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Has anyone been following the Pioneers of African-American Cinema?


rosebette
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I've been watching a few of these films and find them a mixed bag.   Because of the budgetary limitations and the frequent use of non-professional actors, some of the sound features, especially by Oscar Micheaux, come across as amateurish and stilted.  However, many of them raised issues that as a white American I had never thought about -- such as class distinctions and even some racial prejudice based on skin lightness within the black community.  The silent films are actually more powerful (the lynching and near-rape in Within the Gates is quite harrowing),  and I thought Spencer Williams' work (The Blood of Jesus and Dirty Gertie) to be very interesting.  I really appreciated the historian who was commenting on these films.

 

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I've watched a good number of them, I had seen a few of the Micheaux films and welcomed seeing them again. The Spencer Williams films were new to me and I was with them up until around midnight. This is the kind of thing that I enjoy seeing, and it's great to see it spotlighted and celebrated so well.

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Spencer Williams was a talented and versatile performer. The films were varied in content but did show promise even with meagre budgets. Enjoyed all the ones shown mostly in a historical and race film context.

Does this mean the films do not have much entertainment value-- if the main aspect of showing them is to regard them as historical or race-based documents?

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Dirty Gertie is of course a retelling of Somerset Maugham's "Rain" (and of the Joan Crawford movie), except with the ending changed presumably because black audiences had even more reverence for their clergy than white audiences would have had.

 

I mentioned in the "I Just Watched" thread that I saw Abar: Black Superman recently, and one of the interesting things Abar does as with his superhuman powers is to have a black reverend step into his Caddy after the service, and have the Caddy change into a horse and buggy, which is certainly an interesting commentary on the clergy.

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Didn't mean to imply that & they were entertaining sorry

Thanks for clarifying. I just was wondering what you meant in the earlier post. 

 

Sometimes these films are trotted out and the race part of it is over-emphasized. And that's not why these pictures were made in the first place. They were made to entertain a specific audience who paid to see them. The fact they are being used now to make a statement about a group of people decades later when it is politically correct to do so-- that whole concept would never have crossed the minds of the filmmakers and the original audiences.

 

It's like if I made a film today in 2016 and some of the actors had warts on their fingers-- then 80 years from now the movie was being shown on a cable channel to talk about the significance of performers with warts, when that was not at all the original intention of making it. I would turn over in my grave if my film was used as part of a special series called The Pioneers of Wart Cinema. (This is just an analogy; I am not saying a certain race or culture is the same as having warts-- I wanted to use a silly example to illustrate the point that films can come to represent something years later that may be far removed from the purpose of making the picture in the first place.)

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Sometimes these films are trotted out and the race part of it is over-emphasized. And that's not why these pictures were made in the first place. They were made to entertain a specific audience who paid to see them. The fact they are being used now to make a statement about a group of people decades later when it is politically correct to do so-- that whole concept would never have crossed the minds of the filmmakers and the original audiences.

 

Actually, race was a prime factor in those films when they were made, as they were made by black filmmakers for a black audience. 

 

And I can't agree with the notion that a series looking at the history and contributions of black filmmakers is somehow political correctness, and not simply film history. The same with women in film, the look at German films, LGBT filmmakers and/or films, or any of the other spotlights that are a part of what TCM is all about. It's all film history and culture, and choosing to concentrate on particular subjects is not political correctness. 

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Actually, race was a prime factor in those films when they were made, as they were made by black filmmakers for a black audience. 

 

And I can't agree with the notion that a series looking at the history and contributions of black filmmakers is somehow political correctness, and not simply film history. The same with women in film, the look at German films, LGBT filmmakers and/or films, or any of the other spotlights that are a part of what TCM is all about. It's all film history and culture, and choosing to concentrate on particular subjects is not political correctness. 

Your first sentence Larry implies they were reverse-discriminatory, and that whites didn't (or couldn't) watch them. These films were made to reach a specific audience (and not necessarily one that was all-black). If there had been mulattos living in Harlem, they would have seen the films too-- meaning a portion of the audience had to be part white. I think the films were made to reach an audience that shared similar economic and cultural experiences-- not exactly the same racial experiences. 

 

Also it's too easy for today's presenters to use history as the excuse to push an agenda of enlightening today's audiences about race. That has become so cliched. I would hate for people to look at Denzel Washington movies 100 years from now and only focus on his blackness instead of on his talent as an actor. We need to get away from over-emphasizing race and skin color in these presentations. TCM is perpetuating the problem; the road to you-know-where is paved with programmers' intentions that seem good but really are counter-productive to society as a whole.

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Your first sentence Larry implies they were reverse-discriminatory, and that whites didn't (or couldn't) watch them. These films were made to reach a specific audience (and not necessarily one that was all-black). If there had been mulattos living in Harlem, they would have seen the films too-- meaning a portion of the audience had to be part white. I think the films were made to reach an audience that shared similar economic and cultural experiences-- not exactly the same racial experiences. 

 

Also it's too easy for today's presenters to use history as the excuse to push an agenda of enlightening today's audiences about race. That has become so cliched. I would hate for people to look at Denzel Washington movies 100 years from now and only focus on his blackness instead of on his talent as an actor. We need to get away from over-emphasizing race and skin color in these presentations. TCM is perpetuating the problem; the road to you-know-where is paved with programmers' intentions that seem good but really are counter-productive to society as a whole.

 

"Race films", and they were called "race films", were made for a black audience, to play in black theaters, for a black audience. That was the way things were then, pretty or not. These films were not made with a white audience in mind, because a white audience would likely never see it. As far as "mulattos", depending on pigmentation, they would most likely self-identify with the black audiences, and would attend black theaters. But that's a whole can of worms that would make its own thread in the off-topics.

 

As to your second part: are you saying all of the "Spotlight" programming that deals with gender, race, sexuality, whatever, is politically motivated and should be discontinued? 

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As to your second part: are you saying all of the "Spotlight" programming that deals with gender, race, sexuality, whatever, is politically motivated and should be discontinued? 

I seriously believe TCM needs to rethink this type of programming. In my opinion, some of it seems to be a step backward. Obviously we're caught in an age of increased do-gooder liberalism-- and the result is programming that means well-- but is ultimately unsophisticated, predictable and cliched. How many times are they going to repackage these little programs on race? It's like using Sidney Poitier to represent Martin Luther King every third Monday in January. I sincerely feel the TCM programmers are limited by how they define race, particularly the black race, and this spills over on to the audience that buys into it and congratulates them on so-called progressivism. 

 

In a way, they're just promoting increased racial hypersensitivity, which I consider a form of internalized racism. And I thought they wanted to abolish those kinds of barriers and make it more about the evenness and equality of all subjects on film. Their programming is not doing that at all. It's continuing to emphasize the differences instead of the commonalities. 

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TopBilled--Look at the KinoLorber (KL) restorations publicity.  They are doing screenings in major cities like Los Angeles, Seattle, etc.  There's always YouTube for those who are aware these films exist, and want to see them for "free".  There is mention of the KL restorations on historiansdotorg, the KL website, and a few other websites.  But TCM seems to be the major mainstream path to get the word out that these films exist, and are available to view.

 

I would hate to think films had been forgotten 100 years after they were made.

 

In my view, they're trying to preserve film history: an admirable goal.  JMO.

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I seriously believe TCM needs to rethink this type of programming. In my opinion, some of it seems to be a step backward. Obviously we're caught in an age of increased do-gooder liberalism-- and the result is programming that means well-- but is ultimately unsophisticated, predictable and cliched. How many times are they going to repackage these little programs on race? It's like using Sidney Poitier to represent Martin Luther King every third Monday in January. I sincerely feel the TCM programmers are limited by how they define race, particularly the black race, and this spills over on to the audience that buys into it and congratulates them on so-called progressivism. 

 

In a way, they're just promoting increased racial hypersensitivity, which I consider a form of internalized racism. And I thought they wanted to abolish those kinds of barriers and make it more about the evenness and equality of all subjects on film. Their programming is not doing that at all. It's continuing to emphasize the differences instead of the commonalities. 

I totally disagree.  I feel that these films are an important part of history.  Most people believe that the only depictions of African Americans in the early and even classic film era are those that exist in films made by white filmmakers.   That films by African-American directors exist, however poorly produced, gives those filmmakers a voice to present what were the important issues of the day for the black audience.  This is not a "step backward"; it's a step forward.  Believing that "Birth of a Nation" is the only silent depiction of black life in the South is the real step backwards.

 

By the way, for the person who commented on "Dirty Gertie," that story was actually a conflation of Sadie Thompson and Carmen Jones.  The scene with the fortune teller (the director Williams in drag!) and Gertie's death at the hands of her lover are from Carmen.  I found it was an effective interweaving of the two stories.   

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I seriously believe TCM needs to rethink this type of programming. In my opinion, some of it seems to be a step backward. Obviously we're caught in an age of increased do-gooder liberalism-- and the result is programming that means well-- but is ultimately unsophisticated, predictable and cliched. How many times are they going to repackage these little programs on race? It's like using Sidney Poitier to represent Martin Luther King every third Monday in January. I sincerely feel the TCM programmers are limited by how they define race, particularly the black race, and this spills over on to the audience that buys into it and congratulates them on so-called progressivism. 

 

In a way, they're just promoting increased racial hypersensitivity, which I consider a form of internalized racism. And I thought they wanted to abolish those kinds of barriers and make it more about the evenness and equality of all subjects on film. Their programming is not doing that at all. It's continuing to emphasize the differences instead of the commonalities. 

 

These aren't "repackaged" films, but freshly restored, never-before-seen works that were funded by Kickstarter just last year (and it only yielded $53k, which was money well spent for restoring so many films).  These restorations weren't done to annoy you.  They were done to SAVE FILMS.  Whatever political views you have, we should ALL support film restoration.  I support these films as much as I support the restoration of "Birth of a Nation", which TCM does show frequently.  Whatever "liberal slant" you seem to perceive, it should be clear to any long-time TCM viewers that TCM shows all kinds of films.  Recently, it aired a decidedly "conservative slant" festival of films previously condemned by the Catholic church, and it even had a Catholic nun introducing them.

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