African American GOLDEN LEGACY

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African-Americans in Motion Pictures

 

        

The subject of African-Americans in Motion Pictures provides some of the most interesting studies along with the many controversial interpretations of the roles as actors they played on the silver screen. As far back as the silent films era, African-Americans have been featured in motion pictures playing roles depicting some aspect of acting and being purveyors of a black image. The messages or themes of these movies have over the years presented a mixture of images based upon what was thought to please the viewers of each particular film. Unfortunately, many of those films showed black characters in negative stereotypical roles which the average African-Americans would never truly identify as being like themselves.

1915 saw for the first time the formation of the Independent African-American Filmmakers. African-Americans as independent filmmakers took up their cause by counter-attacking the making of The Birth of a Nation. They sought out their own financing in order to produce films with more positive images of Blacks. The Birth of a Race (ca. 1918) was to be the first independent black film undertaken and produced by Emmett J. Scott, personal secretary to Booker T. Washington of the Tuskeegee Institute. The film was released in 1919 but never drew movie goers as previously envisioned.

Hollywood was not interested in making Positive Image Movies about African-Americans -- they saw them as "risky" undertakings; therefore the major roles available to black actors were maids, walkons, butlers, servants, or comics.

The roles of African-Americans during the 1929's thru 1940's saw the rise of black actors seeking work but only receiving roles dealing with light comedy, music, or dance. Therefore we see Stepin Fetchit getting star billing as an African-American actor in a series of films as the slow-talking, lazy-like plantation Negro (Hearts in Dixie, 1929).

 Face of Comedy .....Depression Years ----Stepin Fetchit :  

           He helped pave the way for black comics as the first black film star
           to be recognized by white audiences. He played a shuffling, lazy,
           superstitious caricature.

The film, Hallelujah (1929), conveyed multiple themes of black stereotypes exhibited in song, dance, blues, spirituals, and frivolity, making star billing with Nina Mae McKinney, a light-skinned African-American woman as a standard barer for future lead roles when using black women. Other stars to receive star billings were Ethel Waters (On with the Show, 1929) and Lorenzo Tucker, who was given the name of the Black Valentino, appearing in Wages of Sin (1928), The Black King (1931), Daughter of the Congo (1930), and Temptation (1936). The famed Bessie Smith made her only screen appearance in the short film, St. Louis Blues (1929).

SIGNIFICANT FIRST BLACK ACTORS:

The successful African-American actors were:

  • Stepin Fetchit, subservient comic in Carolina (1934), Judge Priest (1934), Steamboat the Bend (1935)

  • Bill (Bojangles) Robinson, tap dancer: The Littlest Rebel (1935), Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938), and One Mile from Heaven (1937)

  • Louise Beavers, maid, black mammy figure: Imitation of Life (1934), No Time For Comedy (1940)

  • Paul Robeson, due to his strong characterization as a black male, had to do most of his films in England from 1936-1939. His interpretation of Eugene O'Neill's play, The Emperor Jones, was unusual for a 1933 motion picture.

  • Hattie McDaniel, black maid, obedient servant: Anniversary Trouble (1935), Judge Priest (1935), Gone with the Wind (1939). She became the first African-American to win an Academy Award Oscar as the Best Supporting Actress.

        

                                       

An all- black Broadway musical and hollywood film that, desite its racial stereotyping, gained widespread appeal among blacks during the late 1930's.  "The Green Pastures " featured an all-black cast and starred Shakespearean actor Richard B.Harrison in the lead role of the De Lawd.

                                                        

                         2002 Oscar Winners--- Halle Berry and Denzel Washington

 

African-American (Black) actors, musicians, producers, and film-makers were innovators and originators in many ways.  Jazz was the first truly "American" form of music...which lead to other forms, including: blues, gospel, and  rock & roll.

 
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Black People of the Bible

A controversy that continues to rage centers around the question over ...
*** " what color/race was Jesus and the people of the *Book * ? "

"GREEN PASTURES" is a classic movie from the 1930s that
showed the facts of Black people in the BIBLE.



Black History: Lost, Stolen, and Strayed ---

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