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Evolution Of African American Movies Film Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 2499 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In wanting a challenge, I choose a topic that I heard of, but wanted to do a lot more research and find key issues in how African Americans films evolved throughout stereotyped characters and racism. Have our society for decades in the filed of actors dealing with drama or comedy accepted racism, or was views from the white gaze pushed forth on to them even though it may depict a wrong image of African Americans? Wanting to distinguish the facts in how they were able to overcome a time period between the 1920s through the 1960s . Through those times it went from stereotyped and depicted characters, to womanism and the inclusion of the say so of the actors women , especially African American women wanted to take with their career. Also, from my sources I tied in how at points they are were on the track of how the films equality with black actors during that era was far to little. They each through the readings depicted era in what African Americans may had to go through just to get on a film, or not be black listed. Racism in American films dealing with African American has been a topic of discussion for a long time in the view of the fact that the viewers, directors, and society had a hold on characters they wanted to see in films. It occurred through the earlier years of film even until now. Most surprisingly, further studies indicate that despite the fact that racial depictions do get showed or used with actors in films, like the blacks they are less than a quarter of the total workers who was on set for movies so there say so on issues was little to none. African American actors comprise around 32 percent of the total films in recent in which in earlier films they only rounded up to 15 percent. Therefore, it is clear that racism and racial inequality has not been worked out but has taken a different form. With that background in mind, this paper shall discuss more about the same problem and narrow down to root causes, history and explore the reason why it takes place as well as its impacts and consequences. Showing of the various characters used, white gaze, and being black listed.

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Factors Contributing to Racism in Prison

There are many factors that contribute to minority actors being depicted and seen as in only one way. African American with each era was used for varies reasons in film, but overall for amusement. With the actors in most cases; the same contribute to racism in the free society. For instance, superiority complex contributes to racism not only in films or in the media but also in the free society The feeling of whites as the most superior race has persisted for a long time and the same is also present in films to this day. Since favoritism or racism is also a problem of the the film community actors, whites mainly are treated better than the other racial minorities especially if the director happens to be a white.

The nature of breaking through in to the film industry is hard on a black males, and even harder for a black females. If not meeting what the director wants them to do or say, they could be black listed. Being black listed comes with the price of African Americans actors being put out of work and no rights to any jobs they may get. There are many types of characters African Americans got depicted as in a formed by white to what they characterized them as and saw them in a daily setting. Not saying that it is what African Americans were, but to the white gaze they saw black males as being slow, angry, lazy, and hard to grasp situations. The white Gaze as Bogle went in detail on is a depiction in what whites in the industry though was best, and characterized any black actor as in films they way they wanted to. Race was a heavy factor during the earlier times with jobs being open for other races other than whites. Hooks talked about how racism was so bad they would make white actors face black, just so they would not have to use a black actor in their film. Therefore, it is clear that the existence of various racism and ways they used it in getting their point across an important factor attributing to racism.

It is amazing but also true that not only was society then was races, but also stereotyped in many ways. African American started to use it to their advantage in knowing what they wanted to see on film and delivered. By doing do so they were names called things such ass Uncle Tom, trade, and a tragic mulatto. A tragic mulatto who was told by Andi Zeisler is the closest a African American may get to being white without the skin. Usually it’s a lack female who is light in color, speaks properly, and can be versatile with role she may play.. Such grouping caused a stir up between both races because the tragic mulatto would never know where she belonged and may sometime go in to a depressed filled. At times, from the readings and studies I looked in to. You was able to see how African Americans actors slowly evolved from stereotypical depictions that people perceive them as to understanding that was their means of staying relevant in films and having work, but some quicker than others realized

The Root Cause of the White Gaze in America

Over a period there has been laws made to make options for African Americans equal in getting jobs as well as the same equality. AS Donald Bogle, Andi Zeisler, Bell Hook, and Spike lee all did, they took a depiction from and went deeper with it to examine its cause. Immediately after the black listing died down, black actors continued to be judged because their refusal on certain work, insulting the workers and even handling them ass the was not a equal. Early showing of comedy and shows dealt with putting African Americans in stereotyped roles that they felt they belong in saw them as. As he stated “In the film the portrayed plantation workers, but without being aware of it they came across as a group of black folk culture” (27). Many African Americans actors during that time was scared to be vocal as he showed in his book and did not want to dismissed from future roles. As to what some thought was just comedy, took a role far greater than that. It set not only African American backs, but its culture in a whole. Not only with the men, but with women they portrayed them as being out there sexually mad not caring for them self. He went in further more by saying

History of Racism in United States

With stereotyping and racism in United States has been in existence for a long a time; since the era of slave trade although blacks were rarely imprisoned as they were more valuable while working in the plantations. However, there were local jails and other facilities which used to control and limit the freedom of the blacks, In ways it seems as if they were trying to do the same in the film industry with trying to control the black actors in not letting them have no say so over what they do. A lot of comparisons can be made towards the slave era and the film industry between the 1920s through the 1960s. A couple that stands out is a lot of work with little pay with some of you top African American actors during that time still at points may not having enough money to feed their family. The number of the black actors in film whether actors, actresses, or directors increased following the end of the civil rights era. After this era you started to see a new wave come across the screen One that all of my resources agreed upon was the womanism era and as well as the blaxoploitation era. Starting with womanism, it gave more empowerment to women especially African American. Who was cast as the same role or would receive nothing. White actors and the directors would always treat the prettiest one different or want to put them in a house siting doing labor. With the womanism era, that all slowly change as doors opened and women was able to choose roles, be leading stars, and and be in independent leadership roles on the screen. It was a huge push, because not only it was for all women , but it was the first of its stature to do such for African American women. You started to see roles like the mammy, tragic mulatto, bucks, and uncle tom figures start to fade away as new energy came forth. Leading after the civil rights era While the whites were allowed to be clerks, electrician and other good jobs, black prisoners were given the lowest jobs like garbage disposal, working in the farms and washing clothes.  Moreover, blacks were segregated in all other places dealing with film life.  For example, they were supposed to live in their known separate rooms and the same segregation  existed even recreation facilities such that black actors used to stay at the back while the white actors was treated as royalty occupied the from seats. Nevertheless, civil rights movements which were upcoming during the same era has films started to get more recognition influenced the actors to contest gains racial discrimination which was taking place. Consequently, there was lot of violence going on the outside of the world as African American were trying to change the roles and faces of the film industry. On the other hand, black actors were not ready to take anything less than equal rights and abolishment of discrimination (Acoli par. 8).  Although there was some improvement, film racism or stereotypical thoughts was not abolished completely since the same problem is still present even in the twenty first century.

 The Nature and the Effects of Prison Racism

 United States has the highest number of people in the media still to this day who may work in fields such as, movies, directors, journalism and more. The most amazing issue is the fact that majority are racial minorities.  The problem is evident in the whole process of the stereotypical system starting from the trying to downgrade an actors worth. Of all other African Americans taking the role as Bell Hooks touched on to preserve the African American culture were actors such as Sidney Portier who crossed boundaries doing movies with others races and being accepted and not settling for lower than his worth. Also others who need recognition during that time as well were Jim Brown , Dorothy Dandridge, and Lena Horne. Similarly, African Americans women were basically treated like they were imprisoned in in the earlier years of film until they evolved with womanism and are now above or equal to there peers. In addition, African Americans received a harsher time trying to get on scenes do to the fact they had to work extremely harder than the next actor or actresses.

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The problem of the racism is African Americans faced in films as well as in America starts even before any movie or entertainment has been made. For example people, of color are targeted and was depicted by whites for any such matter back then. In the transport sector, blacks and other racial minorities are more likely to be stopped and searched by the police more than the whites. Apart from being the target, people of color are also arrested at higher rates than the whites even though they commit the same offenses. All showing examples of how African Americans in any aspect with not just films may be targeted and be put out of character. For instance as Spike Lee really hit me with his thought on this topic, a director would like to make the best movie possible. In order to make the best film you should be willing to get the best person from that job. In most cases that never happen, because of the stereotypical views that was placed back then that African were not equipped to handle such powerful roles. A shame that it was thought, butt was the truth in how some may of acted. In looking in to reading, a pattern by myself was starting to get noticed in how some white actors may just rise to the top, as black actors in their case always would have to start from the bottom playing in some of the most degrading roles just to get in the door of the film industry. Similarly, the same case also applies to Hispanics and other racial minorities during that time as well.  Some of the new laws present in the media form system are also an indicator of how racism is propagated.  For example, while focusing on actors right laws, a person is lawfully given the right to have a fair and equal opportunity in the job filed in this instance in the film industry, but is not always done. As well with the overcoming of the civil rights era you started to see a new wave of not just actors, but people now behind the cameras changing color. It was showing the power of overcoming and proving doubters wrong that the depictions made were false. The main point of interest is based on the fact that African American actors were mostly used by the whites while they were branded into the white gaze as they were seen as in their eyes. Like Zeisler speaks on about, the resilience both male and female of a African descent did not just settled but push to not only be the best actor/actress of their race but overall too.

Effects of Racism in Film Society

The impact of racism in films cannot be underestimated at any given time. There are many consequences but the financial cost stands out. As highlighted in throughout, racism and stereotyping a cast or group of members of a race leads to losing out on great talent, and showing of how some may be very small minded and not wanting to leave their comfort zone to give someone outside of their race an opportunity to prove them self.


Racism and stereotypical views is as real as it is in the free society. It is characterized by segregation, discrimination and small mindedness to name just a few. In addition, racial minorities are disproportionally represented in most films still do this day, but on a positive not have come along ways since the times of being called mammy, bucks,brute, tragic mulatto, or Uncle Toms. While there may be many causes of the same, white superiority contributes greatly to this film discrimination that occurred. However, the root cause of the problem can be traced back in the nineteenth century after the abolishment of slave trade. Therefore, the problem has existed for over a hundred years and recent statistics indicate that it is still paramount. The lack of respect the white may have had for the African Americans was small to none, and that why the depictions of them were so ruthless feelings the white superiority was head and shoulders over everyone. In the view of the fact that there are many negative impacts related to the outcome of this situation, the concerned parties and leaders in the film world such as actors/actresses, directors as well as others in the media should find the root cause of the problem to be able to come up with lasting solutions, so equality for both sides of the race may be shown on films and not in a discriminating depiction of one’s culture or heritage.


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