Black Urban History

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Black Urban History

Black Urban History


The intial cinematic silent period is important when discussing stereotypes and roles of black characters in film. The reason is that the five basic stereotypes (Toms, Mulattoes, Mammies, Bucks and Coons) which would from then on dominate the African-Americans on screen, were introduced at that time. The first black American character was portrayed on screen in the short motion picture 'Uncle Toms Cabin' by Edwin S Porter in 1903. Ironically and most likely due to the racial tensions of that time, the actor portraying the black man on screen was actually an unnamed white actor using make up to give himself a black face. As societies changed and time moved on African Americans were finally given the change to play the parts of black characters in film. This paper discusses the representation of black urban americans in Hollywood Movies.


In studying and understanding the politics and artistic ideologies of film not in the popular "Hollywood" tradition, films of different cultures must be examined to explore the political and social history of the struggles for cultural identity. The film becomes a means of consciousness raising and of creating political awareness. Films of revolution and social change cross all cultural boundaries and bring to the screen revolutionary movements in developing and underdeveloped countries.

The power of film is such that it not only reflects society in its own image; they can cause society to create itself in the image of the films. This, unfortunately, has proved to be a battle for black men and women as they have been depicted in a far from flattering view since the beginning of the medium. African Americans have been forced to endure constant racism and discrimination projected at them through movies since the technology was created. Through the determination of many intelligent filmmakers, African Americans have been able to create a depiction of their culture as they see fit; and in the process, creating anti-racial films committed to social change.

At times, the screen has predicated against progress by fixing certain concepts and stereotypes in the public mind and artificially reinforcing the notion of their continuing usefulness. The victims of these stereotypes were mainly African-American. Blacks were, for the most part, misrepresented subjects to be exploited by the medium of film since it was created; the most popular example being, D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation (1915). Although hailed as the most successful and artistically advanced film of its time, it ignited race riots and it directly influenced the 20th century reemergence of the Klan. Birth of a Nation locked misconceptions about race into a technologically innovative movie that gripped viewers with its new ability to convey the full flavour of events and feelings. The Birth of a Race (1918), two years in the making and perhaps three hours in length, began as a response to Griffith's film. But its succession of producers and backers lost touch with the original concept.

Of all African American filmmakers of the era, Oscar Micheaux dominated ...
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