From writer-director, Vaun Monroe and cultural critic, Lee Bey, I bring you the first installment of Reel Soul. I had the pleasure of participating alongside Mr. Monroe and Mr. Bey in last year’s Black Perspectives Panel hosted by The Chicago Int’l Film festival. The event opened my eyes to many things, including the need for more in depth conversations on film literacy and how we as artists and aficionados best serve that need (and want) through seeking out, consuming and applying what we learn of the business side and technical artistry of the industry.
Well, I guess this is where I stop writing, and pass the mic to Mr. Monroe. I hope you enjoy the webisode and let us know what you think, could you see this as a regular feature at S&A?
If you are a Black person who loves cinema, you sometimes find yourself in a vexing dilemma. Breakthroughs in technology have placed the tools of cinema, once prohibitively expensive, in the hands of the populace, democratizing the filmmaking process like no other time in cinematic history. Yet far too often we find the same old stories featuring the stereotypes outlined in Donald Bogle’s seminal book on Black film: “Toms, Mulattoes, Mammies, Bucks and Coons”…except now they are more often told by people who look like us and told poorly to boot.
No other art form approaches film’s power to communicate. Film’s multi-sensual output and capacity to move freely through both space and time allows great cinema to fuse select moments into irresistible epiphanies that even history may have failed to illuminate. Film gives the modern day storyteller unprecedented advantages over predecessors.
However, in the 100+ years of American cinema filmmakers have most often used the power of cinema to manufacture images of Black people (i.e. Africans and African-Americans) for various and often sundry, ideological purposes. Indeed, the very first cinematic blockbuster was Birth of A Nation (1915), a film that firmly established the derogatory cinematic grammar and syntax for Hollywood’s subsequent representation of Black people.
Obscene sums of money and industry accolades are still to be made from the perpetuation of those stereotypes. Yet there has always been a concerted effort by filmmakers to create films that get beneath superficial, vulgar and inaccurate images to render an authentic view of the Black community.
In that spirit, I created the show “Reel Soul” to talk about Black film and television. The purpose of the show is twofold:
1. To bring to your attention Black film and television that is worthy of your time and
2. To identify excellent Black film and television and make a case for its excellence.
We will examine Black film and television (the texts) from an interdisciplinary standpoint, analyzing the films as cultural artifacts and cinematic texts with the idea of accomplishing two primary objectives:
1. To demonstrate the importance of film and television as a major socializing force in the United States; demonstrate an awareness of how film helps to shape public perceptions of Black people; demonstrate a knowledge of the history of the African-American presence in American film; and promote understanding of the genesis, growth and continuing portrayal of stereotypical images of African-Americans in the visual media; and
2. Demonstrate how to analyze a film as a text; delineate the overt and covert codings of a film; understand a film’s content and message(s) in its historical and cultural context.
These are condensed goals from a class I teach to my college students in media literacy. The Center for Media Literacy defines it as:
“Media Literacy is a 21st century approach to education. It provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with messages in a variety of forms — from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy.”
Lofty ? Perhaps. But Black folks have a long history of paying dearly to learn how to read. All I’m asking is for you to watch my show, twelve minutes at a time. “Reel Soul” is organized by genre and hosted by me, a filmmaker and professor and Lee Bey, a journalist and cultural critic. I am pleased and honored by “Shadow and Act’s” interest in featuring my show, they are a serious and studious online presence for folks who want their Black Cinema with some intellectual heft and not afraid to break some eggs in pursuit of it.
The first episode centers on the Romantic Comedy and looks in depth at “Bustin Loose” and “For the Love of Ivy”, both available on Netflix and searchable at IMDB.com. We look forward to your comments, suggestions and participation.