Redefining Black Film

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Can films about black characters, produced by white filmmakers, be considered "black films"?
In answering this question, Mark Reid reassesses black film history, carefully distinguishing between films controlled by blacks and films that utilize black talent, but are controlled by whites. Previous black film criticism has "buried" the true black film industry, Reid says, by concentrating on films that are about, but not by, blacks.

Reid's discussion of black independent films—defined as films that focus on the black community and that are written, directed, produced, and distributed by blacks—ranges from the earliest black involvement at the turn of the century up through the civil rights movement of the Sixties and the recent resurgence of feminism in black cultural production. His critical assessment of work by some black filmmakers such as Spike Lee notes how these films avoid dramatizations of sexism, homophobia, and classism within the black community.

In the area of black commercial film controlled by whites, Reid considers three genres: African-American comedy, black family film, and black action film. He points out that even when these films use black writers and directors, a black perspective rarely surfaces.

Reid's innovative critical approach, which transcends the "black-image" language of earlier studies—and at the same time redefines black film—makes an important contribution to film history. Certain to attract film scholars, this work will also appeal to anyone interested in African-American and Women's Studies.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Though often academically impenetrable, this ``feminist-Marxist-black cultural'' overview is useful for its strong criticism of how studio-produced films about blacks, even those directed by African Americans like Spike Lee and Melvin Van Peebles, offer ``tendentious images of blacks.'' After examining the work of early-20th-century black filmmakers such as Bill Foster and Oscar Micheaux, Reid, who teaches English at the University of Florida, explains how minstrel comedy became part of successful black comedies of the 1970s, in which politically aware comedians like Dick Gregory transmuted the black character from object to subject. In a look at black family films, Reid suggests that A Raisin in the Sun managed to incorporate black feminism and pan-Africanism; he also argues that black viewers have not always been receptive to the violent and misogynistic fantasies of black action films. Reid attacks Spike Lee's lack of sociopolitical analysis and his ``simulated form of blackness'' and concludes by analyzing the achievements and challenges facing independent black filmmakers, who in his view are best able to explore serious issues. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Reid (English, Univ. of Florida) attempts to define the new critical framework for analyzing African American cinema. Unlike most previous writers on the subject, Reid makes a clear distinction between films created by whites using black actors, writers, and directors and those in which African Americans exercised significant control over the means of production. The goal of Reid's ``feminist-Marxist-black cultural'' critical standard is to identify which films express an African American sensibility, and which merely reflect the attitudes of a European-American-dominated culture. In this respect, according to Reid, the creative products of black cinema icons such as Oscar Micheaux, Gordon Parks Jr., Eddie Murphy, and Spike Lee are not necessarily as ``black'' as they may seem. Reid's provocative and fearlessly ideological treatise seems destined to be cited, and disputed, by generations of film scholars to come. For all serious film collections.-- Anne Sharp, Ypsilanti Dist. Lib., Mich.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520079021
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 2/23/1993
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 170
  • Sales rank: 829,776
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark A. Reid is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Florida, Gainesville. He has written extensively on black cinema.

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