Black America's Forgotten Film History

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tags: film, movies, black films



American cinema has never been particularly kind to black folks. As blacks moved north into cities with burgeoning movie palaces and industrial jobs and laws designed to keep them impoverished and on the margins, filmic representation of black life—limited for most of the time between World War I and Vietnam to “Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks,” as historian Donald Bogle put it in 1973—was the lens through which American society viewed blacks.

Anyone who took silver screen representations of blacks at face value would come away with the notion that black folks were, by and large, stupid, cowardly, lazy and worthy of subjugation, censure and plunder. That this is just how America has largely treated its African American population both before and since is no accident. When the blustery but occasionally insightful critic Armond White said “you have a culture of criticism that simply doesn't want Black people to have any kind of power, any kind of spiritual understanding or artistic understanding of themselves,” he wasn’t wrong.




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