Black Love in Movies and on Television: Independent Directors and Producers Are Taking Steps to Bring Black Romance and Intimacy to the Screen

Ebony, February 1991 | Go to article overview

Black Love in Movies and on Television: Independent Directors and Producers Are Taking Steps to Bring Black Romance and Intimacy to the Screen


IN the still woefully segregated realm of movie and television production, tales of love and romance--which are among the chief exports manufactured by the dream merchants of Hollywood--rarely revolve around Black characters. Black love traditionally is depicted on the big and small screen as something forbidding, exotic and far removed from White romantic entanglements. Black actors are seldom afforded the opportunity to portray characters involved in tender, sensitive love scenes that display the depth of the attraction between a man and a woman.

The dearth of such scenes has long been a source of consternation for Black moviegoers. "I've been a fan of love scenes, right from the time I saw South Pacific as a kid," says actor/dancer Gregory Hines. "But as I got older, I noticed that I was not represented. All the love scenes I saw were with White people. I still dug them, but I felt the ache to see a Black man making love."

And Hollywood continues to distance itself from Black courtships. It is as though the studios are afraid of Black love, and, therefore, try either to restrict or ignore it. "There is a power that Black sexuality exudes that is as powerful as the sun shining," says dancer/director/producer Debbie Allen, one of the small, but rising corps of Black filmmakers fighting to change Hollywood's classic portrayal of Blacks. "People in Hollywood want to embrace [that sexuality], but they also want to contain it and control it and say where it happens and where it doesn't. But you cannot control where the sun shines."

Thanks, in part, to Allen, Bill Cosby and some emerging Black writers, directors and producers, the hopes of those who long to see more Black romantic leads (a la Kevin Costner or Michelle Pfeiffer) have been lifted by the small, but refreshing, signs of change.

The growing, though still limited, crop of Black talents exerting influence behind the camera has helped bring to the screen glimpses of Black life that reflect its many dimensions, including the love, passion and romance that are indeed a part of the African-American experience. "What is gradually unfolding," says actor-turned producer Thomas Carter, the creator and executive producer of ABC-TV's courtroom drama Equal Justice, "is that to the small degree that people of color are working behind the camera, having a hand in creating the images of African-Americans seen on televison and in movies, you are seeing more of our humanity, and sexuality is definitely a part of that humanity."

Consider some of the recent evidence:

On NBC television's A Different World, where Allen serves as a director and producer, the interplay between bookish college student Dwayne Wayne (played by Kadeem Hardison0 and his self-absorbed Southern sweetheart Whitley Gilbert (Jasmine Guy) is breaking new ground for witty, sexually charged repartee between Black characters.

And on Equal Justice, Thomas Carter has helped turn verteran character actor Joe Morton, who plays the suave, opera-loving prosecutor Mike James, into a heartthrob by engaging him in two romantic liaisons--one last season involving community activist Delia Wayne (played by Vanessa Bell Calloway) who was tragically murdered, and another this season with reporter Maggie Mayfield played by Lynn Whitfield.

On film, Spike Lee's Mo' Better Blues, one of the few movies to capitalize on Denzel Washington's matinee idol persona, gave the Oscar-winning actor a chance to play a flawed, but sexually irresistable, leading man. Actor/director Bill Duke's A Rage In Harlem offers Robin Givens, Forest Whitaker and Gregory Hines in a complex story that explores Black love in fraternal and carnal terms, and provides Givens with one of the few potentially star-making romantic vehicles created for a Black actress in more than a decade.

To many observers, these flashes of change may not seem like much, but in light of the difficulty Black filmmakers and actors have had bringing passionate and sensual Black characters to the screen, their significance cannot be completely dismissed. …

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