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

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act July 10, 2014 at 2:49PM

Is there still very much a suppression of *black sexuality* in mainstream cinema?
26
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'

This article is related to: Harry Belafonte, Dorothy Dandridge, Things That Make You Go Hmm...


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