Hollywood: Fade to Black
In the early days of Hollywood, Black people were excluded. They had to pencil themselves in. White Hollywood stripped Blacks of their humanity, turning them into savages, buffoons, and all manner of other shady characters. It wasn't until Black people started making their own movies that they could see images of themselves that reflected the reality they knew. Movies have transformative power, so to see themselves on screen, black and beautiful, has been a source of inspiration and pride since the first of Oscar Micheaux's reels graced cinema screens in the 1920s.
Day 8 - H is for Hollywood: Fade to Black
Black Movie Moments
Lying Lips, 1939
Carmen Jones, 1954
In the Heat of the Night, 1967
Foxy Brown, 1974
Do the Right Thing, 1989
Bet on Black
Jordan Peele brought Black horror movies back from the dead with 2017's Get Out and the 2019 follow up Us. "Peele formed his company, Monkeypaw Productions, to champion unique perspectives and artistic collaborations with traditionally underrepresented voices, while pushing the boundaries of conventional storytelling through genre." Peele's company produced Spike Lee’s Academy Award winning feature film BlackKKlansman in 2018. Peele is one to watch as Black filmmakers take Black to the future.
Regina King is an emerging force in Hollywood. As director of 2020's One Night in Miami, she demonstrates the artistry she'll bring to the screen. Since her start on the 1980's sitcom 227, she has appeared in over 50 films, been the voice of Riley & Huey on The Boondocks animated series, and won an Academy Award. "I think she’s excited for her growth as an actor but also the other side: being a director, being a leader, having a production company. Because that changes the game: the power of what’s on the page is going to change how people of color and women are seen in the business."
-Viola Davis, 2019
Oscar Micheaux (1884-1951)
Oscar Micheaux was the first major Black flimmaker. He created his own company so he could produce the stories that showed Black people in their natural light. He wanted the world to see that Black people were doctors, lawyers, preachers, teachers, and crooks too, just like the white depictions Hollywood produced. In 1918, he made The Homesteader, the first full-length feature film written, produced and directed by an African American.
Transitioning from job to job as a teenager, Oscar Micheaux was able to write a story that was inspired by his experience on a farm. The novel, entitled The Homesteader, was published and later adapted into a silent motion picture. With this project, he became the first black filmmaker to independently produce and direct his own feature films. Despite efforts to censor him, Micheaux was able to create over 40 films spanning three decades.
At Left: The musical Carmen Jones starred Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte in an all Black adaptation of Bizet's opera Carmen, and earned Dandridge the first ever Best Actress Academy Award nomination for a Black woman.
Sidney Poitier, The First Black Movie Star
Sidney Poitier (1927- )never played a bad guy. In Lillies of the Field, In the Heat of the Night, and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, he was the prototype of the upstanding and respectable Black man America needed to see, as much as Black people needed to be seen that way. He was so good at it that in 1964 he became the first Black man to win the Best Actor Academy Award, and became the world's number one movie star in 1967, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.
While he helped break down the color barrier in film and brought dignity to the portrayal of noble and intelligent characters, Poitier found himself under fire for not being more politically radical in the late 1960s. Upset by the criticism, he left acting and America and returned in the early 1970's as a director/actor and made 3 comedies co-starring Bill Cosby, including Uptown Saturday Night, and Richard Pryor's Stir Crazy (1980). President Barack Obama awarded Poitier the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 for his enormous contribution to the arts and to American culture.
Pam Grier, Super Bad
Pam Grier was undoubtedly the biggest Black movie star of the 1970s. She was the queen of "Blaxploitation" films, criticized for the violent and sexual content, and what many perceived as a poor representation of Black people. But the movies made money, lots of it. Pam Grier's characters, Coffy and Foxy Brown, are icons of the era. Grier's characters were always strong, fierce, and determined, and her stunning beauty didn't hurt. Whatever the criticism, Grier proved to Hollywood that Black women were a film force not to be underestimated.
Spike Lee, Auteur
Spike Lee movies are clearly identifiable. His.style of filmaking, from shot selection to color choices to camera angles is like none other. 1981's She's Gotta Have It placed Lee's permanent imprint on Hollywood. Lee's films helped launch the careers of Halle Berry and Denzel Washington. His films have addressed issues of race, colorism among Black people, addiction, family, and music, and have given expression to a wonderfully diverse collection of memorable Black characters, from Mookie to Radio Raheem to Big Brother Dean AlmighTEE. He won his first Academy Award in 2019 for his adaptation of "Black Klansman," an honor long overdue.
Indelible images of Black people on the big screen through the years.
The First Kiss
Black Academy Award Winners
Oscar Winners, from Left: Forest Whitaker, Halle Berry, Denzel Washington, Sidney Poitier, Jennifer Hudson, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Mo'nique
Winners not pictured: Hattie McDaniel, Louis Gossett, Jr., Whoopi Goldberg, Morgan Freeman, Jamie Foxx, Octavia Spencer, Lupita N'yongo, Viola Davis
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