Perspectives on race and film from some of today’s intellectuals

“Race has always been one of the great subjects of film, of course. The beginning of movies as we have come to know them was 1915’s The Birth of a Nation, a sentimental celebration of the origin of the Ku Klux Klan. The white perspective on the history of slavery, in classics like Gone with the Wind, focused exclusively on the gallantry, the idealism, and the romance supported by brute slave labor. It took the civil-rights movement to provide an African-American counter-narrative — most famously Roots, which revealed the barbaric cruelty underlying all that charm.”

-Esquire’s Stephen Marche in “How Did Racism Get So Popular

“…I think the mainstream success of ’12 Years A Slave’ lies in the simple fact that once again, we have been provided with a work of art which does not challenge the dark heart of American racism, but simply reconfirms a moral that we all knew: slavery is a very bad thing…My criticism is not focused towards the Director nor the Writer of this movie, nor towards the obvious fact that they are working from historically accurate material. My criticism, or rather, my disappointment in this fact stems from their understanding – their correct understanding – of the racial politics and dynamics of American society which are reflected in the tastes of the commercial, predominantly white, movie-going audience today.”

-Ruth Fowler’s “The Way Hollywood Frames Slavery

“…How do we contend with the legacies of slavery in our daily life? Where do we locate ourselves in relation to images of racial injustice and violence? Is the pathology of white racism invisible to those infected?”

-Roya Rastegar’s “12 Years a Slave Reframed: A Narrative of White Racist Pathology

… “Every 10 years, I’ve read the same articles. I remember reading them one year, when Denzel won for ‘Training Day,’ Halle Berry won for ‘Monster’s Ball,’ and Sidney Poitier won an honorary award. And then what happened?

We’ve been getting these new black cinema waves every 10 years or so since 1986, when I had ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ and Robert Townsend had ‘Hollywood Shuffle.’ For me, I just wish it was consistent, and not this feast or famine thing that’s been going on.”

-Spike Lee on black cinema in The New York Times

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