Monday, February 27, 2012

White People, Black Stories Goes To The Movies

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

In honor of the 84th Annual Academy Awards shown last night, I decided for my second to last post for Black History month, we'd head to the movies. So for today, let's talk about some of our favorite Black stories told by White people on the silver screen.

As I mentioned in my introductory post for this series, the film Red Tails was one of the reasons I was inspired to create this list. Red Tails executive producer, George Lucas hit the same brick wall many Black filmmakers do when trying to get their films out to the world. Because Red Tails, a film about the Tuskegee Airmen, basically had no White people in it, Lucas had many doors slammed in his face when he tried to get the film picked up by a major studio. Eventually he had to pony up his own money and resources to get the job done. Needless to say, the script for Red Tails was written by a Black man, the film was directed by a Black man and along with Lucas, included other Black producers. So, Red Tails clearly wouldn't have made it to the silver screen without Lucas, but I'd consider him the godfather of the project but not the storyteller. Let's look at some other examples:

The Color Purple: Alice Walker's award-winning novel about African-American life in the early 20th century, comes to the big screen in 1985 under the direction of Steven Spielberg. The film brought Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey a whole new level of status, including Oscar nominations for them both. The film was well received by audiences both Black and White, but there was controversy over Spielberg, as a White man, being the one to direct such an important work in the cannon of African-American literature. What's more, many people believed racism was a factor in the film not being awarded an Oscar for best picture. Overall the film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won none of them.

And Speaking of Oprah Winfrey in the movies, we should do a brief mention of Beloved. Like Red Tails, it's not exactly a black and white issue. Beloved was written by Toni Morrison. She's Black. The film rights were acquired by Winfrey, she's Black. But the movie was directed by Jonathan Demme, he's White. So, this one kind of counts. Sadly, the film didn't do so well at the box office, in my opinion, because this book should never have been turned into a movie due to it's complex and somewhat disturbing storyline. Most American movie goers don't want to think that much while they're munching on their popcorn nor do they want to walk out of the cinema sobbing and depressed.

And not to beat a dead horse, but The Help, the movie, should make it on this list, as the book, screenplay director and producer are all White. And I think we can all agree that the film is about Black people. And maybe you think, duh, of course the book would be ushered on to the big screen by White people, but remember The Secret Life of Bees, a book written by a White person, was directed by a Black director and produced by Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith. So, the same could have happened with The Help. But it didn't.

And finally, the 2006 movie version of Dreamgirls, staring Beyonce, Jennifer Hudson, Jamie Foxx and Eddie Murphy was clearly a Black story, but was directed by Bill Condon. Condon also wrote the screenplay for this version of the film. Condon's other credits include Chicago (the movie) and the Twilight movies. So, he's not exactly plugged into the world of Black people, but he obviously knows a good musical when he sees one.

Okay, Meltingpot readers. What have I missed? Clearly this is just the tip of the iceberg, but what films would you have included? I also thought about movies like Gone With the Wind, The Imitation of Life or even Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? Not exactly Black stories, but you kind of have to wonder how they would have been told differently had a Black person been behind the camera.

So what films would you add to my list?

I'm listening.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would like to add 'Hotel Rwanda' to the list of 'White people telling African stories'. I thought 'Hotel Rwanda' was a very moving drama and it was well told. I am, however, curious to know what Hutus/Tutsis (Rwandans) thought about the movie.

P.S.: I agree with leaving 'Beloved' off the big screen.