Black cinema refers to films that arose in the early 1900s. They consisted mainly of black actors in the lead roles. It is also known as African American cinema. It has given rise to various genres of films such as ‘Blaxploitation’. Black cinema continues to exist in modern times with the rise of many famous black celebrities and personalities.
During the era of silent cinema, the film industry was dominated by white people. Black characters were played by white actors who used blackface, that is, actors who painted their faces black and mimicked blacks. Even black actors had to put on black makeup to appear more mimicked. Such a racist and non-inclusive setting led to the exclusion and dehumanization of black people. Against this background, black cinema industry emerged as a parallel to the white-dominated film industry. Mia Mask says that ‘African American cinema is a metaphor for black experience because it is a history of the struggle for addition.’
Exposure to Cinema & Movement
In modern times, black cinema has witnessed an upsurge with the rise of black actors, directors, producers, scriptwriters etc. Oscar Micheaux is known as the ‘father of black filmmakers’ and some of the artists that have made their mark in the World of Cinema are Halle Berry, Denzel Washington, Oprah Winfrey, Morgan Freeman, and Tina Turner, and one of the famous recent film on black cinema is “12 Years A Slave “.
Black cinema is not an isolated phenomenon by itself. It is closely associated with the struggles of the black community. Black movements such as the Civil Rights Movements are deeply ingrained in the fabric of black cinema. Early black cinema visually brought the stories of black people to life. The black independent film movement paved the way for black film production. Filmmakers such as Pamela Jones, Haile Gerima, Julie Dash, Larry Clark etc. had themes of black political struggles with an intellectual and cultural theme in their films.
The fitting example to Black Cinema is the Steven Spielberg 1997 film, “Amistad ” released on December 10, 1997. Amistad was rooted from the real-life story about the uprising that occurred on the slave ship known as La Amistad in 1839. The blockbuster film garnered massive positive feedbacks from critics and film audiences on the first day of its release in cinemas. The film depicts the struggles of the black slave SengbePieh also known as Joseph Cinqué along with other slaves who fought to survive for freedom and the ruthlessness and brutality of slavery they had experienced on the ship, where they had killed a number of officers in self-defense. They were eventually freed from slavery but were put in trial of court for killing the officers of the slave ship.
Other film examples are the 1998 film of Jonathan Demme, “Beloved ” that stars Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton, and Kimberly Elise, the 1974 film by John Korty “The Autobiography Of Miss Jane Pittman ” starring Cicely Tyson, and the 1987 film by Justin Chadwick “Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom ” with Danny Glover as Nelson Mandela and Alfre Woodard as Winnie Mandela.
The 1970s saw a memorable moment in motion picture history when Blaxploitation came into the limelight. In and around the 1970s, the typical stereotypes of black people was limited to shoe-shine boys, train porters, waitresses and basic, minimum wage workers who usually belonged to the lower and working classes. This stereotype was busted by the emergence of ‘Blaxploitation’ into motion pictures. Mostly set in the poor neighborhoods, the themes were centered on black slavery there are several subtypes of the genre that includes martial arts, horror, crime, comedy, drama and musical. These movies were one the earliest ones to feature funk and soul jazz soundtracks which were complex to a varying degree and quite unpopular in 1970s. The filmmakers of other genres were influenced by Blaxploitation to include stereotypical Blaxploitation characters in their movies. Blaxploitation horror movies formed a sub-genre in the 1970s. ‘Blacula’ is a fine example of such hysterical movie which inspired film makers to make other Blaxploitation horrors like ‘Blackenstein’ and ‘Dr. Hyde’. Blacula was a big success in the box office.
To conclude, the black cinema has always been intricately linked with the social issues in the black community and has always served as an imagination of what blacks always aspired. It is evolving and changing with time. Now that situations are different for blacks, it is interesting to speculate in what direction black cinema would go.