American Cinema In Black and White

FilmLogo

American Cinema In Black And White

When Rosa Parks boarded her regular bus on December 1, 1955 on the way home from work in her hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, she did not intend to a be a catalyst that would forever change race relations in the U.S. But the 42-year-old seamstress had had enough and defied that day the law in the city mandating she as a black person give her seat at the front of the bus for any white person (in this case, a man her age). Her simple act of defiance spurred a mass movement and catapulted a relatively unknown preacher, Reverend Martin Luther King, into the national limelight.

(The story of Rosa Parks, who became a celebrated civil rights activist in her own right, never made it to be the big screen. However, a movie for television was produced by and aired on HBO in 2002, starring Angela Bassett and Cicely Tyson and directed by Julie Dash.)

When Rosa Parks stepped onto that bus in 1955 African Americans were virtually invisible in mainstream movies. The most popular film ever made – then and now – “Gone With The Wind” highly romanticized race relations, depicting black slaves as loyal peasants to their paternalistic Master in almost medieval fashion – rather the reality of their plight has human livestock. It would be another decade before the career of Sidney Portier took off and spearheaded meaningful discussions of race relations in the U.S. in films like “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” (1967) and “In The Heat of the Night (1967).

But in 1955 many Americans still likely were talking about, if not seen for themselves, an extraordinary cinematic musical, “Carmen” with an all-black cast and based on the eponymous opera “Carmen” by 19th c. French composer George Bizet. The film, released by 20th Century Fox, starred two of the most beautiful actors ever to grace the screen – Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandrige – and was directed by the Austrian expat and Hollywood A-list director Otto Preminger. Known for tackling taboo subjects, Preminger made a film in a world that didn’t exist yet where an actor’s skin color didn’t matter. In this sense the film was at once radical but also benign because the film’s subtext of the modern-day black American experience was overwhelmed by the classic love story and the icongraphic music..

Fast forward five decades to present day and there are a half dozen Hollywood films  in 2013 with leading black actors and several by black directors, including Lee Daniels’ “The Butler” and Malcolm Lee’s “Best Man Holiday.”But it is “12 Years A Slave” by British director Steve McQueen (no relation to the namesake American actor!) that is a paradigm shift in American cinema.

Unlike any other film to date, “12 Years” digs deep beneath the many layers of myths foisted by  American popular culture about the black slave experience. It’s brutally realistic, and one might even be tempted to use the word shocking but, of course, everything that happens in the film merely mimics what happened in real life in a universe not so long ago. The film, indeed, is based on the pre-Civil autobiographical novel by a free man of color who was kidnapped into slavery.

With stunning performances by veteran actor Chiwetel Eijiofor (“Children of Men,” “Love Actually”) and newcomers Lupita Nyong’o and Adepero Oduye and with near universal critical praise, the film is on everybody’s short list for being a major Oscar contender.

Ultimately, “12 Years” breaks new ground by once and for all tearing the scab off the eternal wound of American’s shameful embrace of slavery to reveal its sexual and violent depravity in all of its horror. The film is unnervingly relentless, hard to watch and one that everyone who loves cinema must see.

 

Comments are closed.

Healthy Lifestyle Tips | Best Ways To Stay Healthy | Health And Fitness News | Health And Fitness For Seniors | Senior Health Products | Baby Boomers Generation

Hide