Hollywood to African-Americans seems to be an intangible world to many, and tangible to a select few. In the streaming hills of Los Angeles the all white sign belting out these letters seems to only call on those whose skin matches the color of the paint. Although advances have been made since the beginning of filmmaking, Blacks have a come from quite a distance since Birth of a Nation and Stepin Fetchit. Beginning with Oscar Micheaux to Spike Lee, our direction in social and political satire in film is gilded in a need to address our people and somehow give an answer to an oppressive American society.
Although Hollywood is a mere reflection of the surrounding culture whether dominate or oppressed, the reflection has gotten better due to quality actors, filmmakers, and a crying voice for better movies. We no longer have to guess who’s coming to dinner; rather we now can sit at the table unannounced and voice our views and opinions. Albeit true, strides have been made, but strolling through 2003, we cannot pretend that there were many Black gems to cheer for that made it to the silver screen.
Crouched in theater seats African-American audiences rarely get the advantage of saying, “This was a quality film,” without some spark of dissonance in opinion, or a cause to be offended by the sensitivity of our own. Lest we forget, we have to applaud the phenomenon that has darted our actors, actresses, and directors in the spotlight. And at this point, we need to launch our own in executive positions with the power to greenlight.
It is easy to sit and nitpick the rights and wrongs of Black Hollywood, and determine where the momentum is headed, but it is even harder to gauge and document the opinions of those who live in the world of Hollywood. But what really drives this machine, money or race? Author, scholar, and Chair of Afro-American Studies at Harvard University, Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr., in his book and companion four part PBS documentary America Behind the Color Line, takes a look at the state of Blacks in contemporary American society.
In one segment of the series entitled, “Los Angeles: Black Hollywood,” Gates carefully studies this attractive phenomenon we know as Hollywood and how African-Americans fit in the big picture. In coming to understand Black Hollywood, Gates speaks with Chris Tucker, Nia Long, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Reginald Hudlin, John Singleton and starving artists in Los Angeles to gather a consensus of views on the dominating structure controlling Black Hollywood.
Skip Gates shares his own views and opinions that strike a chord producing a discord in the face of lies, and a smile in the face of truth. “When I think of Hollywood I think of Gone with the Wind
, the Birth of a Nation, Brett Butler and Scarlet O’Hara,” explained Gates. He continued, “I think of Hollywood as an all white province with Black people tap dancing. It is a reflection of this society’s racism. I wanted to document how Hollywood has in fact changed.”
With the changes that have occurred, there is the old adage, there is room for more change, but who wants to hear that? The focus now should be to applaud the change, and give a standing ovation when Blacks in Hollywood have reached an avenue where they can say that they are finally satisfied. But of course, we come to understand that White Hollywood and Black Hollywood are the same at times, but are separate entities and just disparate.