The Rise of Black Film Outside of Hollywood

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The Rise of Black Film Outside of Hollywood | June's Journal

Can you feel it?  The stir?  With the collaboration possibilities of the internet, social networking in particular, Black folk (and other folk of color) are more collectively expressing their outrage about Hollywood limiting their involvement and opportunities in the film industry, the big and small screen.  But now, instead of expecting Hollywood to change, we finally realize that we need to take matters into our own hands and create our own films, outside of Hollywood.

While Spike Lee and Tyler Perry have already done this, Jeff Johnson aptly notes,

“Tyler and Spike Lee can’t be the only ones if this thing is going to work.  There are too many stories that need to be told to have one, two, or three people’s visions setting the stage.”

One recent film project, Mooz-Lum, by black writer and director Qasim Basir, used unconventional methods to get into AMC Theatres in major cities across North America (read my review here).  I predict we are going to start seeing more and more works like this getting into the mainstream as people of color finally stop buying into the lie that Hollywood is the only channel to get a movie made.  And with that said, below is a transcript of Jeff Johnson addressing this issue in context of last week’s Academy Awards where no persons of color were nominated for an Oscar.  But he says so what!  It’s time for us to rise to the occasion and make our film dreams a reality, using our own resources.  Jeff, you took the words right out of my mouth; you gotta stop that, bro!

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Two nights ago, some watched it, the The Academy of Motion Arts & Sciences hosted its 83rd offering of the Oscars, what is labeled by Hollywood as the pinnacle of success seems to be the desired destination of every actor, director, writer and member of the team of professionals that make the world of motion pictures come to life.

But this Oscars was not the destination of any nominees of color.

In fact, unlike last year’s Precious award season, only ___ and Halle Berry who received Golden Globe nods, were nomonated for any awards this season, unless we use the one drop rule for one Hailee Stanfield from True Grit whose described as having black ancestry on her mother’s side.

But the Oscars, despite the prescense of an even thinner Jennifer Hudson and Halle Berry’s tribute to the inculpable Leona Horne, was like white on rice on a paper plate in a snow storm.  That is white.

But who really cares?

I mean, I’ve heard countless commentaries, leaders, community folks, black movie-goers, continuing to comcolor-box about the Academy’s unwillingness to acknowlege Black talent and the industry’s unwillingness to cast black talent, hire Blacks behind the scenes, thus creating the opportunity for Blacks to be nominated let alone win.

Well, I for one think this notion is ridiculous.  Hollywood has never extended itself to embrace the image, culture or even the stories of Black people.

I’m not going to give a history lesson from Birth of a Nation to Why Did I Ever Get Married 2, but I must mention the horrible and deliberate tool that Hollywood has been to institutional racism and the illumination of negative imagery of black people with no artistic value.

But, that does not mean I believe Hollywood owes us.

Patty McDaniel was the first African American to take home the little gold statue when she won her award for best supporting actress for her work in Gone With The Wind in 1939.  Another 300 Oscars have been awarded since then but only 13 have gone to Black actors and actresses, that’s out of 47 total Black total nominees.  But, the Black actors, men and women who set the standard for excellence:  Sidney Poitier, James Earl Jones, Dorothy Dandridge, and Cicely Tyson, did not beg or comcolor-box.  They performed better than anybody before them and allowed their performance– not the award–to represent the excellence of their art.

What have we really done to honor their legacy institutionally?  By that I mean we comcolor-box that more Blacks don’t get nominated to the Academy but we make fewer films.  And many that we do make, while amusing, don’t merit the purchase of a theatre ticket, let alone award consideration.

In a recent interview with thegrio.com, the actor Anthony Mack said,  “I think right now [blacks] are being kinda lazy on our game.  There are enough brothers with distribution deals and production deals where we should be making our own movies.  Oprah got her own network,”  Mackie said.  “Michael Jordon owns his franchise. We got black money. So there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to tell the stories we want to tell and portray ourselves the way we want to be portrayed.”

This, Tom, is why I feel Tyler Perry is so important.  It’s not about whether you like you like his movies or not.  2009 was an example of what happens when you get in the driver seat and at least attempt to control our own destiny.  Precious was a story that many would not have never put money on for being nominated for an Academy Award but dominated the nominee list for award season and brought home winners supporting actress and adaptive screenplay.

My point is that we have a responsibility to tell our own stories and prepare our next generation of talent.  Tyler and Spike Lee can’t be the only ones if this thing is going to work.  There are too many stories that need to be told to have one, two, or three people’s visions setting the stage.

In an interview I did recently with Oscar nominee Viola Davis, she stated that no one passes the baton.  She said everybody wants to be an executive but nobody wants to create legacy, mentor the young people coming behind you.  “If you’re gonna make that film,” she said, “don’t just do it for the money, create a story, something compelling that will resognate, and once it’s out there, nobody can deny it.  And it sets the precident where it grows and grows.” And that’s the biggest point.

While being nominated for a Golden Globe and an Oscar should be viewed as an amazing honor, what hapens to creating the work that moves the spirit, captures the imagination?  And whether the character that is played is positive or negative one, the performance, the script, the cinematography, the set design, the story, our stories, it inserts something into public space that even for a moment changes how we think–is the real legacy that we come from and one that should be embraced now.

Let’s encourage more of our kids to look at the  jobs behind the camera as well as the front.  Let’s develop training opportunities for them to master their gifts, encourage the development of black production houses, and celebrate those with distribution deals.  And then let’s encourage small and large productions, from provocotive short films that were released online to major studio productions, and then let’s support them for what they are.  Every film made is not going to be a classic.  But in the midst of being entertained, let’s elevate our standards so that smart black films get as much play and attention from us as those that are funny.

Forget the Oscars, forcus on creating and we are at our best, as is always the case, we won’t have to look for validation from anyone.  Our work will be the shining light that shows the world who we really are.

Tom, as always, I’m Jeff, and that’s my truth.

Tom: And we also have the [NAACP] Image Awards this weekend.

Sybil: Friday night on Fox.

Tom: Yeah

Jeff: Check it out.

Tom: Forget the Oscars.  I’m with you, man.

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You may also be interested in reading 30 Black Hollywood Game Changers, a slideshow highlighting Black Filmmakers through the years.  Also see related articles regarding Regina King’s Open Letter about the Emmys Being Racist, and Mo’Kelly’s Open Letter to Halley Berry and “Other Skank Robbers.”

You comments as always are welcomed below!

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