When I was younger my parents didn’t allow my sister or myself to watch television during the week. They were very education-minded and wanted us to find joy in books and explorations instead of focusing our energies on screens. Don’t get me wrong, film and television were still very prominent in my house. Some of my most vivid childhood memories are Friday evenings with my dad and sister renting videos from Hollywood Video store and pizza from Pizza Hut. On Friday my sister and I sat down in front of the PBS afterschool shows and then the TGIF line up on The WB(we never had cable in our house). We ended our evening with whatever video we had rented. Though we subjected our poor parents to every Mary Kate and Ashley film that was ever made, it was our father, a Nigerian immigrant who introduced us to the classics. Through him, we were introduced to films like The Sound of Music, It’s A Wonderful Life, Sense and Sensibility and so forth. In return, we got him hooked on Harry Potter (both the books and the films).
As I got older I began seeking out images for myself. UPN was still on at the time and there were always reruns of The Cosby Show and A Different World. Not to mention more contemporary shows like Moesha, One on One, Family Matters,Martin (the list goes on in on). During the day on Saturdays, many networks played films like What’s Love Got To Do With It, The Color Purple, Sounder, and so forth. It was on these Saturday afternoons in the TV room in my childhood home, that I got introduced to Black Cinema. It was these images that I repeatedly retuned to time and time again. By the time I got to high school the ban on weekday television was lifted. I got my own room and my own TV set and I somehow convinced my mother to add me to her video rentals card. I became obsessed with the Black image onscreen. Already a history nerd I sought out older films like Imitation of Life and I hid rentals I wasn’t suppose to have like Monster’s Balland Menace II Society. (In my house unless you were thirteen you weren’t watching a PG-13 film). There was something comforting, something that felt like home for me when I saw these brown faces onscreen.
When it was time to go to college, I knew that I had to continue studying film. At the time, and perhaps even now, I realized that I didn’t have the balls to try and make it as a Black female director or even a screenwriter. (Ava Duvernay , Kasi Lemmons Dee Rees, Issa Rae, Shonda Rhimes and so many other wonderful women are saying everything I could have much more than I would have.) Instead, I chose to keep consuming, to keep studying and to keep writing about what I loved so much. During my undergrad I was lucky enough to study under some of the top Black Cinema Scholars of all time. Ed Gurerro and Manthia Diawara to name a couple.
Still upon my undergrad graduation and, making my decision to continue on with my education there wasn’t much Black Cinema being produced that reached a wide audience. (Aside from what was coming out of Tyler Perry studios.) This year, everything seems to be changing. It seems that we in a magical period that we haven’t been in since 1990’s (The Black New Wave). This year I was able to get on this pre-screening list. I’ve gotten the opportunity to and attend a ton of screenings and Q&A’s. I’ve seen 12 Years A Slave
(I saw it twice), The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete
, Fruitvale Station
, American Promise
, Mandela: Long Road to Freedom
, Mother of George
, Best Man Holiday
and these are just films from the Black Diaspora. This doesn’t even begin to cover what’s happening on television.
Every week like many other Black Americans I turn in to see Kerry Washington on Scandal
but there is also, Sleepy Hallow
, Almost Human
, Being Mary Jane
, New Girl
(Damon Wayans Jr is back) and let’s not forget the tale end of the mini series Many Rivers to Cross: The African American Experience 1500-2013
on PBS. There is so much more out there that I don’t have time to mention and much more that is coming. Shadow & Act
will keep you updated.
When I talk about my excitement to my contemporaries, some don’t understand my excitement or why I’m so enthusiastic. It’s the history component that I think they are missing completely. Black people have been hopelessly scarred and traumatized by racism. Invisibility only adds to that trauma. In the past years the sheer absence of people of color onscreen has undoubtedly had a detrimental effect not just on young people (those who completely missed the Black New Wave of the 1990’s) but people of color in general. I’m an avid believer self-image can be directly correlated to how the mainstream media portrays you. Invisibility is detrimental. Black Cinema/ Media and Television is so important it helps reaffirm our existence as a people. I’m no longer making claims for ideal Black figures (Cosbyesque) but instead for a variety.
With that being said, I f*ckin thrilled about the The Best Man Holidayand its success and well as the success of the other films and shows that are coming as well I watched the original Best Manthis morning and I laughed and smiled like I was seeing it for the first time. The sequel was EVERYTHING!!!!! (LIKE FOR REAL IT WAS AMAZE). I laughed, I cried. The dialogue was spot on, the acting was amazing and the two films fit beautifully together. It just worked perfectly. And let me just take a moment to pause and say thank the Lord for LANCE SULLIVAN (Morris Chestnut)…Jesus what a MAN!
Hollywood has said and will probably say in the future that the reason they don’t like to make Black films is because they don’t make money. (A “regular” film must make back what it spent 3:1, to be deemed successful and Black films must make 5:1) Black films don’t really sale overseas, so its pretty much always a gamble. Honestly though that’s just an excuse. If Hollywood can find the money to make trash films about teenage vampires in academies then they can find the money to make stories about Black American Life. But why should we be so depended upon the studio system? Its up to us to tell our own stories, and to keep showing up for those who have been so gracious and selfless to share their talents with us. (Coming up was have, About Last Night, Black Nativity, Ride Along,) When I went to see to see The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & PeteI asked director George Tillman Jr. (Soul Food, Notorious) about this renaissance in Black Cinema. He said, that for some reason right now people are paying attention to Black Cinema in a way that they haven’t been since the 1990’s. The platform is there, its up to us to stand up on it.
xoxoxo Chocolate Girl in the City xoxoxoxo
PS. I hope to be back more regularly soon peeps. I’m finishing my Master’s thesis on Black Girlhood & Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Film