Race Traitors: White Filmmakers Who Make Black Films

Race Traitors: White Filmmakers Who Make Black Films

One of the hazards of provoking thought is that you can often provoke ignorance, just as when you give a less than glowing commentary upon the idols of sycophants (Spike Lee or Tyler Perry) you can often run the risk of being the target of abusive ad hominem criticism; that is, criticism that summarily dismisses your arguments and attempts to besmirch your personal character as a means of telling others: “Stay away from that guy, he’s crazy!”  For my part I have been called everything from a “Pied piper” leading Shadow & Act readers down a primrose path to their doom, to a delusional self-serving prick who must be receiving some kind of “bribe” to dare suggest that things may not be as they appear.  But these hazards and dangers one should willingly face if you have the courage and the passion to fight for that which you believe.

Last weekend (6/29-7/1) Tyler Perry’s MADEA’S WITNESS PROTECTION grossed 26.3 million dollars which was the,” 3rd highest opening for a Madea movie and the 4th highest opening for a Tyler Perry movie (he’s directed 12 movies).” (1)   In a previous article about the power and financial structure of the American Entertainment Complex I was taken to task by commentators for asserting that,” Without any major competition it is useless to complain about the quality or the content of Perry’s work, because at the end of the day the Hollywood studios have entered into a tacit agreement to “kill” any competing African-American filmmakers whose work might challenge the box office of their token.” (2)

The commentators stated matter-of-factly that everyone knows that the studios stagger the releases of movies with similar target audiences to protect and insure that each film makes a profit (for instance THE AVENGERS and THE DARK NIGHT RISES are not going to open on the same weekend).  But what these commentators fail to notice is that the overall effect of this innocuous business practice is that all films directed by African-Americans with a majority African-American cast are undifferentiated and treated as one singular genre which it is then assumed to only appeal to one singular Black “monolithic” audience by the Hollywood studios.   In short, the notion that Black films only play to the African-American domestic box office is discriminatory and prejudices foreign film distributors, producers, directors, writers, and actors from seeing a film made by an African-American beyond the context of race.  Hence, those African-American movie-goers (and movie-goers in general) who want to see something different than Tyler Perry’s work are discounted and/or reabsorbed into the box office grosses of other white majority cast films of other distinct genres as was the case with Seth MacFarlane’s 54 million dollar grossing R-rated comedy TED which opened on the same weekend as MADEA.

And yet last weekend Tyler Perry’s MADEA’S WITNESS PROTECTION did actually play against another majority African-American cast film: BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD which grossed $220,000.  Keeping in mind that BEASTS opened on just 4 screens nationwide,” averaging about $42,000 per screen,” this per-screen average was far ahead of Perry’s MADEA which opened at 2161 screens and averaged $11,749 per screen. (3)  If we look solely at the numbers, one can make several startling conclusions, one of which is that had BEASTS received a marketing budget and screen ratio comparable to MADEA it would have had an equal or larger box office gross than MADEA last weekend.  The potential success of BEASTS, in direct competition with MADEA, would have revealed that African-Americans and other racial audiences will support a majority cast African-American film in a different genre other than Tyler Perry’s work.  And let us remember that competition among artists is a good thing; it aides in allowing an artist to refine his or her work as opposed to simply resting on their laurels or their healthy bank account statements.  Competition, when fair, puts fire in the belly of any artist to do more than just make a product, instead they create at their personal best.  

Even if we consider the numbers as they are, the simultaneous openings of MADEA and BEASTS gives credence to my assertion that in spite of those who believe in Tyler Perry’s talents, his success,” within the cinema is a wholly manufactured product of Hollywood’s power and control over its audiences through its incontestable horizontal affiliation,” among film studios and theatre exhibitors. (4) In this case, between MADEA and BEASTS, a major contributing factor that allowed MADEA to make 26.3 million dollars and BEASTS only 220,000 dollars was the manipulation of screen ratios [2161 screens for MADEA, 4 for BEASTS].  The “tacit agreement” between films studios and theatre exhibitors concerning the allotment of screens during a film’s initial release (in general the more screens in major markets, the more box office revenue) is but one of the strategies deployed by the American Entertainment Complex to give the appearance of competition when in fact these studios, distributors, television networks and exhibitors are in collusion with each other to maximize their profits at the expense of our simplistic illusions about their business practices.

Although the success of BEASTS opening simultaneously with MADEA, albeit in select cities and on significantly fewer screens, does provide us with some compelling evidence that a film with a majority African-American cast of a different genre has the potential to compete and make a profit without diminishing Perry’s core audience, as the French say,” Il y a un os,” or there is a catch.  That catch is the very subject of this article.

The film BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD is a film with a majority African-American cast that was made by a white filmmaker of Jewish descent, Behn Zeitlin and co-written by a white woman, Lucy Alibar.(5)  The question begged here is does a film with a majority African-American cast but directed and/or written by whites still qualify as a “black” film?  If the answer is no, then we have a lot of great films to throw out of the canon of black cinema.  If the answer is yes, then we have to include and celebrate a great many more films that have been neglected, overlooked and ignored into the canon of black cinema.

In a detailed chapter in my book, Slave Cinema, I discuss White filmmakers who make Black films by defining them with the term, Race Traitors.  “To begin with, I do not use the phrase “race traitor” in its negative or pejorative sense, but instead I use it as an emblem of a certain kind of selfless artistic heroism that honors an individual white filmmaker’s sacrifice of immediate commercial interests in the effort to shift narrative focus from whites to African-Americans within a film.  As a consequence of this shift of narrative focus and sacrifice of commercial interests, the resultant film elicits a penetrating social criticism that extends beyond the circumstances presented and casts doubt upon the values and prejudices of the spectator, both white and black alike, who observe those circumstances.” (pg.159)

It is important to note that these white filmmakers who make the deliberate choice to use a majority African-American cast, usually in the face of great skepticism and racial criticism, are the least understood and their films are, at times, the most ignored by Black and White film scholarship.  And as it turns out, many of these genuine “race traitor” filmmakers have made some powerful contributions to African-American film history, but for our own racial chauvinism and the indifference of many whites in the industry these films have not been celebrated nor discussed openly because many of us are uncertain as to whether the white filmmaker’s intentions are without exploitation. (6)

In my book I discuss several powerful films directed by “race traitor” filmmakers like: John Cassevetes’ SHADOWS (1959) which discusses bi-raciality and the perils of unintentionally passing for white in New York city and German filmmaker, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s incredible 1970 film, WHITY which was the first film made by a European auteur to present a negative, some would even say perverse, portrait of a white slave holding family and the violent rebellion of a formerly docile black servant.

There are special conditions and circumstances that define a genuine race traitor filmmaker from the notion of a white director that was simply hired to complete a product, as was the case during the height of the “blaxploitation” era.  I define a genuine race traitor filmmaker by the fulfillment of at least two of these special conditions listed: 1) The white filmmaker has had extensive Biographical contact or an extended artistic collaboration with African-Americans before or during the production of the film; 2) The white filmmaker usually makes some kind of great personal, professional and/or financial sacrifice to bring their racially challenging vision to the screen; 3) The film differs greatly in emotional tone, acting style, script and/or formal design from conventional Hollywood representations of African-Americans or even contemporary African-American representations of themselves in film; 4) The film usually has a difficult or unsuccessful distribution by skeptical and prejudiced whites which is intended to keep the film from reaching the wider African-American audience; 5) and finally, but most importantly, these films have universal humanist themes; that is to say, the thematic underpinnings of the film are less race specific and do not attempt to identify, defend or accentuate the cultural and moral differences between African-Americans and whites.  Instead, the themes within the film pertain to what is human in all of us beyond our racial, class or cultural differences.

This last aspect, universal humanist themes, is the most troubling aspect of most films by genuine race traitor filmmakers in that the onus of a stereotype or definitive cultural difference is left wholly in the minds of the spectators and is not explored within the fiction in a conventional manner.  The resultant film makes white spectators uncomfortable with whether or not they are seeing a stereotype and black spectators are unsure if the characters are ‘truly’ black folk if the characters don’t respond in ways that have been culturally defined as ‘black’.  Ultimately these films challenge the supremacy of ‘whiteness’ by challenging the notions of ‘blackness’.  (Slave Cinema pgs. 233-234)

I believe that we, as an African-American audience and as critics and scholars, must reclaim and celebrate the previously neglected films made by race traitors, as well as, come to grips with those current and future films like BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD or Tarantino’s upcoming DJANGO UNCHAINED because if we summarily dismiss these works as simply white appropriation of our culture/history or exploitation we are missing the richness of the social critique within the films and the opportunities such films provide to break the entrenched stereotypes (Bogle’s pentad of Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, & Bucks) within Hollywood cinema.

One of the first genuine race traitor films ever made was King Vidor’s HALLELUJAH (1929).  A film that was conceived from Vidor’s extended biographical contact with African-Americans during his childhood and one that he felt so strongly about making that in the face of intense studio resistance to an “all negro” film, Vidor gave up his director’s fee in the effort to convince the studio to make the film.  And it is this film that highlights the difficulties African-American critics have had embracing the works of race traitor filmmakers because as many black critics were celebrating HALLELUJAH at the time of its release, Zora Neale Hurston denounced,” certain black intellectuals for what she perceiv[ed] as their self serving complicity in popularizing the distorted white depictions of black folk culture…” (7)

Hurston’s comments (even engaging in her own form of abusive ad hominem criticism by calling those black intellectuals “the Niggerati”) are a measure of the difficulty and the fear-mongering rhetoric within the African-American community that causes many of the films by genuine race traitors to be neglected, dismissed and in some cases forgotten.  These films do not pander to the stereotypes African-American hold against themselves (as the measurement of ‘real’ blackness) nor the stereotypes whites hold against African-Americans (as the confirmation of black ‘otherness’ and inferiority).

To dismiss these films as white appropriations of “black culture” or sheer exploitation is to dismiss a rich and powerful collection of works that challenge the racial perceptions and distortions held by both blacks and whites alike.  During my recent discovery of Jules Dassin’s UPTIGHT (1968), a film that was co-written by African-American actors and activists Ruby Dee and Julian Mayfield, I was dismayed to discover that the usually perceptive critic Nelson George dismissed the film as a,” rather incoherent look at infighting among black revolutionaries in Cleveland.”(8)  To the contrary, I found this film to be a powerful and emotionally unsparing look at infighting among black revolutionaries in Cleveland that was directed by a white filmmaker who had been blacklisted during the Macarthy Era and returned to America just as Martin Luther King was assassinated; the film contains authentic color footage of Dr. King’s funeral which sets the urgent tone for the entire work.  UPTIGHT was a film the U.S. government deliberately attempted to interfere with during its production.  Perhaps it was all too clear that Dassin had something urgent to say about civil rights in America that we all should have cause to see and hear.

Returning to the film BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD which has already won the Camera d’Or award at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and the Grand jury prize at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival (providing more evidence that African-American films do have audiences in international markets and that African-American filmmakers are being deliberately discriminated against by the industry), domestically the film is receiving the typical “art house” or limited release treatment that many other films made by race traitors have received historically.  Robert M. Young & Michael Roemer’s remarkable 1964 film NOTHING BUT A MAN, which starred Ivan Dixon, was given a limited release and played outside of Black populated urban markets, to insure that film would not reach its intended audience.  Although BEASTS will be opening in several more theatres this weekend (7-06-12) it is highly unlikely based on the historical precedent set by other race traitor films that the film will play at an equal or greater amount of screens as Tyler Perry’s MADEA.

Why you might ask?  In my opinion it is because the films made by genuine race traitor filmmakers often reveal to us certain truths about ourselves as a human race that we would much rather sweep under a rug.  For whites in control of the film industry, the works of race traitor filmmakers are treated as a rarified anomaly that should be seen but by the chosen “elite” few.  For African-Americans who lack power and control in the industry the works of race traitor filmmakers often does not “feel” true because the characters don’t respond in the stereotyped “black” ways that we have chosen to believe we all would do.  But as I have stated,” These race traitor filmmakers commit their treason to “whiteness” because they are loyal to humanity,” would that we all had such a loyalty in the face of great ignorance and even greater fears.(9)


(1) http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/box-office-for-6-29-to-7-1-madea-is-clearly-here-to-stay-beasts-rules-the-averages

(2) Evidence of Things Not Seen: The Structure of Power: Notes for a Revolution in African-American Filmmaking (part 2)

(3) Per screen averages taken from Boxofficemojo.com on July 2nd, 2012.  These numbers are subject to change daily during the films theatrical run.  

(4) The Shopkeepers Till and The Devil’s Pie: Notes for a Revolution in African-American Filmmaking. http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/the-shopkeepers-till-the-devils-pie-notes-for-a-revolution-in-african-american-filmmaking-part-3

(5) Of course I am broadening the term “White” to include various European ethnicities (Italian, Irish, etc) and Jews since Zeitlin is of half-Jewish descent.

(6) I use the qualifying term, genuine, because I describe three distinct types of race traitor filmmakers in my book (Genuine, Mercenary and Reparative), but for reasons of space I cannot describe them all here.  

(7) Pg. 184, RETURNING THE GAZE: A Genealogy of Black Film Criticism 1909-1949 by Anna Everett, Duke University Press, Durham: 2001.

(8) Pg. 7, BLACKFACE: Reflections on African-Americans and the Movies by Nelson George, HarperCollins: New York, 1994.

(9) Pg. 250, Slave Cinema by Andre Seewood

Andre Seewood is the author of SLAVE CINEMA: The Crisis of the African-American in Film. Pick up a copy of the book via Amazon.com HERE.

This Article is related to: Features


Johnny Cake

I nominate John Landis, of BLUES BROTHERS and COMING TO AMERICA fame, for this designation.


..Why do we keep calling a film "black" or "white". If a movie is good..people we see it, if it stinks then we will not.

The Color Purple was done by who? Yea..Steven Spielberg..

We just need to make GREAT movies..

The title of this article was to grab attention to is…in a tacky way I think "race traitor? really…


@Charles Judson, you really hit it on the nail with the "Whose the man?" and your followed points. Yes, there are many Black fathers out there who prepare their children for our world in this manner, but I feel we make a big leap when we appropriate this intention to Wink without further insight into his story in the film or indication from the director. It's a bit too much and way too easy to do. When I go see a film I'm looking within the film for understanding, and my experiences may or may not enhance my understanding. Where is the motivation in the world that the director has created for Wink to want to be this way, or is the director just borrowing from real life because it will be easily accepted? At what point do true to life experiences become stereotypes?


I'm going to avoid discussing the 'race traitor' title as other commenters below have done a great job of batting that back. My takeaway is that 'race traitor' is a great title to drive traffic to the site (and perhaps increase your book sales), but a flimsy post conceit.

The bigger fundamental flaw with your post is from the audience vs. business angle. And you are also committing the same crime that you accuse Hollywood of: boxing in films. By your definition/label, a film with a majority black cast is a black film. Which is the same thing that Hollywood, primarily the 'big' studios, have done and will continue to do. Comparing Madea to Beasts is the same as comparing ground beef to foie gras. Madea (Lionsgate) is made for the masses: not too offensive, simple story, a frivolous escape, uncomplicated cinematography. The marketing is easy – pre-established audience, hit the fans with the easy laugh. Beasts (Fox Searchlight) however is classified as an art film: concentrated themes, magical imagery, a play on words and visuals, an attempt to make you pause in your own view of this world. The marketing is difficult – 100% review driven; who is the audience? where do they live? where is money best spent to reach them and drag them into the theater. Ground beef = the majority of us understand how to work with it. But foie gras = a small percentage has heard of, a smaller percentage has tasted, and even smaller enjoy, plus it's expensive. So with these factors in mind, why would any business person release a risky art film on anything but a platform release? Other distributors who either don't know the kind of film they have or believe their own indieWire press (acquiring for too much money or opening too wide) and have taken the hit: Jeff Who Lives at Home, Another Earth, Like Crazy. Deliberately I am citing white directors with white films as these films are in the same 'arty' class as Beasts.

So with entertainment becoming so fragmented with the dawn of the internet and the cost of distributing films rising astronomically as theatrical films need to compete with those other forms of entertainment, specialization increased. Hence the rise of the indie distributors starting in 1998, crashing and burning in 2002, and trying to rise again now. Audience is key. Sorry to be so 101 on this but the basics are getting lost in what is still a business. I think what is a bitter pill to swallow for many posters on this board to swallow is that the type of 'black' film hungered for may be getting made and may be getting distributed but when the audience doesn't show, it impacts more on 'black' film than on white. Both Pariah (Focus Features) and Medicine for Melancholy (IFC) had great reviews and major film festival cred. But upon release into the public which is what counts, the public did not support with its $$$s. Lesson learned: reviews and tweets are not enough. Of course there will always be exceptions. Precious (Lionsgate) did very well at the box office but was that also due to the Oprah/Tyler effect? Does 'black' film have to have that kind of stamp of approval for the target audience of influential blacks (and yes, every film has the target audience as that is where the majority of marketing dollars is aimed) to show up? IF you were a development or distribution exec, would that not appear to be the case? So as a Fox Searchlight, would you not be a bit hesitant to release a film like Beasts on more than 4 screens to begin with? I agree with the early poster about Medicine not being released in places like Atlanta, but IFC does not have the marketing cash to do that, nor is a purely theatrical release their core business (day and date all platforms is).

The tacit agreement in the industry is "we are here to make money" (with some racism and sexism thrown in but primarily let's make money). Madea is money. It's not art nor is it trying to be. Lionsgate has a good estimate as to what it will make in its theatrical run and so plans for it accordingly. Beasts prior to release was expected to do well in cities with arthouse theaters on the coasts. Everywhere else is pure speculation and hope. It's hard to bet screen #'s and marketing $s on the hope that overwhelmingly great reviews and word of mouth will carry a film.

We should all take a pause and really look at this, an industry that would rather say "hey, at least we are not music", as opposed to making and distributing films that are inventive, smart, entertaining and GOOD. The 'race traitor' films as cited in this post are in the past (great list by the by). The business was way different than it is today. Today's industry, gobbled up by conglomerates and fortune 500's, can not support those 'race traitor' films nor even the amazing ones that Paramount put out in the 70s long before Viacom took over (Godfather, etc). It's hard to not put an emotional value on 'black' film when there are so few to see in theaters. But the business is putting a $ value on these films based on what the black audience has supported previously. Is this a losing battle for screens.

Side question: does Beasts still come under 'race traitor' banner when the play it is based on was an autobiographical piece by Lucy Alibar about her and her father, and featured a white boy?

Asar Nebankh

If a Black film maker makes a film about caucasians would he be a race traitor?


I hate the term "Black film." Why is it a black film, and not just a "film." I've noticed that many black people are quick to label something as a "black film" but then we get mad because a white person calls it a "black" film. Who cares if a white person made the film. A black director could just as easily have made the same film on the same budget. I am thrilled to see a loving relationship between a black father and daughter on screen. The more strong black relationships we see, the better


Very interesting post. I have often wondered about this myself. What is a black film? One of my favorite movies, Nothin' But A Man, was made by whites during the civil rights era and exhibits a very soulful exploration of the human condition via a majority black cast. I won't go into the pro or con of Tyler Perry or Spike Lee films, but I will say this: the level of some of the discourse regarding the issues presented here is an embarrassment. It's sad, very sad that people have to resort to junior high school name-calling because they can't articulate an opposition to a reasoned argument. Now we understand why some people love Madea.


HIghlights to the Race Traitor: lauren | July 5, 2012 2:52 "I do take issue with the term "race traitor" even though you indicate that it's not meant as a pejorative term, those words have an automatous negative power" Nadine | July 5, 2012 3:21 PM Hi Andre… "what I read was interesting and more thoughtful than the title, which seemed more race-baiting than anything else" John | July 5, 2012 4:22 PM "Interesting read, but the title is terrible. It undermines the piece. It's like calling someone an "a**hole' only to follow up with, no, no, i mean that in a good way! Nope, sorry. Doesn't work that way" Justin Kownacki | July 5, 2012 5:30 PM "Would a female filmmaker who tells an all-male story be a gender traitor? Maybe diplomat or translator or explorer would be more apt". Charles Judson – "this just seems fundamentally flawed from the jump. 1) Tyler Perry had a large audience before he made his first film with Lionsgate. 2) It's difficult to compare a film like BEASTS to MADEA if you look at the track record. 4) The location of those screens is just as important and telling to the story as the number. An example would be MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY which wasn't even released in Atlanta or Chicago during its limited and very short release, playing in those cities at festivals only" Andre Seewood | July 5, 2012 10:18 PM "No need to act niggerish now, Carey. I'm only pointing out the facts". Akimbo | July 6, 2012 11:37 AM – "WOW @Andre Seawood! I pretty much never agree with CareyCarey but you are showing your ass! The way you lashed out both in your post and in the comments is very telling. It's not the readers' faults that you continues to riddle this site with inflammatory, faux-academic posts with little to no content/truth/validity. Had Beasts opened wide, it would NOT have beaten Medea. You can't extrapolate per-screen averages like that". CareyCarey- July 5, 2012 7:33 PM – "Zora Neale Hurston called it right, you are the epitome of a proud member of the Niggerati. In your failed attempt at "enlightenment" you had the nerve to shot down and minimize 3 prominent black citizens of the black film and black literary canon, in an effort to champion white filmmakers" Tracey | July 5, 2012 8:38 PM – "I agree with the points other made about the title, and the definition the whole argument rests on is terribly flawed. The whole idea that what these filmmakers are undertaking is some sort of "selfless artistic heroism" is RIDICULOUS". Laura | July 5, 2012 10:25 "Black folks will always watch Black movies made by white film makers. That's nothing new. Because (American) white males have a plethora of opportunities that are not extended to the rest of us. Even if the stories are about the rest of us". artbizzy | July 5, 2012 10:54 PM – "the industry is more likely to greenlight a black film made by one of these white race traitor filmmakers because most unconscious racism manifests itself in the belief that black people are unable to lead and therefore unable to make a film with more nuance". Ben | July 6, 2012 1:15 AM – "But I've been told quite a few times that I should be happy that a mainstream film (Beasts) features a young female African-American lead – to which I responded: "Have you seen Spike Lee's "Crooklyn?" (which precedes Beasts by over a decade!). Stagolee | July 6, 2012 12:27 AM – "I'm sick of Black movies striving to prove worthiness of inclusion"


I used to have a major problem with seeing a white director make a film dealing with black people and their issues. My first question was why couldn't they find a black director to do it. It sometimes feels to me as though white directors choose to do a film about people of color to put themselves on the map, particularly when the film lack a certain depth. I still have concerns but I don't think it is objectively wrong anymore. I do think we should look at their work very critically however. What is a black film? I have been asked this question several times over than last decade or two. I was pretty sure that I had an answer when I was young but my thinking has become more nuanced over the years. I think it is a useful question to consider so long you understand that consensus is impossible. I would have once told you that it needed to be a black director and a black cast. But then, I thought any film with a black director. But then what to do with SOLDIER'S STORY and THE COLOR PURPLE (two films I loved) What about the Hughes brother's BOOK OF ELI or F. Gary Gray's THE ITALIAN JOB? What about Steve McQueen HUNGER (a brilliant film) or Tim Story's the FANTASTIC FOUR? My primary interest is still in seeing black directors getting the opportunity to helm projects which feature highly developed screenplays, with three dimensional characters, breath-taking visuals, and sublime editing. However, a couple of years ago, I had been lamenting the fact that I was having so much trouble getting the kind of projects I wanted to get done with my own people. I met a highly talented, highly motivated latino actors in the Austin area. I was asked to write a feature screenplay so I did and the response I received from the Latino community was inspiring. A large number of people from their community felt as though I was able to capture even some of the nuances of their culture (I had spent a year living with a Mexican family and I always do my research) but I was honestly surprised at the response. I admit I was a little concerned about making caricatures of their culture. Until then, I had always expected to be black filmmaker who make black films with black actors and hopefully a mostly black production team, but this experience truly opened my eyes. I had ideas about project for other cultures, but though my heart stays with my people, I am interested in working anyone who is talented, passionate, and hard working. I also feel that there is something interesting about opening up opportunities for filmmakers to make films about/within culture which are not their own. Sometimes, outsiders are in the unique position to show us things about ourselves that it is very hard for us to see (this can be dangerous territory) but in the history of the United States some of best critiques of American culture have been written by outsiders. Lastly, in regards to the space between arthouse and commercial filmmaking, we have, in my opinion, only scratched the surface of creating truly outstanding independent films. I'm not sure that there will be that one film which busts the door open. I would love to make that film LOL. But, I suspect that we will have to a pattern of excellence with film after magnificent film which will force the industry both national and international to deal with us (notice that I didn't say accept) As a member of the school of hip hop, I believe in doing it ourselves, but we will ultimately need relationships with different companies to ensure our film can span the globe. Sorry for the long post, I am really impressed by the passion about film on this blog so I really want to give my best to the discussion. Peace.


You know who created well-received film and stage projects with a majority Black cast? Norm Jewison. Unlike the exploitive and degenerative work of Quentin Tarantino, Norm Jewison RESPECTED THE CULTURE. There is a clear difference and Tarantino is not in the same league.

Nelson James

I once asked the question, "Do Mainstream audiences only go to Ethnic films when they are made by White Directors?" It's a fair question. I cited the box-office grosses of films such as The Color Purple, Slumdog Millionaire, and others that probably would have done considerably less business if the movies had had ethnic directors. The other question is are white directors given more leeway in how they present ethnicities than authentic ethnicities telling their own stories? Of course you can make any movie you care to, but one need only look at the films that do and don't get distribution and marketing to know that Hollywood definitely has an agenda.


Carey, P-Funk was more than just clever phraseology or drug-fueled psycho-babble…there was some deep concepts underlying it all. Stop fighting and embrace the MOTHER-SHIP. Some of us are closer to the source than others but we are ALL sons of the P…

Agent K

After reading this post, the title should be "White Saviors" instead.


I'm not sure if the new Tarrantino film fits this paradigm of "race traitor." Based on the plot description, it sounds like Jamie Foxx's character is "mentored" by a white bounty hunter played Christoph Waltz. Isn't that still kind of centering whiteness? Isn't it downplaying the fact that enslaved Africans and their descendants often defended themselves and/or rebelled without having some sort of white support? I don't think black slaves needed a white person to tell them that what was happening to them was disgusting and horrible?

I'm cautiously optimistic about "Beasts of the Southern Wild." And, of course, I'd like to be proven wrong about "Django Unchained" and will certainly watch it out of curiosity.

But I've been told quite a few times that I should be happy that a mainstream film ("Beasts") features a young female African-American lead – to which I responded: "Have you seen Spike Lee's 'Crooklyn?'" (which precedes "Beasts" by over a decade).

word up

See there is a difference between making a black film and an black art house film. I had this convo with someone about precious. its was marked as a black art house film or art house film if you will instead of a black film. How they make these distinctions are beyond me however thats how it goes.

Kid chaos

Orville you would support Perry you like him like to wear dresses


Is "race traitor" to the white supremacist filmmaking factory that fucking hard to grasp ? I'm sick of Black movies striving to prove worthiness of inclusion. Taking humanism for granted and assuring it the foundation in the creation of Black Cinema is a revolutionary act.


Tyler Perry's success is not a bad thing I believe because he has proven he has an audience despite the mainstream white media and the black snobs attacking his work. Now, I personally like a variety of movies and the author of the article is correct Hollywood treats the black audience as a monolithic group based on race.

I think the only way for other black directors are going to succeed in Hollywood is to take an anything necessary approach. Tyler Perry did not WAIT for the gatekeepers to give him his big break. He built his brand and he figured since his plays were a success his audience would follow him into another medium which is films.
So I think for other black directors they need to realize that they can't give up even if their first or second movies aren't a huge success. It is important for black directors to have their own websites or blogs, to be on Facebook, Twitter ect.
A black director would need to be tenacious and take no for an answer.

So far, only the gay black director Lee Daniels has managed to make art house films that have box office success he produced the controversial Monster's Ball and he also directed Precious.
Dee Rees made Pariah she is a black lesbian and her movie was an art house film. However, Focus Features didn't promote Ms. Rees movie well enough and certainly didn't market it towards a black audience. Even though the protagonist of Pariah was a black lesbian the assumption was blacks would not support it. Pariah was a moderate success grossing over $500,000 dollars but I think the movie could have been more successful if Focus Features marketed the film more aggressively.


Agree or disagree, this is an excellent, thought-provoking post. I love the dialogue, and respect all of the time that people are taking to articulate their opinions, whether I agree or not. Thanks for both the article and the comments!


There are plenty of black filmmakers making more arthouse films or who want to but the industry is more likely to greenlight a "black" film made by one of these white race traitor filmmakers because let's face it most unconscious racism manifests itself in the belief that black people are unable to lead and therefore unable to make a film with more nuance, such as Eve's Bayou. The real issue is visibility. How many black people are working their butts off out here but can't get their work seen? But now we have brothers like the one who not only wrote, starred in and I think also directed) and animated his compelling arthouse film, "An Oversimplification Of Her Beauty." While it might not make sense to dismiss a black film made by a white person, such as "The Help" it does make sense to question it as much as if a black person made it. Take Spike Lee for instance. I enjoy many of Spike Lee's films but I do take issue with a lot of his conscious/unconscious sexism throughout. But I'm still a fan. I truly loved, Spielberg's "The Color Purple. A great film is a great film no matter who makes it. But it just seem like the windows of opportunity for visibility, at least for those who make powerfully universal black films, is a narrow one reserved for whites who dare to go there. Business as usual, really.


I don't know Andre. The title Race Traitor concept has paternalistic connotation to it the leaves a nasty nasty taste in my mouth. It's almost as we should be grateful that white folks would make an sincere films about Black people. I rather call them -people with a "God Complex". (This does not negate some very good films with Black subjects made by white film makers) This God Complex is supported by the white male hegemonic nature of the film industry. Moreover, many of these race traitor films came into existence during the aftermath of the collapse of the studio system, where cheaper film equipment and the advent of television changed the movie making landscape. Thus more white male indie directors were able to make the personal films they could not during the classic Hollywood studio era. I assume that if you are an indie film maker (from the 60's, 70's, 80's or beyond) you pursued your personal vision no matter the subjects. At least for me, you don't get extra brownie points because the subjects are Black. Cassevette would be as sensitive to race in Shadows as he was to gender in "A Woman under the Influence" -a kind of rare female centric film for it's time. Black folks will always watch Black movies made by white film makers. That's nothing new. Because (American) white males have a plethora of opportunities that are not extended to the rest of us. Even if the stories are about the rest of us.


I guess you hated Phat Beach, Whose Your Caddy & the TV series South Central-all of whom had writer creators. Phat Beach's went on to greater fame with some no-named show called-Entourage. And South Central's white co-creator went on to make it cool for fat white guys to have hot wives with King of Queens.


I agree with the points other made about the title, and the definition the whole argument rests on is terribly flawed. The whole idea that what these filmmakers are undertaking is some sort of "selfless artistic heroism" is ridiculous. While they may sacrifice commercial gain, it often seems that the quickest way for an indie filmmaker to show themselves as a serious artist and set themselves apart from their navel-gazing peers is to dabble in "otherness." And these films are often more about the filmmaker than they are about the multicultural cast they claim to be about. I don't say that to dismiss all these films. Some are quite good, such as George Washington, Our Song, Raising Victor Vargas, etc. But I think it's important that we're discerning about these representations, and how screwed up the industry is when it validates a white auteur's serious vision of a community of color more than those voices that come from inside that community. We can't ignore the anthropological lens that sometimes comes with this type of filmmaking.


Andre "cheap shot" Seawood, I am so disappointed in you. You had to know there are no rules of engagement, especially when you cast the first stone, didn't you? I mean, why did you believe you could open your article cutting down those who did not agree with your suppositions, and not receive a similar attack on your character? Come on man, it's not wise to call people ignorant. And what's this… When you, Andre Seewood, give a less than glowing commentary upon the idols of sycophants (Spike Lee or Tyler Perry) you often run the risk of being the target of abusive? Is that right? SMH! So, in essense, you thought it was in your best interest to pimp slap those who didn't agree with you, and Spike Lee, Tyler Perry and Zora Neale Hurston? Damn Andre, you had to know if you throw a few rocks, ten can come back your way. That's only fair, right?You know, all closed eye are not asleep and there are no rules of engagement even when you come in here crying like a bi*ch. So yeah, Zora Neale Hurston called it right. From what I read in this post (and your past 2), you are the epitome of a proud member of the Niggerati. That's right, you shoot down and tried to minimize 3 prominent citizens of the black film and literary canon, in an effort to champion white filmmakers who you framed as "Race Traitors". In fact, one of those white traitors (some might call them white saviors) even went so far as to give up all his money so he could help those poor darkies make a movie. That was so wonderful of him. And, us po colored folk (Zora Neal Hurston and dem)have to be schooled by humanitarian enriched rightous white men, because there is no way in hell the the finer points of films can be appreciated by black folks. Yep, most films do not “feel” true to us because the characters don’t respond in the stereotyped “black” ways that we have chosen to believe we all would do. Yeeeah… riiiiight. We've been brainwashed into believing the only way to great entertainment is through stomping our feet and rhythmically clapping our hands as Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, & Bucks frolic across the screen. So of course we desparately need the genuine race traitor filmmakers to reveal to us certain truths about ourselves as a human race that we would much rather sweep under a rug. OH HALLELUJAH! Hail the race traitor filmmakers who commits their treason to "whiteness" because they are loyal to humanity. Ain't that so sweet. Andre Seewood, GTFOOH with the simppin' ass bullsh*t. And take your white buddies with you. Give me Tyler, Spike, and Zora Neal Hurston ( I love her books) or give me death. They all give me — and millions of other POC — something we can feel and relate to.

Charles Judson

I think there are some interesting questions here, but this just seems fundamentally flawed from the jump. 1) Tyler Perry had a large audience before he made his first film with Lionsgate. There maybe audience and market manipulation–as it exists in all industries–but you can't examine that without first acknowledging Perry's success on stage before he came to Hollywood. Hollywood has tapped the stage for financial and critical successes since its inception. An interesting question that could be explored is how much Tyler Perry's original persona and work have remained in tact, while actors like Barbara Streisand were able to make that transition and expand and add beyond it. 2) It's difficult to compare a film like BEASTS to MADEA if you look at the track record. The average gross of the top 20 Sundance Narrative Competition films from 2000 to 2009 was $12 million. With the average gross of the top ten winners from 2000 to 2009 being $2.4 million. Of the competition films, that means 100 plus films made less than $3 million from 2000 to 2009. There's nothing elite about a film that will not gross enough to sustain a wide release. 3) As BEASTS features a young female protagonist, why no additional comparison to the two most logical Sundance films: WHALE RIDER or LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE? Especially as one is an ensemble piece with a well known all White cast and the other features an unknown cast set among the Maori of New Zealand. 4) The location of those screens is just as important and telling to the story as the number. An example would be MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY which wasn't even released in Atlanta or Chicago during its limited and very short release, playing in those cities at festivals only. While PRECIOUS was held back from quite a few predominately African American cities and markets until it had safely platformed in New York and other cities like it.


Aside from Twelve Years a Slave, you could just as easily brand Steve McQueen a "race traitor" up until now. The term is ridiculous, though. Any filmmaker who fails to recognize humanity in its many ethnic varieties is a traitor to their species, period.

Justin Kownacki

Three quick thoughts:

1. Tyler Perry's films are usually designed as mainstream entertainment, while Beasts is clearly being positioned as an arthouse film. Its low screen count almost definitely contributed to its high per-screen average, and it doesn't necessitate that if it had opened on as many screens as Madea, it would have earned as much money. Madea is a household name by now; Beasts is a novelty.

2. Both of these films will probably attract a crossover audience, but I don't think the white audience for Madea is the same as the white audience for Beasts. Then again, I'd wager that the black audience for both films is different, too. Again, we have a comedy vs. a drama, and escapism vs. what looks like a harrowing journey. And if either film did attract a huge crossover audience, it would almost surely be criticized by some extremists as being "not black enough" as evidenced by its cosmopolitan audience.

3. I get that you're using "race traitors" as a button-pushing attention grab with noble intentions, but I'd argue that it's actually functionally incorrect. To be a traitor is to actively work against one's own "side" in favor of another. I don't think white artists naturally see white culture as "their side," or would consider telling a story about another culture to be forsaking or subverting their own. By that same rationale, would a black filmmaker telling an Asian story be a race traitor? Would a female filmmaker who tells an all-male story be a gender traitor? Maybe "diplomat" or "translator" or "explorer" would be more apt; or maybe just noting that it's actually the job of any storyteller to tell a story that they believe matters, regardless of whom the story is about or to whom it's being told.

This is a compelling post, BTW. I just wanted to raise some alternate POVs. Cheers.


Interesting read, but the title is terrible. It undermines the piece. It's like calling someone an "a**hole" only to follow up with, "no, no, i mean that in a good way!" Nope, sorry. Doesn't work that way.


I don't like the title of this piece, but this is a great thought provoking post. I wish the entertainment industry and Black people alike would stop putting Blacks in such a narrow box. Thanks too for the old film mentions. I'll be looking some of them up!


Hi Andre… I was unable to get through your article as I am rushing, but what I read was interesting and more thoughtful than the title, which seemed more race-baiting than anything else. I think your article, from what I've read, is too good for its title which will have those who may be your target audience dismiss your points… just a thought. I look forward to reading the rest later.


thanks for shouting out some hard-to-find movies. I'll be checking them out. very interesting observations.




Loved "Uptight". Very interesting film. As far as
Beasts and the Madea movies, Madea films will never be up for an Oscar, which is where "Beasts of the Southern Wild" is headed with yes, a cast full of Black folks, so at that point when that hollywood machine starts to really push for Oscar season, then we will all know about it and hopefully support it. In this case with film, it's Quality over Quantity.


Excellent post! I do take issue with the term "race traitor" even though you indicate that it's not meant as a pejorative term, those words have an automatous negative power. I look forward to an age of enlightenment when we can objectively respect the art and deeds of filmmakers without focusing on their DNA.

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