But now we should consider a third and final important question:
Why should Blacks care if Whites don’t like Black Movies?
With almost 14 Black films and films with Blacks in high profile roles scheduled for release from July to December of this year it would appear that another Black film renaissance (like the one in the early Nineties) is coming our way. All we have to do is support these films with our dollars and it won’t matter if Whites like or don’t like our movies.
Yet one of the deleterious consequences of narrowly defining Black films as films with a majority Black cast that situates Whites in peripheral or non-influential roles is that we are too easily convinced that Black films only appeal to a small domestic niche market. Even after the success of THINK LIKE A MAN in overseas markets like South Africa and Great Britain foreign licensing rights are still a sensitive issue of negotiation between studios and Black filmmakers- and by sensitive I mean you don’t discuss them with the studio if you want to get your film made or seen.
In addition, this narrow conception of Black movies encourages the studios to treat all Black films as one singular genre that appeals to one singular audience. Budgets are mandatorily kept low, development schedules are reduced to mere months and the control over the kinds of images we produce of ourselves are held in tight control in a myriad of other ways from screen ratios, to ratings to the dreaded DVD only release. All of this power is exerted upon images of Blacks by Whites perhaps because the only way to truly enjoy White power, privilege and control is when it is exerted against Blacks and other minorities.
Because African-Americans have not held simultaneous control over the four essential aspects of filmmaking: finance, production, distribution and exhibition since the advent of the “talking” Motion picture, we have been at the mercy so to speak of those Whites and other ethnicities who have and do hold control of if not all four aspects then at least one. The consequence of this “three card monte” type of power shuffle, for lack of a better analogy, is that even with the use of Kickstarter finance campaigns, AFFRM art-house releasing patterns, internet streaming, and on demand viewing Blacks are kept out of the “big arena”; segregated within an unequal global cinematic playing field.
A way out of this power shuffle is not the direct route of simultaneously having our own means of finance, production, distribution and exhibition- this ideal is both impractical and unwise given the amount of capital necessary and the constantly manipulated pitfalls of the cinematic industry. Instead it is the narrow definition of a Black film that must be challenged in such a way that the threshold of empathy is lowered for both Whites and Blacks with agency (power, privilege, and control) alternating within an integrated and/or international cast. Such an expansion of the definition of a Black film begins by challenging the stereotypes of race and class as they define our perception of social roles and agency.
For the visionary Black filmmaker the task is really to destroy the notion of a singular Black experience of the world by any means necessary.
Don’t look for truths, look for lies.
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.
(1) “Human brain recognizes and reacts to race, UTSC researchers discover” by April Kemick, 4,26,2010 http://ose.utsc.utoronto.ca/ose/story.php?id=2135
(3) “The Other Pleasures: The Narrative Function of Race in the Cinema” by Anna Everett, taken from page 122 of SHOTS IN THE MIRROR: Crime Films and Society 2nd Ed. by Nicole Rafter, Oxford, 2006.
(4) “I Don’t Feel Your Pain: A failure of empathy perpetuates racial disparities” by Jason Silverstein 6,27,2013. http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2013/06/racial_empathy_gap_people_don_t_perceive_pain_in_other_races.html