and mother, traits in order to complete her arc. She is "the man" who also nourishes her father in the same manner her mother once did. Interesting stuff, folks.

  • CareyCarey | July 8, 2012 11:50 PM

    @JUSTSAYING, you said: [intentions are one thing, but] "We see what he or she does on screen and then we interpret it from there. I find it extremely interesting that the actor has such a different view from the director on his character...especially at this point in the game". I understand what you're saying, so I'll have to wait and see what the actor gives me. Thanks for the convo.

  • monkeysuit | July 8, 2012 8:20 PM

    What was cheap about those shots? She shot a gator with her top off. She didn't bend down and shake her ass. He was behind her and her face was obscured. A women's ass and thighs isn't automatically vulgar. And the perspective issue, every scene has Hushpuppy in it. We never see anything that she doesn't see. Never. So why would her father's memory be the only exception? You know when Celie is reading Nettie's letters from Africa in "The Color Purple," and in every shot Nettie is the same age and has on the same dress as when she left. That's Celie's imagination of her sister because at this point in the story we're at Celie's POV. The same technique is used here, and you see it when her mother is walking by the pots turning on the burner and boiling the water. Her imagination is at work.

  • Charles Judson | July 8, 2012 8:00 PM

    I found the way Wink described Hushpuppy's mother to be more on the erotic side than mere objectification. Wink's reactions and memories are similar to the way characters speak of and react to Janie in THERE EYES ARE WATCHING GOD. She's not just a sum of body parts, she's more than that and she has a power over Wink that no other woman has had. I think Tea Cake and Wink could spend hours comparing how the women in their lives changed them. The fact that Wink lives separately from Hushpuppy says a lot. It's implied that Hushpuppy's house was either her mother's house or was Wink and hers jointly. Either way, Wink's choice to live a part says just as much about the impact of her absence as words. The way she is shot is also important because she is a metaphorical ghost that haunts the picture, she's a woman that Hushpuppy tries to connect with even in death. The way it is shot makes her more of a powerful ideal of mother and womanhood that Hushpuppy can both connect with and aspire to. As a more static memory, the visuals may convey love, but in being more concrete, may also lack passion. Something which Wink has in abundance for both Hushpuppy's mom and for The Bathtub itself. Which is important, because Hushpuppy can either be Janie's grandmother freaking out at the idea of her granddaughter kissing boys over the fence, or she can become Janie, a woman who learns to embrace all sides of being a woman. SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS,SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS,SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS,SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS,SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS, LAST CHANCE TO NOT HAVE A MAJOR PLOT POINT REVEALED: But it also helps setup when Hushpuppy goes to the Elysian Fields. The character who feeds Hushpuppy is listed only as the cook and we're left to interpret if that is Hushpuppy's mother or not. And it doesn't matter. Hushpuppy crossing over into the afterlife is not only the moment she faces death--a choice she makes on her own--but it's also reinforces that it's that the lack of a mother figure that is most important, not who her mother is. A point reinforced with the repeated use of her mother's t-shirt. It also ties thematically back into one of the underlying themes of mothers and women being providers, comforters and teachers. It's the teacher who teaches the students that they are meat and shares Wink's view that Hushpuppy--and all the children--should be strong. It's in the visions we see her mother kill the alligator, something Wink finds exciting, and it's The Cook that teaches Hushpuppy how to make alligator into a meal. When Hushpuppy returns home with the meal, it's a completion of her arc that she must take the place of her father and her mother and now become the parent. She is the future of The Bathtub and she has to start to provide for herself, and she will someday provide for others.

  • justsaying | July 8, 2012 6:19 PM

    @Careycarey, I think it is very important on what you've cited and shared in this discussion. It's not about what is going through an actor's head or intentions. We see what he or she does on screen and then we interpret it from there. I find it extremely interesting that the actor has such a different view from the director on his character...especially at this point in the game. @Charles Judson, I am speaking of Wink's characteristics and he doesn't have much of an arc either. I do agree that Hushpuppy is a protagonist, but she is constantly reacting to situations within her environment throughout the film so it is very important for me as a viewer to study the world she inhabits. My issue is that some of the interactions lack a strong reference point and developed motivation within the world that the director has created. I don't care for didactic overly simplistic stories either. What I would have liked to have seen was more insight into the father's character, because he was Hushpuppy's catalyst at many moments. @Monkeysuit, the whole film is not through her perspective. You mean to tell me the director couldn't find a more creative way to communicate that message besides the shots that he chooses to use? It was cheaply done especially given the creative freedom he had...beasts and all...

  • CareyCarey | July 8, 2012 4:45 PM

    4 points major points of interst from my perspective: 1.) On July 7, 2012 4:27 PM, Bondgirl said, "People on this site love to fight each other". In my opinion, that is the essence of what makes Shadow and Act one of the most exciting and thought provoking sites in the blogsphere. It's the unmuted open and honest conflicts, driven by a sincere passion and love of films (black films in particular) that I believe is the heart's blood of Shadow and Act. 2.) Although many may not have "agreed" with the premise and context of Andre Seewood's post, it has inspired conversation between a host of diverse "voices" from different "backgrounds" -- 34 different ones -- to be exact! 3.) Over the last week, "Justsaying" has joined the cast of usual characters. He/She) has taken on (debated with) a few of what I call the "big hitters" of S&A's comment section, AND she has done an admirable job. That's not to say that "I've" agreed with everything they've said (who does that with anyone?) but I am going to keep my eye on them b/c THEY ARE bringing something to the table! 4.) On that note and having said all of the above, I have a few concerns on her perspective on "the free passes VIEWERS give representations of neglectful parents like we're supposed to believe there is love there just because he is the father, or better yet because he is present". Also, her opinion on "tough love", as it pertains to this film -- I slightly differ. First, on June 29, 2012 10:44 AM, Vanessa Martinez posted a wonderful clip "Behind-The-Scenes 'Beasts Of The Southern Wild' Featurette w/ Dwight Henry (WINK). That clip opened my eyes to the film (gave me a different perspective) and lead me to another interview with Quvenzhane Wallis and Dwight Henry. Here--> www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ktlLiCOkTE. In that enterview, Mr. Henry makes it a point to clarify and qualify the character's (Wink) love for Hushpuppy. Before he did so, the director described Wink as "harsh" and "brutal" with immense internal strength. Then the interviewer (who btw, wasn't very good) asked Mr. Dwight Henry something Wink yelling at Hushpuppy. Emphatically, Dwight said, "hold up, let's get something straight, he was not yelling at her. Hushpuppy is the most important thing in the world to him." He went on say that since Wink was dying, and thus he would not be around, he had to emphasis all the things Hushpuppy had to learn for her survival. More importantly, when asked how he (Dwight) would describe Wink in 3 words, he said "Loving, Caring and Compassionate". WOW! Through it all, I am suggesting that although "Tough Love" can be displayed and defined in various forms, "LOVE" is not like a specific quantity of money. If Wink gave away his wisdom and love in a way that some have a problem with, that's not to say he didn't continually love her. In his quest to teach Hushpuppy the ways of her impending world, along that long and winding road, he didn't spend 23 cents of his last "dollar bill" of love, on "Tough Love" in all it's forms, 47 cents on"black like me love", and thus only have 30 cents left to spend on "real love". Nope, it does not work like that. Love is a many splendid thangs. It's ever present and sometimes it's the most beautiful thing not seen with the eye but felt by the heart. I plan on seeing "Beast Of The Southern Wild" with a open mind and open heart. Hey, I love watching movies, period.

  • monkeysuit | July 8, 2012 3:45 PM

    Wow, Judson gave a better interpretation than I am capable of, and I completely agree with his assessment of Wink. To counter your objectification of Hushpuppy's mother claim. The whole film is through her perspective hence the narration so I do believe the memory was her imagination of father's memory. And while sex is an undertone, there was nothing vulgar about it. I think the key to the memory was the nourishment she provided. The love in that memory and the general love Wink has for Hushpuppy's mother is great enough for Hushpuppy to understand, which is the source of her own infatuation with her mother. And I think Wink is given enough context. He loves his home, he loves his daughter, but he's grieving over his estranged lover and he's facing both his death and the destruction of his home. All his actions can be explained with by this.

  • Charles Judson | July 8, 2012 1:52 PM

    To be that guy, I think you're mixing up your terms. There's Dynamic vs. Static (a character's arc) and Round vs. Flat (a character's traits). In terms of story, Wink doesn't have to be dynamic, he's not the protagonist, Hushpuppy is. However, I do think Wink learning to accept Hushpuppy and his own fate in life gives him his own arc and makes him Dynamic. Is he Flat? I would say no. Is he Round? As viewer outside the frame, I would say yes. From a child's POV I would say the answer is mostly no. As a story about a 6-year old girl, it would be strange for Hushpuppy to see Wink in the same light as another adult would. His motivations should be strange and off putting at times. As "wise" as Hushpuppy is in her voiceover, she's still just a child. Then there's the fact that Wink is not going to have the same kind of relationship with Hushpuppy he would have with another adult. If we flashforward 10 or 20 years into the future, the Wink we see would would likely be different because he would be talking to an adult Hushpuppy as an adult and Hushpuppy would see him through an adult's eyes. In MAKES ME WANNA HOLLER one of the most important moments is when Nathan is old enough to finally start putting his father's actions in context. Which ironically don't make things easier, they only confuse him more, pushing him to wander for years after that. As he gets more autonomy and knowledge, Nathan pushes back more and more. That's how parent-child relationships often develop. As for the importance of relationships between daughters and fathers I see your points. I think the themes and message are there. What it seems like you're having issues with is that the interactions inside the frame of BEASTS are not informed by the interactions outside of the frame, i.e. our world. Which, I would hope they wouldn't do. Stories that try to solve our problems or replicate them instead of exploring them usually become didactic, inert and overly simplistic. A good example is PANTHER vs. NIGHT CATCHES US. The first mythologizes and doesn't have much new to say that can't be read in the much better books that are out there, while the later, although flawed, brought something fresh and very human to the table and opens the doors to more questions and ideas. The fact that you walked away wanting Hushpuppy and Wink's relationship to have been more seems like a victory. The strongest stories rarely end with the tension lessened, they often end at the thread at its most taut, which means the characters are left to continue their own journey and to make their own mistakes. Hushpuppy having to learn how to apply the good from her father while eschewing the bad are the lessons most of have to endure over and over again day in and day out. That's truth.

  • justsaying | July 8, 2012 12:42 PM

    No. There are flawed DYNAMIC characters and there are flawed FLAT characters. He was flawed and definitely FLAT! Yes he was neglectful - but I think this film actually rides on the free passes VIEWERS give representations of neglectful parents like we're supposed to believe there is love there just because he is the father, or better yet because he is present. This is a visual medium. SHOW ME something. When you treat a child that way - you are not showing that person love. I had a big problem with him slapping her across the face like that. What ever happened to butt whoppings? You didn't think him pimp slapping his daughter was out of place, over the top, and unmotivated? Tough love? I beg to differ. In regard to the mother - that was not Hushpuppy's imagination. That was HIS memory of the mother. You mean to tell me, that little girl would imagine her mom like that and objectify her? Really? I attribute that to the director's choice to portray the father that way. Hmmm... I wonder why? Don't say we as Black people need to stop x-y-z. Speak from your own perspective. This is very important to the development of cinema featuring portrayals of Black Americans. It deserves to be examined just as we examine any other film... If he had of developed the father better - and gave him more complexity or even insight into his backstory, I as an audience member would have been more invested in their potential father daughter relationship. All I see is young girl trying her very best to live up to a man who is going through the motions, yelling at her like he is crazy, and not really taking time to show her love. That is what brought me to tears at the end because this heartbroken girl is a reflection of so many young girls (many young black girls) in this world searching for approval and validation...And on that note this story doesn't sound so innovative to me. Next.

  • Charles Judson | July 8, 2012 12:41 PM

    I agree Monkeysuit. I saw a lot of thematic and character overlap between Wink in BEASTS, Troy in August Wilson's FENCES, and Nathan McCall's father in MAKES ME WANNA HOLLER. A lot of the flaws in the these fathers are generated by their own circumstances, their own struggles with living within their respective communities while also being shutout from larger ones, and their drive to raise their children so that they can one day live on their own. Wink's "Whose the man?" mantra reminds me a great deal of a lot of Black fathers who want their sons to be a man not for their own sakes, but because they know what's coming. It's a protective armor to be worn and not a code to live by. Lots of men (and women) can remember that first "tough love" lesson when their father first told them to stop crying. It always seems to come at a moment you're least emotionally prepared to be an adult. However, it's the beginning of a transition that has to happen and can be remembered as a rough but loving for some, and cruel and unwavering for others. What makes BEASTS a fascinating contrast is Wink is also driven by his extreme passion for life, love and the Bathtub; he's teaching Hushpuppy how to live. As for Troy and Nathan McCall's father, they're much more driven by their own bitterness and drive to teach their children how to survive. Having one of those old school born and raised in Baton Rouge fathers, I cringed at the interactions in both BEASTS and FENCES because they often felt very familiar. However, I would take Wink over Troy because at least Wink gives glimpses of what's inside and he wants to Hushpuppy to enjoy life not just overcome it. What I find interesting is when talking other Black men is to find how much of has share the strange dichotomy, or trichotomy, of growing up. First your parents can be very loving, then when you hit a certain age they become distant and hard as they push you towards adulthood, then somewhere along the line as an adult they either open up or become loving again. It's the same thing I get out of other works like THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD which cover the theme of living life vs. surviving life. So I would agree, Wink is flawed, but there's definitely love there. And for folks who have had to deal with a lot of outside pressures he's very much in line with a lot of similar Black fathers and parents in literature, stage and film. You could also write a lengthy ass essay on the shared symbolism of fences and barriers in EYES, BEASTS and FENCES.

  • monkeysuit | July 8, 2012 10:23 AM

    He was a flawed character, but that doesn't change the love between them. Living in the Bathtub in general was precarious in that the characters were doomed to poverty but free. Hushpuppy was stuck with a neglectful father who was decaying with greif, but I don't think there was any doubt of his love for her. In regards to her mother, he was talking about her conception-- a sexual moment. And it was through the imagination of Hushpuppy, which explains the lack of identifying details. I think we as black people need to stop interpreting every character flaw as an attack on our race. Extremely flawed characters are the building blocks for great stories. Only when they lack complexity and perpetuate a stereotype, then should we take issue. I don't think this applies to Beasts.

  • justsaying | July 7, 2012 6:53 PM

    Ummm... that relationship was not all that loving... The father was drinking and yelling throughout and he didn't show Hushpuppy's mother any respect when he recalled the time he met her and conceived Hushpuppy. The director pretty much deduced her in into a few body parts (legs, thighs and behind) in one sequence. He could have done without that.... WACK It's a Black film made from a white director's perspective...

  • No | July 6, 2012 11:15 PMReply

    Very interesting post. I have often wondered about this myself. What is a black film? One of my favorite movies, Nothin' But A Man, was made by whites during the civil rights era and exhibits a very soulful exploration of the human condition via a majority black cast. I won't go into the pro or con of Tyler Perry or Spike Lee films, but I will say this: the level of some of the discourse regarding the issues presented here is an embarrassment. It's sad, very sad that people have to resort to junior high school name-calling because they can't articulate an opposition to a reasoned argument. Now we understand why some people love Madea.

  • WOW | July 7, 2012 12:54 AM

    "Now you understand why some people love Madea". And now we understand what you are, because what you are speaks so loudly, we can't hear your trite comment. YOU should be embarrassed and ashamed of yourself. Give us a freakin' break... no comment on Tyler or Spike (can't articulate?), but you "understand" why people love Madea??? O__O

  • WOW | July 6, 2012 9:55 PMReply

    HIghlights to the Race Traitor: lauren | July 5, 2012 2:52 "I do take issue with the term "race traitor" even though you indicate that it's not meant as a pejorative term, those words have an automatous negative power" Nadine | July 5, 2012 3:21 PM Hi Andre... "what I read was interesting and more thoughtful than the title, which seemed more race-baiting than anything else" John | July 5, 2012 4:22 PM "Interesting read, but the title is terrible. It undermines the piece. It's like calling someone an "a**hole' only to follow up with, no, no, i mean that in a good way! Nope, sorry. Doesn't work that way" Justin Kownacki | July 5, 2012 5:30 PM "Would a female filmmaker who tells an all-male story be a gender traitor? Maybe diplomat or translator or explorer would be more apt". Charles Judson - "this just seems fundamentally flawed from the jump. 1) Tyler Perry had a large audience before he made his first film with Lionsgate. 2) It's difficult to compare a film like BEASTS to MADEA if you look at the track record. 4) The location of those screens is just as important and telling to the story as the number. An example would be MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY which wasn't even released in Atlanta or Chicago during its limited and very short release, playing in those cities at festivals only" Andre Seewood | July 5, 2012 10:18 PM "No need to act niggerish now, Carey. I'm only pointing out the facts". Akimbo | July 6, 2012 11:37 AM - "WOW @Andre Seawood! I pretty much never agree with CareyCarey but you are showing your ass! The way you lashed out both in your post and in the comments is very telling. It's not the readers' faults that you continues to riddle this site with inflammatory, faux-academic posts with little to no content/truth/validity. Had Beasts opened wide, it would NOT have beaten Medea. You can't extrapolate per-screen averages like that". CareyCarey- July 5, 2012 7:33 PM - "Zora Neale Hurston called it right, you are the epitome of a proud member of the Niggerati. In your failed attempt at "enlightenment" you had the nerve to shot down and minimize 3 prominent black citizens of the black film and black literary canon, in an effort to champion white filmmakers" Tracey | July 5, 2012 8:38 PM - "I agree with the points other made about the title, and the definition the whole argument rests on is terribly flawed. The whole idea that what these filmmakers are undertaking is some sort of "selfless artistic heroism" is RIDICULOUS". Laura | July 5, 2012 10:25 "Black folks will always watch Black movies made by white film makers. That's nothing new. Because (American) white males have a plethora of opportunities that are not extended to the rest of us. Even if the stories are about the rest of us". artbizzy | July 5, 2012 10:54 PM - "the industry is more likely to greenlight a black film made by one of these white race traitor filmmakers because most unconscious racism manifests itself in the belief that black people are unable to lead and therefore unable to make a film with more nuance". Ben | July 6, 2012 1:15 AM - "But I've been told quite a few times that I should be happy that a mainstream film (Beasts) features a young female African-American lead - to which I responded: "Have you seen Spike Lee's "Crooklyn?" (which precedes Beasts by over a decade!). Stagolee | July 6, 2012 12:27 AM - "I'm sick of Black movies striving to prove worthiness of inclusion"

  • JTC | July 6, 2012 3:50 PMReply

    I used to have a major problem with seeing a white director make a film dealing with black people and their issues. My first question was why couldn't they find a black director to do it. It sometimes feels to me as though white directors choose to do a film about people of color to put themselves on the map, particularly when the film lack a certain depth. I still have concerns but I don't think it is objectively wrong anymore. I do think we should look at their work very critically however. What is a black film? I have been asked this question several times over than last decade or two. I was pretty sure that I had an answer when I was young but my thinking has become more nuanced over the years. I think it is a useful question to consider so long you understand that consensus is impossible. I would have once told you that it needed to be a black director and a black cast. But then, I thought any film with a black director. But then what to do with SOLDIER'S STORY and THE COLOR PURPLE (two films I loved) What about the Hughes brother's BOOK OF ELI or F. Gary Gray's THE ITALIAN JOB? What about Steve McQueen HUNGER (a brilliant film) or Tim Story's the FANTASTIC FOUR? My primary interest is still in seeing black directors getting the opportunity to helm projects which feature highly developed screenplays, with three dimensional characters, breath-taking visuals, and sublime editing. However, a couple of years ago, I had been lamenting the fact that I was having so much trouble getting the kind of projects I wanted to get done with my own people. I met a highly talented, highly motivated latino actors in the Austin area. I was asked to write a feature screenplay so I did and the response I received from the Latino community was inspiring. A large number of people from their community felt as though I was able to capture even some of the nuances of their culture (I had spent a year living with a Mexican family and I always do my research) but I was honestly surprised at the response. I admit I was a little concerned about making caricatures of their culture. Until then, I had always expected to be black filmmaker who make black films with black actors and hopefully a mostly black production team, but this experience truly opened my eyes. I had ideas about project for other cultures, but though my heart stays with my people, I am interested in working anyone who is talented, passionate, and hard working. I also feel that there is something interesting about opening up opportunities for filmmakers to make films about/within culture which are not their own. Sometimes, outsiders are in the unique position to show us things about ourselves that it is very hard for us to see (this can be dangerous territory) but in the history of the United States some of best critiques of American culture have been written by outsiders. Lastly, in regards to the space between arthouse and commercial filmmaking, we have, in my opinion, only scratched the surface of creating truly outstanding independent films. I'm not sure that there will be that one film which busts the door open. I would love to make that film LOL. But, I suspect that we will have to a pattern of excellence with film after magnificent film which will force the industry both national and international to deal with us (notice that I didn't say accept) As a member of the school of hip hop, I believe in doing it ourselves, but we will ultimately need relationships with different companies to ensure our film can span the globe. Sorry for the long post, I am really impressed by the passion about film on this blog so I really want to give my best to the discussion. Peace.

  • Laura | July 6, 2012 6:03 PM

    I agree with the idea of working with other talents with other people from different cultures. Film making is not like (Black) music making. In music you can play your instrument, write songs, record, and rehearse with you band, EVERYDAY. Film is not like that. You catch work when it comes to you. You use your talent when opportunities present themselves. And opportunities can be hard to come by in this field. You'd be a fool to sit and wait for the perfect Black project to land on your lap. I have been in this field for two years. I have complete a script for the Latin market. I've worked on a film short about an all female rock band. I am one of the producers on a found footage horror film. ANd I just completed a short screenplay for an all Asian cast. None of these films are Black films by any stretch of the imagination. However my personal films have Black female protagonist. Finally, I am not hung up with idea of white film makers creating Black stories. My issue is the lack of opportunities for Blacks to create any nuanced and three dimensional stories for wide release. I think that when we finally jump that hurdle, we will not care about the issues pertaining to Black representation and who should tell our story.

  • Donella | July 6, 2012 3:33 PMReply

    You know who created well-received film and stage projects with a majority Black cast? Norm Jewison. Unlike the exploitive and degenerative work of Quentin Tarantino, Norm Jewison RESPECTED THE CULTURE. There is a clear difference and Tarantino is not in the same league.

  • Helluva | July 6, 2012 8:22 PM

    Agreed Donella, "In The Heat of the Night" and "A Soldier's Story" are two of my all-time favorites. His editor, Hal Ashby, went on to make "The Landlord," (which is hit-and-miss, imo) as his directorial debut as well. I would add one of my favorite filmmakers, Martin Ritt, to the list of RACE TRADERS also. He made "Sounder," "The Great White Hope," and "Paris Blues." Hell, even his overlooked masterpiece, "The Molly Maguires" could be seen as an allegory for the Black Power/Panther struggle of the '60s. Dude was no joke. Stanley Kramer ("The Defiant Ones") is another one. There were a lot of humanist filmmakers at work during the '60s (many of them formerly blacklisted Jews), which happens to be my favorite decade of American film.

  • Nelson James | July 6, 2012 1:34 PMReply

    I once asked the question, "Do Mainstream audiences only go to Ethnic films when they are made by White Directors?" It's a fair question. I cited the box-office grosses of films such as The Color Purple, Slumdog Millionaire, and others that probably would have done considerably less business if the movies had had ethnic directors. The other question is are white directors given more leeway in how they present ethnicities than authentic ethnicities telling their own stories? Of course you can make any movie you care to, but one need only look at the films that do and don't get distribution and marketing to know that Hollywood definitely has an agenda.

  • Charles Judson | July 6, 2012 2:20 PM

    When's the last time someone Black or Indian made a film on the level of THE COLOR PURPLE or SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE? In some cases it's not that White filmmakers are getting a pass, it's just that non-White filmmakers aren't getting to make those types of films. In others, it's that non-White filmmakers aren't making those types of films. Also, we have to look their respective track records. Spielberg and Boyle had a decent list of critical and commercial hits before they made PURPLE or SLUMDOG. Their films have also been more aimed at the mainstream, or wider indie audience, from jump. How many non-White Directors are in the same place? Then or now? Steve McQueen is getting lots of notice now, but he's been a critically acclaimed award winning artist for over a decade. Spike Lee won a Student Academy Award prior to SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT. Hollywood has an agenda, but we can't ignore what came before those films. It's only because Spielberg had made JAWS, E.T., RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS that he could have made THE COLOR PURPLE. Before that he had been working in TV for years. Even on an indie level, how many successful African American directors have at least three or four really strong films? How many do we know that only have one? Quite a few of our obstacles are at a more fundamental level.

  • Helluva | July 6, 2012 10:01 AMReply

    Carey, P-Funk was more than just clever phraseology or drug-fueled psycho-babble...there was some deep concepts underlying it all. Stop fighting and embrace the MOTHER-SHIP. Some of us are closer to the source than others but we are ALL sons of the P...

  • CareyCarey | July 6, 2012 11:24 AM

    Bootzilla here baby, aka Carey. Slow your roll Helluva, wind me up! Make my funk the P-Funk, I want my funk uncut. Make my funk the P-Funk, I wants to get funked up. I want the bomb, I want the P-Funk, I want my funk uncut.

  • Agent K | July 6, 2012 9:43 AMReply

    After reading this post, the title should be "White Saviors" instead.

  • Ben | July 6, 2012 1:15 AMReply

    I'm not sure if the new Tarrantino film fits this paradigm of "race traitor." Based on the plot description, it sounds like Jamie Foxx's character is "mentored" by a white bounty hunter played Christoph Waltz. Isn't that still kind of centering whiteness? Isn't it downplaying the fact that enslaved Africans and their descendants often defended themselves and/or rebelled without having some sort of white support? I don't think black slaves needed a white person to tell them that what was happening to them was disgusting and horrible?

    I'm cautiously optimistic about "Beasts of the Southern Wild." And, of course, I'd like to be proven wrong about "Django Unchained" and will certainly watch it out of curiosity.

    But I've been told quite a few times that I should be happy that a mainstream film ("Beasts") features a young female African-American lead - to which I responded: "Have you seen Spike Lee's 'Crooklyn?'" (which precedes "Beasts" by over a decade).

  • word up | July 6, 2012 12:45 AMReply

    See there is a difference between making a black film and an black art house film. I had this convo with someone about precious. its was marked as a black art house film or art house film if you will instead of a black film. How they make these distinctions are beyond me however thats how it goes.

  • Kid chaos | July 6, 2012 12:45 AMReply

    Orville you would support Perry you like him like to wear dresses

  • Laura | July 6, 2012 1:13 AM

    Someone send this child back to the kiddie table. Grown folks are talking here.

  • Stagolee | July 6, 2012 12:27 AMReply

    Is "race traitor" to the white supremacist filmmaking factory that fucking hard to grasp ? I'm sick of Black movies striving to prove worthiness of inclusion. Taking humanism for granted and assuring it the foundation in the creation of Black Cinema is a revolutionary act.

  • Orville | July 6, 2012 12:21 AMReply

    Tyler Perry's success is not a bad thing I believe because he has proven he has an audience despite the mainstream white media and the black snobs attacking his work. Now, I personally like a variety of movies and the author of the article is correct Hollywood treats the black audience as a monolithic group based on race.

    I think the only way for other black directors are going to succeed in Hollywood is to take an anything necessary approach. Tyler Perry did not WAIT for the gatekeepers to give him his big break. He built his brand and he figured since his plays were a success his audience would follow him into another medium which is films.
    So I think for other black directors they need to realize that they can't give up even if their first or second movies aren't a huge success. It is important for black directors to have their own websites or blogs, to be on Facebook, Twitter ect.
    A black director would need to be tenacious and take no for an answer.

    So far, only the gay black director Lee Daniels has managed to make art house films that have box office success he produced the controversial Monster's Ball and he also directed Precious.
    Dee Rees made Pariah she is a black lesbian and her movie was an art house film. However, Focus Features didn't promote Ms. Rees movie well enough and certainly didn't market it towards a black audience. Even though the protagonist of Pariah was a black lesbian the assumption was blacks would not support it. Pariah was a moderate success grossing over $500,000 dollars but I think the movie could have been more successful if Focus Features marketed the film more aggressively.

  • byrd | July 5, 2012 11:10 PMReply

    Agree or disagree, this is an excellent, thought-provoking post. I love the dialogue, and respect all of the time that people are taking to articulate their opinions, whether I agree or not. Thanks for both the article and the comments!

  • artbizzy | July 5, 2012 10:54 PMReply

    There are plenty of black filmmakers making more arthouse films or who want to but the industry is more likely to greenlight a "black" film made by one of these white race traitor filmmakers because let's face it most unconscious racism manifests itself in the belief that black people are unable to lead and therefore unable to make a film with more nuance, such as Eve's Bayou. The real issue is visibility. How many black people are working their butts off out here but can't get their work seen? But now we have brothers like the one who not only wrote, starred in and I think also directed) and animated his compelling arthouse film, "An Oversimplification Of Her Beauty." While it might not make sense to dismiss a black film made by a white person, such as "The Help" it does make sense to question it as much as if a black person made it. Take Spike Lee for instance. I enjoy many of Spike Lee's films but I do take issue with a lot of his conscious/unconscious sexism throughout. But I'm still a fan. I truly loved, Spielberg's "The Color Purple. A great film is a great film no matter who makes it. But it just seem like the windows of opportunity for visibility, at least for those who make powerfully universal black films, is a narrow one reserved for whites who dare to go there. Business as usual, really.

  • Laura | July 5, 2012 10:25 PMReply

    I don't know Andre. The title Race Traitor concept has paternalistic connotation to it the leaves a nasty nasty taste in my mouth. It's almost as we should be grateful that white folks would make an sincere films about Black people. I rather call them -people with a "God Complex". (This does not negate some very good films with Black subjects made by white film makers) This God Complex is supported by the white male hegemonic nature of the film industry. Moreover, many of these race traitor films came into existence during the aftermath of the collapse of the studio system, where cheaper film equipment and the advent of television changed the movie making landscape. Thus more white male indie directors were able to make the personal films they could not during the classic Hollywood studio era. I assume that if you are an indie film maker (from the 60's, 70's, 80's or beyond) you pursued your personal vision no matter the subjects. At least for me, you don't get extra brownie points because the subjects are Black. Cassevette would be as sensitive to race in Shadows as he was to gender in "A Woman under the Influence" -a kind of rare female centric film for it's time. Black folks will always watch Black movies made by white film makers. That's nothing new. Because (American) white males have a plethora of opportunities that are not extended to the rest of us. Even if the stories are about the rest of us.

  • Ghost | July 5, 2012 10:06 PMReply

    I guess you hated Phat Beach, Whose Your Caddy & the TV series South Central-all of whom had writer creators. Phat Beach's went on to greater fame with some no-named show called-Entourage. And South Central's white co-creator went on to make it cool for fat white guys to have hot wives with King of Queens.

  • Tracey | July 5, 2012 8:38 PMReply

    I agree with the points other made about the title, and the definition the whole argument rests on is terribly flawed. The whole idea that what these filmmakers are undertaking is some sort of "selfless artistic heroism" is ridiculous. While they may sacrifice commercial gain, it often seems that the quickest way for an indie filmmaker to show themselves as a serious artist and set themselves apart from their navel-gazing peers is to dabble in "otherness." And these films are often more about the filmmaker than they are about the multicultural cast they claim to be about. I don't say that to dismiss all these films. Some are quite good, such as George Washington, Our Song, Raising Victor Vargas, etc. But I think it's important that we're discerning about these representations, and how screwed up the industry is when it validates a white auteur's serious vision of a community of color more than those voices that come from inside that community. We can't ignore the anthropological lens that sometimes comes with this type of filmmaking.

  • Helluva | July 6, 2012 8:43 PM

    Good point, Tracey. Some of these types of films can feel exploitative, like "Ballast," which I saw a few years ago. Even the Ryan Gosling joint, "Half-Nelson," played a bit "ghetto false-etto" at times. But then, there were moments for me in "Amistad" that were extremely powerful of Spielberg to capture on film, yet most of my peers dismissed the entire film, totally overlooking what I felt to be its merits. And whereas I'm not a fan of the sappy, "Guess Whose Coming To Dinner," Poitier's performances in Kramer's "The Defiant Ones" and Hansberry/Petrie's "A Raisin In The Sun" are two of my favorite of his. Being a big TCM fan, I do wonder what Hollywood COULD HAVE BEEN had "The Code" not been instituted in the 1930's, and how films similar in tone to black characterizations onscreen would have evolved over the years. Our society might be wholly different, as seeing is believing.

  • CareyCarey | July 5, 2012 7:33 PMReply

    Andre "cheap shot" Seawood, I am so disappointed in you. You had to know there are no rules of engagement, especially when you cast the first stone, didn't you? I mean, why did you believe you could open your article cutting down those who did not agree with your suppositions, and not receive a similar attack on your character? Come on man, it's not wise to call people ignorant. And what's this... When you, Andre Seewood, give a less than glowing commentary upon the idols of sycophants (Spike Lee or Tyler Perry) you often run the risk of being the target of abusive? Is that right? SMH! So, in essense, you thought it was in your best interest to pimp slap those who didn't agree with you, and Spike Lee, Tyler Perry and Zora Neale Hurston? Damn Andre, you had to know if you throw a few rocks, ten can come back your way. That's only fair, right?You know, all closed eye are not asleep and there are no rules of engagement even when you come in here crying like a bi*ch. So yeah, Zora Neale Hurston called it right. From what I read in this post (and your past 2), you are the epitome of a proud member of the Niggerati. That's right, you shoot down and tried to minimize 3 prominent citizens of the black film and literary canon, in an effort to champion white filmmakers who you framed as "Race Traitors". In fact, one of those white traitors (some might call them white saviors) even went so far as to give up all his money so he could help those poor darkies make a movie. That was so wonderful of him. And, us po colored folk (Zora Neal Hurston and dem)have to be schooled by humanitarian enriched rightous white men, because there is no way in hell the the finer points of films can be appreciated by black folks. Yep, most films do not “feel” true to us because the characters don’t respond in the stereotyped “black” ways that we have chosen to believe we all would do. Yeeeah... riiiiight. We've been brainwashed into believing the only way to great entertainment is through stomping our feet and rhythmically clapping our hands as Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, & Bucks frolic across the screen. So of course we desparately need the genuine race traitor filmmakers to reveal to us certain truths about ourselves as a human race that we would much rather sweep under a rug. OH HALLELUJAH! Hail the race traitor filmmakers who commits their treason to "whiteness" because they are loyal to humanity. Ain't that so sweet. Andre Seewood, GTFOOH with the simppin' ass bullsh*t. And take your white buddies with you. Give me Tyler, Spike, and Zora Neal Hurston ( I love her books) or give me death. They all give me -- and millions of other POC -- something we can feel and relate to.

  • Charles Judson | July 6, 2012 1:29 PM

    To your points Akimbo, Woody Allen's highest grossing film was MIDNIGHT IN PARIS at $56 million. Only took him 45 years and 4o plus films to crack $50 million. His next highest grossing movies are HANNAH AND HER SISTERS, MANHATTAN and ANNIE HALL, released 1986, 1979 and 1977. Even when adjusted for inflation, only 7 of his 40 films have done $50 million plus. As we're having these discussions we really need to collectively have a better understanding of what success means, as well as better define what audiences we're talking about for a particular film or filmmaker. We're going to continue having problems helping filmmakers start and sustain careers if we're going to seriously equate BEASTS and MADEA as being even remotely a like in style, audience, quality or budget. Even how they were developed and the filmmaking philosophies of Court 13 and Tyler Perry Studios are wildly divergent. Court 13's About Us: http://www.court13.com/about/

  • Akimbo | July 6, 2012 11:37 AM

    WOW @Andre Seawood! I pretty much never agree with CareyCarey but you are showing your ass! The way you lashed out both in your post and in the comments is very telling. It's not the readers' faults that you continues to riddle this site with inflammatory, faux-academic posts with little to no content/truth/validity. Had Beasts opened wide, it would not have beaten Medea. You can't extrapolate per-screen averages like that; that's wishful thinking. It's doing so well because supply is low and buzz is high; the TARGET AUDIENCE is desperate to see it. The film has no "names," no ties to known properties, and the average moviegoer needs more than good reviews to get their butts in the seats. I consider the film's two closest cousins Where the Wild Things Are and Eve's Bayou; one was a known property, helmed by a known director, with names attached, did 35 mil; the other, original work, unknown director, a few names, did 14 mil. Total. Art-house darlings who release fairly wide, Wes Anderson, Charlie Kaufman, even Woody Allen are lucky if their films open higher than $23mil and their films are always packed with names; the Cohen brothers seem to be the only "freethinkers" making big money, so no, Beast was never gonna trounce Madea. The whole "race traitor" coinage is a fail for reasons many comments have covered below. So what your post boiled down to is: "Beasts could have done huge numbers if the man had let it open wide" (no), "this is why I'm going to call certain filmmakers race traitors, trust me, it's a good thing" (no), and "sometimes white filmmakers make good films about black people" (DUH). You really need to stop feeling yourself, sir; you promote bullshit more often than you provoke thought. And this is coming from someone who likely shares similar tastes in film.

  • CareyCarey | July 6, 2012 6:12 AM

    Andre, I don't police your posts, I read them. And I love Chicken and Waffles. Yes sir, I had a waffle this morning (true story). Yeah, in fact I believe Michael Vick took his wedding party to Roscoe's. But wait, I suppose Niggerati don't eat chicken, huh? Is that why you thought you cracked a funny? That reminds me, your Roscoe's Chicken comment along with your articles, and your "proving my blackness" statement, exemplifies how ASHAMED you are of what we as black folk find funny because its what, beneath you and low brow? Eff that. I admire TP followers whose logic about why they like him steers far away from the intellectual pontification that critical Niggerati film watchers give to describe and defend their film choices (i.e. present a case that shows that their tastes are less shame-inducing than the taste of those other black folk). It's called taste for a reason--my flavor ain't always your flavor, you little knucklehead. But I have a suggestion. I believe you should respond to Charles Judson comment because he tore a huge hole through your thought provoking piece. And you're not going to make your lunch at my door step. If you are not man enough to do that, then I have another suggestion. In your spare time you should write another book. Suggested title... I am Not Black Like Those Folks: Schooled By A Race Traitor by Andre Seewood. On the back cover you can add a few glowing blubs from your race traitor friends and fellow Niggerati butt buddies .

  • Andre Seewood | July 5, 2012 10:18 PM

    No need to act niggerish now, Carey. I'm only pointing out the facts. If you can't accept the truth, the nearest Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles has something that's more your cup of tea. All you do is police my posts like some black superhero in an attempt to prove his blackness. Well, you failed.

  • Charles Judson | July 5, 2012 6:51 PMReply

    I think there are some interesting questions here, but this just seems fundamentally flawed from the jump. 1) Tyler Perry had a large audience before he made his first film with Lionsgate. There maybe audience and market manipulation--as it exists in all industries--but you can't examine that without first acknowledging Perry's success on stage before he came to Hollywood. Hollywood has tapped the stage for financial and critical successes since its inception. An interesting question that could be explored is how much Tyler Perry's original persona and work have remained in tact, while actors like Barbara Streisand were able to make that transition and expand and add beyond it. 2) It's difficult to compare a film like BEASTS to MADEA if you look at the track record. The average gross of the top 20 Sundance Narrative Competition films from 2000 to 2009 was $12 million. With the average gross of the top ten winners from 2000 to 2009 being $2.4 million. Of the competition films, that means 100 plus films made less than $3 million from 2000 to 2009. There's nothing elite about a film that will not gross enough to sustain a wide release. 3) As BEASTS features a young female protagonist, why no additional comparison to the two most logical Sundance films: WHALE RIDER or LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE? Especially as one is an ensemble piece with a well known all White cast and the other features an unknown cast set among the Maori of New Zealand. 4) The location of those screens is just as important and telling to the story as the number. An example would be MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY which wasn't even released in Atlanta or Chicago during its limited and very short release, playing in those cities at festivals only. While PRECIOUS was held back from quite a few predominately African American cities and markets until it had safely platformed in New York and other cities like it.

  • Laura | July 6, 2012 12:01 PM

    Thanks for the info Akimbo. I have been looking for her (stateside & international) after I saw the film. I loved her performance.

  • Akimbo | July 6, 2012 11:44 AM

    Whale Rider is a great comparison. I don't know what else she has going on, but I think Keisha's pregnancy definitely put a damper on her career.

  • Laura | July 6, 2012 11:01 AM

    I think the comparison to WHALE RIDER is better . The two film have many things in common. Sundance, POC cast, and young female protagonist, white director, and for lack of a better term --magical realism. Great film. Cliff Curtis is a beast. One of my 10 year old daughter's favorite film. I would like to see the career trajectory of Quvenzhane Wallis after BEAST. Keisha Castle-Hughes, the lead character in WHALE RIDER was pitch perfect for the film. They could not cast a better actress. She did not blow up the way I think a young girl with her talents should have.

  • Charles Judson | July 5, 2012 6:52 PM

    Here's an interesting article from 2009 that illustrates what I'm talking about with no. 4: "The Sundance-winning, Oprah-backed and Tyler Perry-supported “Precious” broke all box office records for a limited release last weekend, grossing $1.8 million on just 18 screens. The film will expand nationally in subsequent weekends. According to distributor Lionsgate, “Precious” drew an equal share of both black and white audiences — a testament to its broad appeal. However, despite its enormous sales, “Precious” is, so far, the exception, not the rule, and while African-American filmmakers are excited by the movie’s early success, they also retain a mix of skepticism and hope for the future." “There just isn’t a precedent for how you release even a quirky [black] film,” says Jenkins, who has a new project set up at Focus Features. “Medicine” wasn’t even released in urban centers like Atlanta, Philadelphia or Chicago, “because we’ve gotten to this point where there’s the sense that black people aren’t interested in movies about black people unless they fit into a specific type of black film,” he says. “But what would have happened if the ‘Medicine’ trailer ran before [Tyler Perry's] ‘Madea Goes to Jail’?”" http://www.ifc.com/fix/2009/11/black-indie-cinema

  • Sammie | July 5, 2012 5:49 PMReply

    Aside from Twelve Years a Slave, you could just as easily brand Steve McQueen a "race traitor" up until now. The term is ridiculous, though. Any filmmaker who fails to recognize humanity in its many ethnic varieties is a traitor to their species, period.

  • Justin Kownacki | July 5, 2012 5:30 PMReply

    Three quick thoughts:

    1. Tyler Perry's films are usually designed as mainstream entertainment, while Beasts is clearly being positioned as an arthouse film. Its low screen count almost definitely contributed to its high per-screen average, and it doesn't necessitate that if it had opened on as many screens as Madea, it would have earned as much money. Madea is a household name by now; Beasts is a novelty.

    2. Both of these films will probably attract a crossover audience, but I don't think the white audience for Madea is the same as the white audience for Beasts. Then again, I'd wager that the black audience for both films is different, too. Again, we have a comedy vs. a drama, and escapism vs. what looks like a harrowing journey. And if either film did attract a huge crossover audience, it would almost surely be criticized by some extremists as being "not black enough" as evidenced by its cosmopolitan audience.

    3. I get that you're using "race traitors" as a button-pushing attention grab with noble intentions, but I'd argue that it's actually functionally incorrect. To be a traitor is to actively work against one's own "side" in favor of another. I don't think white artists naturally see white culture as "their side," or would consider telling a story about another culture to be forsaking or subverting their own. By that same rationale, would a black filmmaker telling an Asian story be a race traitor? Would a female filmmaker who tells an all-male story be a gender traitor? Maybe "diplomat" or "translator" or "explorer" would be more apt; or maybe just noting that it's actually the job of any storyteller to tell a story that they believe matters, regardless of whom the story is about or to whom it's being told.

    This is a compelling post, BTW. I just wanted to raise some alternate POVs. Cheers.

  • John | July 5, 2012 4:22 PMReply

    Interesting read, but the title is terrible. It undermines the piece. It's like calling someone an "a**hole" only to follow up with, "no, no, i mean that in a good way!" Nope, sorry. Doesn't work that way.

  • saadiyah | July 5, 2012 4:07 PMReply

    I don't like the title of this piece, but this is a great thought provoking post. I wish the entertainment industry and Black people alike would stop putting Blacks in such a narrow box. Thanks too for the old film mentions. I'll be looking some of them up!

  • Nadine | July 5, 2012 3:21 PMReply

    Hi Andre... I was unable to get through your article as I am rushing, but what I read was interesting and more thoughtful than the title, which seemed more race-baiting than anything else. I think your article, from what I've read, is too good for its title which will have those who may be your target audience dismiss your points... just a thought. I look forward to reading the rest later.

  • Jeremy | July 5, 2012 3:16 PMReply

    thanks for shouting out some hard-to-find movies. I'll be checking them out. very interesting observations.

  • COMMENT POLICE | July 5, 2012 2:58 PMReply

    YOU USE/REDEFINE THE TERM "RACE TRAITOR" FOR ATTENTION AND LITTLE MORE. IT TAKES FEWER WORDS TO SAY "WHITE FILMMAKERS WHO MAKE BLACK MOVIES" THAN TO CALL THEM RACE TRAITORS AND BE ALL "WAIT, WAIT, THIS IS WHAT I MEAN BY THAT." ASIDE FROM THAT, GOT NO ISSUE A QUALITY FILM ABOUT BLACK PEOPLE, NO MATTER WHO MAKES IT

  • COMMENT POLICE | July 5, 2012 3:47 PM

    IT'S NOT STUCK, IT'S LOUD.

  • Curtis | July 5, 2012 3:05 PM

    Is your caps lock button stuck Black police... uhh, I mean Comment Police?

  • yolonda- | July 5, 2012 2:56 PMReply

    Loved "Uptight". Very interesting film. As far as
    Beasts and the Madea movies, Madea films will never be up for an Oscar, which is where "Beasts of the Southern Wild" is headed with yes, a cast full of Black folks, so at that point when that hollywood machine starts to really push for Oscar season, then we will all know about it and hopefully support it. In this case with film, it's Quality over Quantity.

  • lauren | July 5, 2012 2:52 PMReply

    Excellent post! I do take issue with the term "race traitor" even though you indicate that it's not meant as a pejorative term, those words have an automatous negative power. I look forward to an age of enlightenment when we can objectively respect the art and deeds of filmmakers without focusing on their DNA.

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