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"Will Hollywood Let Negroes Make Love?" - A Trip Down Memory Lane; But What's Really Changed?

by Tambay A. Obenson
July 10, 2014 2:49 PM
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TAN Magazine 1955

On a terribly slow day (week)... a flashback.

In the "How Much Has Really Changed in Hollywood in 50 Years" category... 

Here’s a 1955 cover of TAN magazine, featuring the lovely Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte, from the movie, "Carmen Jones."

TAN magazine targeted specifically African American women and was published by Johnson Publishing, the same folks who brought us Ebony and Jet magazines.

The main headline on the cover, “Will Hollywood Let Negroes Make Love?” is still a somewhat relevant question today, is it not, considering the fact that conversations on that exact topic have been had over the last 59 years since, and continue to be had.

I recall Spike Lee's "She's Gotta Have It" being slapped with an X rating by the MPAA? Why? The exact quote, according to Spike, was that the MPAA said it was "saturated with sex."

What was Spike's response to the whole thing? "I don't think it's out-and-out racist, but the film portrays blacks outside stereotypical roles, and they don't know what to do with blacks in films. They never have any love interests. Nick Nolte is the one who has a relationship in 48 Hours. And when it comes to black sexuality, they especially don't know how to deal with it. They feel uncomfortable. There are films with more gratuitous sex and violence. '9 1/2' weeks got an "R." And look at 'Body Double'."

That was 27 years after the above Tan magazine cover. 

And in 1987, when Robert Townsend's "Hollywood Shuffle" was released (in which his character was involved in a romance with Anne Marie Johnson's), he was quoted as saying: "This year, I'll be the only black man that kissed a black woman on screen. That's deep."

Other examples abound in recent years, like, in 2005, you'll recall concern over the casting of a black female lead opposite Will Smith in "Hitch" - essentially his romantic interest in the movie. First, the producers were reportedly worried about the public's reaction if the part was played by a white actress, which would mean an interracial affair (keep in mind this happened in the 21st century, not 1935). And secondly, the studio didn't want to cast a black actress because they feared that two black leads would alienate white audiences.

So,“Will Hollywood Let Negroes Make Love?” 

How much has really changed in 25 years? Is there still very much a suppression of *black sexuality* in mainstream cinema, so much that some of our stars (especially our male stars) seem to have even given up, or given in to these tacit "agreements," if we can call them that?

Was the Blaxploitation period the height of black sexual expression on the big and small screens?

Borrowing from Robert Townsend, how many films and TV series developed, financed and released by a Hollywood studio last year had a black man simply kissing a black woman (forget about having sex), or vice-versa, with mutual affection, and not juvenile or played for laughs? How about this year, 7 months in?

Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't give a nod to those independent black filmmakers, toiling away outside the Hollywood studio system, whose work reflects their own (as well as some of our own) romantic relationship realities. We look to them instead.

RELATED: Lupita, Michael, and the Future of Black Romance in Film

RELATED: Watch A Young Sidney Poitier And Diahann Carroll Fall In Love In 'Paris Blues'

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  • anon | July 30, 2014 10:56 AMReply

    @Theblacktinafey I agree, I had a similar feeling when I saw jamie foxx and naomi harris in miami vice- it was uncomfortable for me it just was strange to see I also spent time in ghana (west africa) and seeing blk love, romance, sex etc.. is just par of the course, on tv AND film as you would expect lol and to be honest, it took a while to get used to but it was good to see. I'ts only in the west that blk love is restricted. Black relationships are BOOMING in blacK countries! You guys shold broaden your horizons and take a look at african cinema if you desperately want to see blk love; you'll be spoilt for choice!

  • NM PATTERSON | July 18, 2014 11:52 AMReply

    Anytime you see a person of African, Asian, or Latin@ origins on screen making love, or in a romantic situation with another person of color, it is a revolutionary act. Holding hands, kissing, bedrooms scenes, slow dancing, etc.-- would show that people of color are human. And how can you keep exploiting people when you show them as being human? Hollywierd continues to promote images of white love in order to keep the oppressed oppressed. Support independent filmmakers who dare to show tenderness between people of color. Roll Call: Julia Dash "Daughters of the Dust"; Tanya Hamilton "Night Catches Us"; Charles Burnett "Killer of Sheep", Wong Kar-wai "In the Mood for Love".

  • Steve | July 14, 2014 12:41 PMReply

    Seriously, what you think about as you're watching a movie is whether the actors are married to white women or not? If that's what you're thinking, the movie sucks and so does the acting so demand your money back, go home and read a book... the characters will be just as you see them in your head. Who someone happens to love and marry should never be your concern. If that's your criteria for judging good movie, you're as racist as the movie industry execs who won't green light projects with two black romantic leads. In case anyone is wondering, this is coming from a black man who loves black women.

  • Eshowoman | August 6, 2014 9:20 PM

    Wow, you are quick jump to the defense of the lopsided ratio black men married white women . Shebababy is not being a racist, she is stating facts Steve. Chris Noth got death threats when it got out that he married a black woman.

  • Steve | July 16, 2014 5:36 PM

    Shebababy, with all due respect, I wasn't telling anyone how they should feel. I was expressing my disappointment, as you were expressing yours. what you're accusing me of would be like say, you, for example, speaking about what white women felt when they found out Chris Noth was married to a black woman.

  • SHEBABABY | July 14, 2014 1:21 PM

    Frankly Steve you're not a black woman so you can't tell us how we should feel or think.

  • Theblacktinafey | July 14, 2014 12:33 PMReply

    @Troublemaker, Lincoln Heights was a drama with a black male lead married to a black female lead and they also had black kids. :-) I'm not denying the disproportion, I'm just quoting examples as others did for accuracy. There's plenty to b*tch about in Hollywood as far as racism and sexism are concerned. But I believe in giving credit and acknowledgement where they are due.

    With that being said, no one mentioned Will Packer produced, "About Last Night." TWO black couples on screen and BOTH were shown in sex scenes. I think this should definitely be acknowledged... And discussed for the precise reasons the author stated above. When the first sex scene occurred I was at first engaged and intrigued and then almost immediately uncomfortable. I had to check myself. My mind was riddled... Until the epiphany. OMG. We NEVER see this. I told at least eight people after the movie ended. It hit me like a snow storm in L.A. in May. It's so rare that if it made me give pause I can only imagine how non-black minds have been conditioned to react.

  • Jess | July 13, 2014 10:28 AMReply

    Interesting article. As a black female, I've long been aware of issues of racism, sexism and what happens when the two are combined. I've also been aware of how black/non- white actresses often have a harder time scoring lead roles in Hollywood. I guess when I read the article at first I thought I'm a little confused on how large of a problem it is of not having enough black male/black female couples on screen. I could think of plenty of movies and tv shows where this was the case. However, after some deeper thought about it, all of these portrayals were in media that was diliberately meant for/marketed to a black audience (think like a man, the best man, love and basketball, Tyler perry films, spike lee films, etc). That is understandable as the makers of those films are thinking, black people want to see black love ok screen. I guess the issue is when films not specifically aimed at one demographic can't have realistic portrayals of minority relationships. Sadly, I don't think this will change until Hollywood stops seeing the "every man" and the "every woman" as a white man and here woman ( for example, a writer pitches a script with average guy john and his love interest average woman Jennifer. Even though no context of race is given, the assumption is that they are white and if either of them were any other race, then the majority of movie goers (white) wouldn't be able to relate toth and therefore not seeing the movie). I thinks previous commenter though made an excellent point about how important it is for veteran black actors with clout to start asking/demanding their female leads opposite themto be other minorities and/or black. If you really want will smith, Denzel etc in your movie then since they are in demand, the can start to deman change. (Again, everyone is free to love whoever they want but we can't sit back and ignore that we need more positive images of black/minority love in media.

  • Thatstlphoenix | July 12, 2014 8:26 PMReply

    THIS!!!! Add this discussion to television as well and the problem continues. It's disheartening and I've seen this continue and only get worse in my opinion.

  • Miles Ellison | July 11, 2014 6:32 PMReply

    I think Spike's comments summed up the issue. People would rather deal in stereotypical shorthand than flesh out real characters.

  • Barbara | July 11, 2014 3:03 PMReply

    Not just Black people, but other minorities are not allowed to be romantic on screen either. As long as the movies/tv shows are made by White Males, this will continue. Sexuality is the area where White Males feel inferior, so his movies/tv shows are done in a way to counteract that deficienc

    If black movies are made about black romance, it would be good to see actors who are married (in REAL LIFE) to a black person play the role (no Richard Roundtrees). I can't relate to Black men married to White women playing a romantic role on screen with a Black woman. The recent movies had such Black male actors.

  • Simone | July 12, 2014 4:42 PM

    Wow! I was just thinking about this. I finally watched The Best Man Holiday the other night and wondered who the lead actors were married to in real life. 3 out of 4 of the black male leads are married to non-black women, while ALL the black actresses are single (non-married) or dating a person of color. How could this be?! (Terrence Howard, Taye Diggs, and Harold Perrineau are all married to white women; Morris Chestnut is the only one married to a black woman.) This information somehow made this black romantic/tragic comedy feel less authentic, an unrealistic fantasy delivered to black women. I mean, what are the chances that a group of professional black men would ALL marry black women? The actors demonstrate the likelihood.

  • ShebaBaby | July 11, 2014 6:09 PM

    Barbara I thought I was the only one who finds it hard to relate to black men who are married to "others" playing opposite a black woman as her love interest. It just kills the fantasy of it all for me and just feels inauthentic. I was just having this conversation with a friend about this a few weeks ago.

    I think it's the same way a lot of white women felt when they found out Chris Noth (Big from SATC) is married to a black woman. They didn't like it very much and I think it ruined their fantasies of Big having a real life Carrie.

  • Alias | July 11, 2014 1:53 PMReply

    And one more thought, we may not see more black love until writers, directors, producers, and actors who are in a position to push for such couplings push for such couplings onscreen.

    If actors like Will Smith, Dwayne Johnson, Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, and Idris Elba et. al. who have some sway with regard to the casting of their female counterparts, don't push for their love interests to be black, then how/why should we expect that the mostly white writers, producers, directors and studio executives would either?

  • troublemaker | July 11, 2014 4:37 PM

    You just hit the nail on the head. A lot of those black actors in position are not trying to cast a black woman as their wife or love interest regardless to if they are married to a black woman or not.

  • Mike | July 11, 2014 12:02 AMReply

    @ TROUBLEMAKER I can understand why you are upset with "Scandal," but Kerry Washington is ,married to a black man in real like and has a beautiful baby girl by him as well.

    @ALIAS The problem with black love in Hollywood is we don't see enough of it as we would like! Yes its there, but not as frequent and in a variety of situations as would we like.

  • troublemaker | July 11, 2014 7:07 PM

    I know Kerry Washington is married to a black man in real life. I just wish that was portrayed on Scandal.

    I lot of black actors don't seem to talk about racism because they are with white women or other in real life. So when these actors get in a position to choose their love interest on film/TV show, their love interest is always a white actress or other. The problem is when these white or other actresses get more famous and are able to choose their love interest, they hardly ever chooses black actors and always prefer to choose white actors.
    I think more black actresses seem to speak out more because they are faced with not only racism but also sexism. Also, I don't know if the black actresses are now working from a more collective point of view but back when Halle won her Oscar for Monster's Ball, Angela Bassett and Vanessa Williams were not that kind to Halle.

  • Alias | July 11, 2014 1:46 PM

    @Troublemaker: Nice to see a brother upset about seeing black women with white men, even if it's on screen. Now you know how, in real life, many black women feel when seeing our men with white women. I don't want to go too far off point on this subject, but more often than not I hear black actresses speaking up about race and racism in Hollywood than black actors. And, more often than not, off screen, in real life, I see many more prominent black actors in relationships with white women than the reverse.

    While no one should have to justify whom they choose to love, I never feel like most black actresses shy away from talking about race -- whether personally or professionally, and how it has, and does, affect their careers and choices for roles that they take on.

    When individual black actresses talk about racism in Hollywood it seems to come from a more collective point of view. As if "we're all in this together." I don't often hear too many black male actors addressing racism in Hollywood in such context. It, generally, feels more individualistic. As if they're not part of the group as a whole and are trying to distance themselves in some way.

    @Mike: I agree with you that we don't see enough black love throughout the genres of television and film.

  • troublemaker | July 10, 2014 6:59 PMReply

    I haven't seen a black woman married to a black man on drama TV within the past 10 years. I'm tired of seeing black women with white men or other and vice versa! That's why I hate Scandal so much. It's an insult to intelligent and professional black women.

  • troublemaker | July 11, 2014 4:30 PM

    I was talking about leads but thanks for the info. In the shows that you mentioned, again I'm pressed to see a good black husband and wife relationship. These writers/networks always invent creative ways to keep the black wife and husband from being together. It leads me back to my original comment. Have we really seen a great relationship between a black wife and husband within the past 10 years? No.

    @PHRED G
    Again those relationships that you mentioned are not what I was referring to because "creative" ways were used on those shows from keeping black couples apart.

  • Phred G | July 10, 2014 10:45 PM

    James P. and Loretta D. came to my mind also when I read your post. Also I do believe Orlando Jones is married to Jill Marie Jones on SLEEPY HOLLOW, currently separated though they be. Rocky Carroll, now a widower was married to Paula Newsome in NCIS.

  • Alias | July 10, 2014 7:28 PM

    @Troublemaker: You're probably correct, in terms of LEADS on dramas, however, you're technically in correct, in general and have, obviously, not seen everything and are not paying attention to every show on TV.

    On Nick@Nite there's an entire intergenerational black family headed by Tia Mowry-Hardwick and Michael Boatman on "Instant Mom."

    And although there was infidelity involved, later on "Being Mary Jane," Omari Hardwick's character did return to his wife (Aubrey) played by Robinne Lee. Also, Mary Jane's parents who are integral to the storyline, Richard Roundtree and Margaret Avery, are in a happy marriage.

    And, I never watched "Hannibal" on NBC, but I believe the characters played by Gina Torres and real-life husband Laurence Fishburne, are also married. Additionally, on "Suits" although her personal life has only, recently, come into a more full view, Torres' character (Jessica Pearson) was married to a black man, a few seasons back. Then their marriage broke up and he re-married another black woman (Sharon Leal). But he died, last season. But Torres is, currently, in a relationship with a black man (B.D. Woodside). So maybe, instead of "Scandal," you should check out "Suits" on USA Network.

    Oh, and for many years, on "Greys Anatomy" James Pickens Jr. and Loretta Divine played husband and wife. ...But I believe after suffering from Dementia and some other illness, her character was killed off the program two seasons ago.

    Again, it's not a perfect list, but it is accurate.

  • Duane | July 10, 2014 3:11 PMReply

    I'd like to read what the original TAN magazine article had to say. Then I'd sneak a PEEK at the "Love Life of a Midget" article.

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