What is Black Cinema?


In the Morning, part of the BAM New Voices in Black Cinema Festival.

A few weeks back, I attended a screening in the New Voices in Black Cinema Festival.  I often seek out films by and about black people because I want to support my community and like every one else, I have a desire to see images of myself reflected on screen. After watching that film and others like it at similar festivals, I was struck by an important question: what is Black Cinema?

The poster for the 2012 action war film Red Tails

At first, I decided that a black film is one that has a black protagonist and is either written or directed by a black filmmaker. Fruitvale Station fits and so does The ButlerHowever, the latest efforts by respected black filmmakers John Singleton and Antoine Fuqua do not (Abduction and Southpaw, respectively)Under my definition, a film like Spike Lee’s Inside Man would be a black film so would Amma Assante’s Belle, but I don’t really think the term fits either film.  It seems slightly more fitting for Red Tails, but even with a majority black cast and a black writer and director, I don’t know if I would say Red Tails is a black film. My inadequate definition leaves room for the dubious Eddie Murphy vehicle Norbit as well as Tyler Perry’s entire oeuvre. Ride Along and Think Like a Man would qualify while Dreamgirls, The Color Purpleand The Help would not. It’s a curious question – what makes a black film– I believe I’ve yet to find the answer.

Mega Sized Movie Poster Image for Newlyweeds

The poster for Newlyweeds

When most people I know talk about Black Cinema today, they’re talking about independent films like Big Words, Newlyweeds, Mother of George, and In the Morning (the film I saw at BAM  a few weeks back). There are other films with largely black casts like Beasts of the Southern WildBlue Caprice and Gimme the Loot, but without a black writer or director behind them, can they truly be black films?  Ultimately, does it even matter? Is it still important to have a separate cinema?  Are the relatively few people who go to black film festivals the only ones who even vaguely care?

Time to weigh in. What’s your definition of a black film? Is there even such a thing? Have black filmmakers become part of the mainstream? Sound off in the comments.

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