Wednesday, April 7, 2010

African American Cinema Celebration

You, dear reader, may recall that on MLK Day there was a film presentation in the Student Center regarding the use of African American stereotypes in American cinema. You may also recall that I thought it was rather sub-par. It seemed like a basic reiteration of Ethnic Notions, Marlon Riggs 1986 documentary about Black Face & minstrel Shows, w/ a few more recent examples. In response, my African American Lit class & I decided that we should have a bi-weekly viewing of something from the African American film cannon.

1) We started w/ Ethnic Notions in order to get a background of the history & imagery. It's pretty standard fare for college campuses, but it's really good & none of them had seen it.

2) Our next film was Bamboozled, Spike Lee's awesome lampooning of Hollywood & pop-culture. If you haven't seen it... do so! It's intense & at times hard to stomach, but it's absolutely fantastic.

3) Next up was Daughters of the Dust. I hadn't seen it since I was in grad school, & I'm really glad we picked it. I wanted something different from what they're used to, & I also wanted to expose them to part of American culture w/ which they are generally unfamiliar. It worked. It's a really cool film w/ a sort of Virginia Woolf feel to it: multiple perspectives, internal monologues, & a women's story told in such a way that undermines the traditional masculine narrative structures of contemporary films. See it if you haven't.

4) We chose to move on to something a bit more bad-ass... Sweet Sweetback's Baadassss Song. When Melvin van Peoples made this in 1970, it was rated X in an attempt to keep it out of the main-stream theaters. That didn't work, however, as it went on to be one of the highest grossing independent films of all time. Plus, it motivated Gordon Parks to make Shaft a Black character. Apparently, he was planning to do Shaft w/ a white guy. Can you imagine how different the world would be? The sexuality was a bit tough for a few of my students, but in general, they loved it... it's certainly dated though. It's slower than Star Trek: The Motion Picture. A better editor, cinematographer, & lighting crew might have helped... but also might have taken away from its cult status.

5) This week, by request, we watched Shackles, an interesting, though completely predictable little story about an out of work teacher who takes a job @ Shackleton Prison in New York & inspires the inmates w/ poetry. It was like Dead Poets Society in jail... even down to the fact that it starred a comedian who I've never seen do serious stuff prior to this film (D. L. Hughley. Although the story is pretty straight forward, the editing & split-screen stuff is really cool & works well, as does the inclusion of the poetry... from the reading of "Howl" to the street poet to the stuff @ the Slams, it's all done well.

6) Next week is the last week, & we'll be watching another documentary @ the request of the class. This time it will be Good Hair, in which Chris Rock interviews musicians, athletes & entertainers about the history & traditions of African American hair styles. People like Al Sharpton, Maya Angelou, Paul Mooney, Ice T, & KRS-1 get questioned & it sounds pretty cool. Feel free to join us on Monday night @ 7:00 in room 320 of the Halle Library... bring a snack & a beverage!

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