Historical Dictionary of African American Cinema

Article excerpt

Historical Dictionary of African American Cinema S. Torriano Berry and Venise T Berry. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2007.

Halle Berry and Denzel Washington, clutching their Oscars, peer from the glossy cover of the Historical Dictionary of African American Cinema, the fifteenth book in Scarecrow Press's Historical Dictionary of Literature and Arts series. Edited by the brother-sister team of S. Torriano Berry and Venise T Berry, the book serves as a good companion text to Kathleen Fearn-Banks's Historical Dictionary of African-American Television, which appeared a year earlier. Its introduction contains a quotation by Thomas Edison during the early years of film: "whoever controls the motion picture industry controls the most powerful medium of influence over the people" (xxiv). African Americans have struggled for control as actors, directors, and producers, and this book chronicles the key people that figured in this struggle, most of whom never attained the recognition of Berry or Washington.

The book's introduction provides a brief historical account of African Americans in film, noting the many stereotypical and unflattering portrayals that they were relegated to in film's early years. Things changed since The Birth of a Nation (1915), but not nearly enough. As the authors write, "despite all the progress African Americans have made in Hollywood, the National Association for Colored People still complains that, as of 2005, there is still no person of color at any of the major studios who can green light a film project" (xl). …