Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Summer 2010: Blacks in the History of Cinema

My Monday night class was Blacks in the History of Cinema from 5:30-8. We only met 5 times over a 6 week period (4th of July we were off) so there was a lot to cram in. There could not have been a more perfect class to take the same semester as Sociology. I learned so much about Black History from this class. I had to watch an old black musical so I chose Carmen Jones, starring Dorothy Dandridge. I had never seen her work and I can see now why they called her the black Marilyn Monroe. She was hot and super risqué for her time. We also watched Birth of a Nation, which was one of the first films ever. Black people were portrayed by white men in black face, even the traditional Mamie roles.

I had to watch a film from the Blaxploitation Era, which was basically when black people started to stand up and make films about defying the white man. I chose the first Blaxploitation film, Sweet Sweet Back’s Baad Assss Song. It was the first motion picture where a soundtrack was used to promote the film. This was another genius invention that the black community gets no credit for. Sweet Back is basically a porno, written, directed and starring Marvin Van Peebles (father of Mario, who has a short and disturbing cameo). The film was silently financed by Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier. Van Peebles actually contracted Gonorrhea during filming because they did not simulate sex but actually shot live and very real sex scenes. Van Peebles sued the Motion Picture Association and workman’s comp for his STD and won enough money to finance another movie.

I had to choose a Sidney Poitier film to review. I chose To Sir with Love. Poitier plays a recently graduated engineer major who wants to teach. When he can’t find a job in his field of study, he takes a job at an England high school for troubled white teens. This film was the introduction of the singer Lulu, who sings the hit To Sir with Love. Portier plays an excellent role of overcoming the adversity of the troubled children as well as race barriers that still exist. The film was made in the 1950’s and while it seems a bit slow at first, the story line is quality.

I loved the black history of this class. I was the only white person which only bothered me the first day because someone was rather prejudice. I got over that and the rest of the class was great. I was the only person who had ever read Roots in the class. When they started bashing Sidney Poitier for not “representing” the black community I felt the need to defend him. I read The Portrait of a Man, Poitier’s autobiography and his story is amazing. He is from a Bahamian island where he grew up with no running water or electricity. He barely spoke the language when he came to the US. He did not experience racial prejudice or stereotyping as a child so he did not understand the anger at the white man. He also did not understand, until years later, why so many people thought he could have and should have done more. By the end of class, my opinion was very respected by my peers and that made me feel awesome.

Our final was to write a 5 page paper on a black actor, actress or film maker. I chose Pam Grier, aka Foxy Brown. I knew Pam as the older, straight sister of Bette, from the L Word. Even though I dressed as Foxy Brown for Halloween one year, I had no idea that Pam Grier played the iconic role. She was the first black female in an action movie. In the 1970’s she made more than 10 bad ass black chick films. Her story is amazing and she is and is a truly iconic figure that goes pretty unrecognized.

I got a 100% on all of my reviews and papers. We didn't get our final project grade back but I got an A in the class so I am happy. I will post my Pam Grier paper for your viewing pleasure. Oh, and me dressed as Foxy Brown below...

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