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Reel Soul on "Richard Pryor and Romantic Comedy"

by Monique
March 5, 2012 2:02 PM
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From writer-director, Vaun Monroe and cultural critic, Lee Bey, I bring you the first installment of Reel Soul. I had the pleasure of participating alongside Mr. Monroe and Mr. Bey in last year’s Black Perspectives Panel hosted by The Chicago Int’l Film festival. The event opened my eyes to many things, including the need for more in depth conversations on film literacy and how we as artists and aficionados best serve that need (and want) through seeking out, consuming and applying what we learn of the business side and technical artistry of the industry.

Well, I guess this is where I stop writing, and pass the mic to Mr. Monroe. I hope you enjoy the webisode and let us know what you think, could you see this as a regular feature at S&A?

If you are a Black person who loves cinema, you sometimes find yourself in a vexing dilemma.  Breakthroughs in technology have placed the tools of cinema, once prohibitively expensive, in the hands of the populace, democratizing the filmmaking process like no other time in cinematic history.  Yet far too often we find the same old stories featuring the stereotypes outlined in Donald Bogle’s seminal book on Black film: “Toms, Mulattoes, Mammies, Bucks and Coons”…except now they are more often told by people who look like us and told poorly to boot.

No other art form approaches film’s power to communicate.  Film’s multi-sensual output and capacity to move freely through both space and time allows great cinema to fuse select moments into irresistible epiphanies that even history may have failed to illuminate.  Film gives the modern day storyteller unprecedented advantages over predecessors.

However, in the 100+ years of American cinema filmmakers have most often used the power of cinema to manufacture images of Black people (i.e. Africans and African-Americans) for various and often sundry, ideological purposes.  Indeed, the very first cinematic blockbuster was Birth of A Nation (1915), a film that firmly established the derogatory cinematic grammar and syntax for Hollywood’s subsequent representation of Black people. 

Obscene sums of money and industry accolades are still to be made from the perpetuation of those stereotypes.  Yet there has always been a concerted effort by filmmakers to create films that get beneath superficial, vulgar and inaccurate images to render an authentic view of the Black community.

In that spirit, I created the show “Reel Soul” to talk about Black film and television.  The purpose of the show is twofold:

1.                 To bring to your attention Black film and television that is worthy of your time and

2.                 To identify excellent Black film and television and make a case for its excellence.

We will examine Black film and television (the texts) from an interdisciplinary standpoint, analyzing the films as cultural artifacts and cinematic texts with the idea of accomplishing two primary objectives:

1.                 To demonstrate the importance of film and television as a major socializing force in the United States; demonstrate an awareness of how film helps to shape public perceptions of Black people; demonstrate a knowledge of the history of the African-American presence in American film; and promote understanding of the genesis, growth and continuing portrayal of stereotypical images of African-Americans in the visual media; and

2.                 Demonstrate how to analyze a film as a text; delineate the overt and covert codings of a film; understand a film’s content and message(s) in its historical and cultural context.

These are condensed goals from a class I teach to my college students in media literacy.  The Center for Media Literacy defines it as:

“Media Literacy is a 21st century approach to education. It provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with messages in a variety of forms — from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy.”

Lofty ?  Perhaps.  But Black folks have a long history of paying dearly to learn how to read.  All I’m asking is for you to watch my show, twelve minutes at a time.  “Reel Soul” is organized by genre and hosted by me, a filmmaker and professor and Lee Bey, a journalist and cultural critic.  I am pleased and honored by “Shadow and Act’s” interest in featuring my show, they are a serious and studious online presence for folks who want their Black Cinema with some intellectual heft and not afraid to break some eggs in pursuit of it.

The first episode centers on the Romantic Comedy and looks in depth at “Bustin Loose” and “For the Love of Ivy”, both available on Netflix and searchable at  We look forward to your comments, suggestions and participation.


Vaun Monroe

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  • Leah | December 21, 2012 1:43 AMReply

    Very cool show*+* Thoroughly enjoyed watching the discussion.

    For the Love of Ivy is a favorite Romantic-Comedy - I just wish she had acted in more movies - although singing probably took most of her time - she has a unpretentious pull that's at once approachable yet reserved.

  • Fran Kaplan | March 6, 2012 9:04 PMReply

    I appreciate learning about films I haven't seen, about the history of black film, actors and makers. The short format of Reel Soul fits well into my busy schedule, and the hosts are knowledgeable, clear and interesting in their commentary. Well done!

  • Celluloidgriot | March 6, 2012 2:52 PMReply

    Appreciate the comments...each and every one. As we move through genres-Romantic Comedy, Action, Foreign films, one hour dramas and other categories ( such as Star Studies with Denzel Washington or Movies we can't stand ) we will move freely through eras from cinema's inception to recent releases.

  • jmac | March 6, 2012 2:12 PMReply

    Agree that Bustin Loose was not a romantic comedy. With a show like this, I think the expectation for the viewer is to see a critique of recent films/tv shows/projects which probably compares and contrasts them to gold standard, well regarded examples in that genre. If they keep this current format - looking primarily at films, etc... from 30 or more years ago - I wouldn't be interested in seeing this at all. I want to know what's good out there right now or at least for the post mid 80's/early 90's.

  • ME | March 5, 2012 9:37 PMReply

    No disrespect...Love the concept of the show, BUT...I wouldn't classify either of the films profiled as rom coms...."Busting Loose" was a straight comedy with SOME dramatic elements, but there wasn't a whole lot of "romance" between Pryor and Tyson...And "For The Love of Ivy" had more of a romantic edge, but Poitier really didn't explore his comedic chops until the vehicles he did with Cosby....I actually thought the "interviewees" on the street got it

  • CHJ | March 5, 2012 8:45 PMReply

    Enjoyed this critque thoroughly! Needs to be a part of new programming on BET

  • CareyCarey | March 5, 2012 5:18 PMReply

    "These are condensed goals from a class I teach to my college students in media literacy. Lofty ? Perhaps. We look forward to your comments, suggestions and participation." ~ Vaun Monroe . Okay, let's start right there. Lofty and condensed are the optimum words. I believe a "counter", a differing point of view is missing from this "conversation". Look at this ---> "The purpose of the show is twofold:

    1. To bring to your attention Black film and television that is worthy of your time". Okay, worthy of whose time? WORTHY? I am implying/inferring/suggesting that although intellectualism is a good thing, and disecting films has it's place, however, if this conversation does not pay homage nor give respect to those who have gone before us; their purpose, motives, sacrifices, struggles and rewards, it gives the appearance of just another talking heads program in which the host are moving their own personal agendas. Is it not a slap in the face to tell another person what they are missing ( "didn't you see this you silly fool") or what they enjoy is not worthy? Furthermore, it was unjust to reference Donald Bogle’s seminal book on Black film: “Toms, Mulattoes, Mammies, Bucks and Coons” in a way that implied his motives and his book and his "voice" (and other discussions with him on tape) was similar to the gentlemen's behind this production. Having read the book and seen several of his interviews, Mr Bogle did not leave out the motives and sacrifices (voices) of the pioneers of black cinema. It's easy to point fingers and tell others what they are missing, but I believe the whole story... the rest of the story is missing from this rendition of "what's GOOD and what's wrong in and about black cinema".

  • CareyCarey | March 5, 2012 6:53 PM

    AND, "We look forward to your comments, suggestions and participation" ~ Vaun Monroe. Okay, one mo again. The goals and primary objectives of this project are indeed "lofty". Yet, I've come to believe the objectives in this endeavor are superficial, if not empty rethoric. 1.) Who is the intended audience? Who... screenwriters, actors, directors, the unknowing, the bambozzled and/or the general paying public? Whomever they may be, what are they going to change by viewing this program? And, how is anyone going to qualify/show/ prove the rewards and fruits of this labor? In essence, is this not a game of talking to the choir? Listen, along with what I mentioned in my above comments, I can't help but believe this production in it's present form is an act of stroking egos. I'll close by saying I've heard that silence is golden (this post will not receive a lot of comments), however, I know other folks (many) hear me. Anyway, it's time I bring back the Temptations ---> "Smiling faces sometimes pretend to be your friend. Smiling faces show no traces of the evil that lurks within. Smiling faces, smiling faces sometimes, they don't tell the truth uh. Smiling faces, smiling faces tell lies and I got proof. The truth is in the eyes. Cause the eyes don't lie, amen" ~ 1971, Temptations.

  • Edward Primus | March 5, 2012 3:33 PMReply

    I think this would be a great addition as there is not enough intellectual discussion about film and especially African-American or African Diaspora film. I like the interplay between these gentlemen and especially the choices that they have used to illustrate their points. I hope that this is a continuous part in the future.

  • LeonRaymond | March 5, 2012 3:19 PMReply

    I thought it was excellent, and it transcends the film critique and goes right into film commentary and shows that all film deserves examination. But to bring it back, folks have short memory, cause i can remember when Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel use to do something like this, they never gave film critique only dissected the films to tell you why they love them as art forms. Later when the crazy push for ratings came into play so did the Thumbs up and Thumbs down system. But here on what you showed in the show, this is very good cause they get in scene dissection and truly this will be so help to those who want to understand film from a deeper level.!!!

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