News / Arts & Entertainment

    Hollywood Reflects on Race in Year of Black, Civil Rights Films

    Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower, left, and Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines in a scene from "Lee Daniels' The Butler," undated film image released by The Weinstein Company.
    Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower, left, and Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines in a scene from "Lee Daniels' The Butler," undated film image released by The Weinstein Company.
    Reuters
    Race in America has been a hot topic of debate this summer and Hollywood, as if on cue, has muscled its way into the conversation.
     
    This year is shaping up to be a big one in film for African American, black and civil rights themes, offering audiences different lenses through which to consider the complex question of racial equality, both historically and in the present day.
     
    In 2011, Hollywood had "The Help," a story of the civil rights struggle among maids in 1960s Mississippi, and in 2012, director Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" produced a novel take on slavery. Both were nominated for best picture Oscars and did well at the box office.
     
    In 2013, there are half a dozen films to choose from, several from black directors. They include civil rights drama "Lee Daniels' The Butler," which has led the box office for the past two weekends, and Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave," the true story of a free man who is enslaved, which premieres in October.
     
    Already this year, audiences and critics alike have embraced "42" about Jackie Robinson, the first black to play Major League Baseball after 50 years of segregation, and "Fruitvale Station," the real-life story of Oscar Grant, a young unarmed black man killed by white police in Oakland four years ago.
     
    The slate also includes two biopics on South African anti-apartheid leaders: Nelson Mandela in "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," due for release in November, and "Winnie Mandela," his former wife, is out in September.
     
    Their release comes against the backdrop of the biggest discussion on race in the United States in years: the trial in the killing of unarmed African American teenager Trayvon Martin and President Barack Obama's explanation in highly personal terms of what it means to be a young black man in America have been the summer highlights.
     
    This week, the country celebrates the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.
     
    There's no easy explanation as to why Hollywood has upped its treatment of race in film and it's too early to say that black film is thriving, according to Todd Boyd, a professor who specializes in race and popular culture at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts.
     
    But he says it is not a stretch to link Hollywood's keen interest in these stories to the election of Obama in 2008.
     
    "The visibility of the nation's first African American president has made the issue of race visible throughout the culture and one of the places we are seeing that is in Hollywood," Boyd said.
     
    Another look at slavery
     
    McQueen started thinking about a slavery film four-and-a-half years ago and liked the idea of a free man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. His wife then found the autobiography of Solomon Northup, who was rounded up in 1841 and sent to Louisiana plantations for 12 years. He is played by British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor.
     
    For the British director who made the acclaimed sex addiction drama "Shame," the number of films with black subject matter shouldn't be seen as something extraordinary or even noteworthy. It just comes down to making good films.
     
    "This shouldn't be every once in a while. It should be every year that films of this nature are being made and I hope it continues to do so," he said.
     
    American cinema has had waves of successful black films and filmmakers, such as director Spike Lee and movies like "Boyz n the Hood" and "New Jack City" in the early 1990s.
     
    Henry Louis Gates Jr., an expert in African American studies at Harvard University who consulted on "12 Years a Slave," does see black filmmakers playing a crucial role in this wave.
     
    "They've been pushing for an opportunity to bring their ideas to the screen," Gates said.
     
    'Breaking the color line'
     
    The directors are finding backing from prominent blacks within the industry. They include media mogul Oprah Winfrey, who helped Daniels pull together "The Butler" and stars alongside Forest Whitaker as the wife of the White House butler who serves under seven U.S. presidents. It is her first film role in 15 years.
     
    Whitaker, in turn, is also the producer of "Fruitvale Station" from first-time director Ryan Coogler, a 27-year-old African American from Oakland. The privately-held Weinstein Company is distributing "The Butler," "Fruitvale" and "Mandela" and is expected to make a big promotional push for the films in the upcoming awards season.
     
    Winfrey, for one, said she doesn't think this year's films will play a role in the debate on race, but they will "allow people to see the broad spectrum and tapestry of humanity that is the African American experience."
     
    "You know how you break down the bars of racism? You let people see, 'Oh, you think and feel the same way I think and feel,'" she said.
     
    Hollywood, in Boyd's view, still needs to do more to bring more diversity to the film industry and to tackle the tougher subject matter of racism.
     
    "If you hear any skepticism coming from me, it is connected to something like '42,'" Boyd said. "People have long celebrated the breaking of the color line, they just don't want to talk about the color line. They want to talk about breaking it."

    You May Like

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora

    New in Music Alley

    Take It From The Top: Stanley Jordani
    || 0:00:00
    ...  
     
    X
    May 17, 2016 5:01 PM
    Jazz fusion artist, Stanley Jordan is known for his touch technique which allows him to play melodies and chords simultaneously. He can also play two different guitars or a guitar and piano at the same time.

    Jazz fusion artist, Stanley Jordan is known for his touch technique which allows him to play melodies and chords simultaneously.  He can also play two different guitars or a guitar and piano at the same time.