A N.Y.U filmmaker, responds to Gordon Parks's ideologies on filmmaking. by James Richards (Part 2 in a series)
Read Part 1.
Evidently, when it comes to film, we don't trust
ourselves. Unless we're making a certain product,
we're not marketable, to ourselves and the
mainstream. Slightly unusual films or films that deal with
complex themes are routinely ignored. I don't know
if that's because of poor marketing or lack of
interest. I know I did stand on long lines to see
"Daughters of the Dust" and "Sankofa" which had strong
grass roots campaigns, but was virtually alone when I saw
"Chameleon Street" and "To Sleep with Anger." Even that
was a while ago. The last few years have been pretty thin.
The majority of films produced that contain a primarily
Black cast made in the last seven years almost entirely
belong to one genre: The ASS CHASE genre. The pitch is
"Niggas want ass", period. With a little morality lesson
at the end. Roll call: Booty Call, Skeezers, Phat Beach, BAPS,
How To Be A Player (and I'm sure there are others I'm too
traumatized to remember). These are films cold and calculated with characters that could've been pulled from one of
those racist questionnaires circulating the Internet.
These are films with limited, uninterestingly exaggerated
or convenient characterizations of Black Life. We
ourselves often don't seem all that interested in
challenging and unconventional portrayals of Black folks,
at least not in films. We accept limitation because
we haven't seen ourselves enough in unlimited ways.
In terms of business, the problem is on two levels: Us and
Them. We seem to be limited in what we're willing to
see and the studios and investors seem to be limited in
what they're willing to finance.
It's true that a film with a Black story line will
not make the same money as one without one. The majority
has difficulty making the cultural leap into the eyes of a
Black protagonist. (Sometimes I feel when non-Blacks go to
see Black films it's not because of an intriguing story
line or the stars but more like an anthropological
expedition, like an enclosed tour bus rumbling through
Harlem. What else could explain the ridiculous buzz around
"Straight Outta Brooklyn"? A film's success or lack
thereof is based on how much it either confirms or denies
their unconscious interpretation of Black Life.) This
cultural leap Black folks take for granted every day when
watching soaps to action films. I knew a lot of kids that
wanted to be Bruce Lee and Linda Carter when I was growing
up, and none looked even remotely like them.
There are exceptions, like "Waiting To Exhale", but
however Black these women were, they were accessible
(which isn't a bad thing). I do feel it's
crossover success is due in part to white women having a
greater willingness to see the things that connect women
together, than the willingness of white men to see the
things that connect all of us together.
Often films that include Black actors aren't
interested in their perspective and tragically, even if
the issue is Black history.
Rob Reiner was on an interview and said he was fascinated
by the idea of doing a Civil Rights story. He came upon
the Myrlie Evers Story and thought this was the one he
wanted to tell. Except, he, according to his own words,
could only relate to the story through the white
prosecutor who finally won the case, Bobby Delaughter. He
felt he couldn't tell (or felt he didn't have
the right to tell) the story from an "African-American"