During my last podcast recording, I requested listener input on how each of you chooses to define "black cinema," or whether a definition was at all necessary, especially at this juncture.
Since then, I've received a few email responses, and I hope those of you who haven't done so will share your thoughts on the matter - whether on this blog, on my podcast, or via email (email@example.com).
I believe in the importance of having this discussion, and want to engage as many of you as possible. Reaching a solution isn't my goal, because I don't think we will ever get to true a consensus on the issue. The journey taken as we deconstruct the classification is of more value.
Starting today, I will share some of the responses I've received since posing the question on my podcast (minus the names of the senders, of course... unless they say otherwise).
Here's the first of many (share your thoughts below):
In response to your question on "Black Cinema"
The subject matter of the label "black cinema" and "black film makers" and whether these labels/definitions continue to be relevant in the 21st century. The other question posed was, does the concept of "blackness" or "what is black", also need be defined/redefined. Overall the concept of "blackness" itself seemed to be in question within the posed questions for future discussions.
I understand your angst over these subjects – but the truth of the matter is no people can escape their own history, nor can they reconstruct the consequential events created by that history. That however does not negate the desire to remove these historical "shackles" so that we can get on with simply being human beings. However, within the context of the cinematic milieu, if one is to create a cinema based upon one's own physiological construct, the ultimate question is can one escape from oneself.
Black people did not invent themselves as "black" with all its raging unrelenting connotations, historically or currently. Nor did black people create black cinema, or "race pictures", or "colored pictures", or "jungle music". Nevertheless, these concepts have stuck similar to the way the concept "nigger" has stuck. Put another way, in order to change poison to medicine, one must become an alchemist. Like taking chitterlings and making them into a delicious delicacy. It all boils down to how you present it.
Your question(s) feels like they are coming from someone carrying a heavy burden. I mean, for example does this conversation also apply to the "Japanese cinema", or the "Indian Cinema", or the "Italian Cinema". And if not, why not? While I understand the "burden" (if that is an appropriate description) of re-defining what "black cinema" or "African American Cinema", or "African Cinema", or even "American Cinema", what all these turns mean within the body politic of cinema overall. The power of the cinematic image and its influence on the human physic cannot be denied or underestimated in it's various agendas, both historically and currently. For example, the fact that no black male hero film has ever received an academy award, speaks volumes to this discussion of blacks in American cinema. While both, "Malcolm X", and"Ali" received nominations, neither was awarded. However, subsequent awards were given to Washington for portraying lesser characters.
Again, while this topic of the relevancy of the term "black", including the first "black" president of the United States, all have a direct link to the history of a country and a people. These realities are undeniable. How this generation of black filmmakers struggle with these realities remains to be seen. However, I encourage each one to endeavor to discover the power in the word "black" rather than to feel limited by it. While I understood Gordon's (Parks) position on black filmmakers being able to make films about Russians, and whomever else. However the old philosophy that insists that the best stories are those told from one's own experiences, still rings true. That does deny the universality of the human experience; nevertheless it is the authentic spirit that shines through a story told from the authentic self. That self is truly the thing in question here is it note, the question you've pose concerning the relevance of the term "black cinema".
There was a time when black people could not even feel good about having their photographs taken because of their retched life conditions. And than along came James Van Derzee, a "black photographer" whose photographs redefined who black people were. He found the beauty and the power in the black image.
I challenge young aspiring African American filmmakers to not only embrace being black, and begin to redefine what black cinema is. I challenge them to make incredible films about their life experiences, and about the world from their points of view. I challenge them be audacious enough to say that being black is still relevant in the 21st century, and to not succumb to illusion of being something other than who they are. They are Africans in America, and until the world rids itself of the atrocities of in humanity towards "colored people', or is "people of color", or "people of non-color", which ever physiological spin fits the current vogue, at the end of the day it is what it is.
Perhaps your next quarry will be, 'how do we turn make black cinema the new cinema in America. Perhaps someone should ask the new black President that question. In case you haven't noticed, black is in, at least in the White House.
Thoughts? More to come later...