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African American film genre - Essay Example

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Long before John Crow's laws,white Americans had already a pre-conceived view of black people as inferior,which helped them justify slavery.After all they were unable to learn English and spoke Pigeon English,another proof that blacks were not intelligent…
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African American film genre
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African American film genre

Download file to see previous pages... Long before John Crow's laws,white Americans had already a pre-conceived view of black people as inferior,which helped them justify slavery.After all they were unable to learn English and spoke Pigeon English,another proof that blacks were not intelligent. From the 1620s, blacks were stereotyped and the emergence of minstrel shows in the 1840s only helped in branding even more this misconception, (Davis) and introducing black caricatures, portrayed by white actors with black-make-up, as the coons, the toms, and the mammies at first, and later on followed by the mulattoes and the bucks. The first movie ever where African Americans appear was screened in 1898, where it showed black soldiers in the Spanish-American war. But it was with the 1903 movie with a black character, Uncle Tom, directed by Edwin S. Porter, a white man, that we can pinpoint the beginning of the American film industry incorporating black characters. Tom was portrayed by a white actor with black make-up. In the movie, Tom is the typical skinny, middle-aged, desexed slave, totally loyal to his white master, a far cry from the original Tom portrayed in Harriet Beecher Stowe's book Uncle Tom's Cabin, which showed a gentle, kind, and forgiving man. This first portrayal of a black in film sealed even more this misconstrued idea of black inferiority and became a vehicle used to the advantage of whites not only for entertainment but also for economic reasons - advertisement for sellable products -. What no one foresaw then was the planting of the seed of the actual African American film industry with a slew of black actors who "elevated [these roles] and brought to [them] arty qualities if not pure art." (Bogle 23). That was the essence of black film history.

When one tries to discuss and describe African American film industry, one cannot help but go back in time and start with the characterization that white people so strongly believed in, leading them to create caricatures of black people in the burgeoning entertainment industry. So, it is impossible not to describe the four categories of stereotypes that kept reoccurring throughout the twentieth century. These four characters were the foundation of the entertainment industry as seen by white producers, who soon came to realize that it was also a tool to instigate war or peace, tolerance and understanding versus discrimination and segregation.

The four black figures were the Tom, the Mammies, the Coons, and the Bucks. The Tom, the ever subservient, good-natured, stoic, selfless and loyal to a fault, as seen in Jezebel (1938), Love Thy Neighbor (1940), where Tom was portrayed by Eddie Anderson, Edge of the City (1957), and The Defiant Ones (1958), where Sidney Poitier characters sacrifice themselves for their white friends. The Coons with very black faces, bulging eyeballs and thick red lips, which represented the black buffoon, himself subdivided into two groups, the Pickanny and the Uncle Ramus, "a cousin to Tom. (Bogle 8) Mantan Moreland made the coon character renown from the late 1930s to the early 1970s when "he still [made] cameo appearances"(Bogle 72). The Mammy, usually fat, big and cantankerous, but still sweet and good-tempered, made her first big appearance in 1914's Lysistrata, and was used as the recognizable face on pancake boxes and syrup, but was made famous by Hattie McDaniel in the 1930s (no one can forget her in Gone with the Wind). Of course, the tragic Mulatto caught between the white and the black world and unable to find her place in neither one of them as portrayed in the 1912 movie The Debt, and the tear-jerker movie Imitation of Life in 1934. Finally, the last of the categories, the Buck, whose introduction in the 1915 racist movie by D.W. Griffith, The Birth of a Nation, brought a slew of controversies, was a brute, a liar, a cheat and a rapist. This blatantly anti-black movie that became a propaganda vehicle for the Ku Klux Klan, was also the coup de ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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