The State of the Union in Black Hollywood (Part II)

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Truly when one considers what Black Hollywood means now versus what it did in the eighties, seventies, sixties and even in the early half of the twentieth century, it really is a place that does exist.  “When I think of Black Hollywood I say ‘Where’s that?’  I think of Lee, Singleton, Tucker, Denzel, Halle, and Sidney (Poitier) the first big Black box office smash,” admitted Gates.

He explained, “It is the best time to be a black actor, but the situation is far from ideal.”  Paying attention to this sentiment what would the ideal situation be?  If Hollywood was truly in our hands would we really change things?  There lies a message in these rhetorical answers that still laments it is up to us.

W.E.B. DuBois in his engaging novel The Souls of Black Folk discusses an important theme in the ideological framework that creates a knack for survival in the American Negro.  Double consciousness or twoness is an idea that is mastered by some, and failed by many.  Appealing to the racial divides is a task, a daunting one indeed.  But the real challenge is maintaining a crossover appeal, being successful, and not losing one’s culture or identity during the process.  It would be entirely too easy to list African-Americans who have failed at this endeavor, but those who have made it are shear prodigies.  “People do it all the time.  Look at Chris Tucker he’s a genius, and even Will Smith. You have to maintain your integrity and be yourself.  You either appeal or you don’t.  You can’t force people to go to the box office,” exclaimed Gates.

When Black people and progress are alluded to in the same sentence, somehow the idea of “doors opening up” comes into play.  But in analyzing the current nature and state of Hollywood, one can ponder if it has truly opened its doors, opened some doors, or just a window.  No matter the opinion of the engaging society, something has been opened.  Gates added, “I think it has opened itself up to few, but some are on the A-list including Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Angela Bassett, Halle and Denzel.”

“It’s also as I showed in my film series many directors are still color struck.  Even Nia Long said she doesn’t even make a million a film, and many brown skin actresses cannot get jobs.  I never thought that in this 21st century ‘if you black get back’ would still be around,” disclosed Gates.

Paying attention to recent African-American film releases it can be said that there is a non-alluring pool of ghetto themed movies entrenched in stereotypes.  The representation of Blacks on screen shuckin’ and jivin’ has been an inescapable demon that reinvents itself in many subtle, modern water downed forms.  “Films can reinforce stereotypes and have done that since Gone with the Wind and Birth of a Nation.

  As Singleton said, you can’t make films that preach to people and expect them to pay for it,” told Gates.

In its exact form, films with blatant “reach the people” messages can be boring and sometimes very unentertaining.  It can be argued that the mission of Hollywood is to enlighten and entertain, but it does this sometimes at the expense of others.  But if people do not buy into blatant messages stamped into films, there are ways to sketch around the stereotypes and slide in lessons.  Gates spoke, “You have to entertain and slip in the message delicately.  People get the preaching on Sunday between 10 and 12.  One can’t hammer people with a message, you have to educate subtly and indirectly.”

Let’s face it, we are a boycotting people.  Although it seems as though we have displaced this protesting fervor in the past few years, it still lies in us.  When we get fed up, we move and shake things.  But sometimes groups of us will boycott anything if it is offensive, even if it is the only thing of color on the market which succinctly hurts, taints, and even destroys the product.  But when it comes to boycotting in Hollywood, in some areas as African-Americans we have a bit of a losing streak.  “I can’t ever think of a time when we have boycotted a film and actually won,” sounded Gates.

 “The form of political pressure that is most effective is to force studios to greenlight and make better films. The real power is behind the camera and owning the production just as Quincy Jones knew that the power was in owning his own music,” admitted Gates.

Watching the red carpet of dainty award shows, the what did she wear, or who was with who along with grade A snobbish attitudes, many can come to assume that arrogance is what drives Hollywood, and keeps the mill running.  But in all actuality, behind every machine are thin pieces of green paper approximately six inches in length with old White men called money.  Money is the central theme of Hollywood, and commands what is created and comes out of Black Hollywood.

Gates replied, “Hollywood responds to money.  If you put something on the screen and it sales that weekend, on Monday executives will come together and make more of those same films.  We have to support and spend money on our films for studios to make them.”

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