Black Directors in Hollywood

Black Directors in Hollywood

Black Directors in Hollywood

Black Directors in Hollywood

Synopsis

Hollywood film directors are some of the world' most powerful storytellers, shaping the fantasies and aspirations of people around the globe. Since the 1960s, African Americans have increasingly joined their ranks, bringing fresh insights to movie characterizations, plots, and themes and depicting areas of African American culture that were previously absent from mainstream films. Today, black directors are making films in all popular genres, while inventing new ones to speak directly from and to the black experience.This book offers a first comprehensive look at the work of black directors in Hollywood, from pioneers such as Gordon Parks, Melvin Van Peebles, and Ossie Davis to current talents including Spike Lee, John Singleton, Kasi Lemmons, and Carl Franklin. Discussing 67 individuals and over 135 films, Melvin Donalson thoroughly explores how black directors' storytelling skills and film techniques have widened both the thematic focus and visual style of American cinema. Assessing the meanings and messages in their films, he convincingly demonstrates that black directors are balancing Hollywood' demand for box office success with artistic achievement and responsibility to ethnic, cultural, and gender issues.

Excerpt

I began researching this book in the spring of 1997, but from summer 1998 to winter 1999 I set aside the project to write, coproduce, and direct a short film, entitled A Room without Doors. Given my desire to be a filmmaker, it was an opportunity that I could not walk away from, and with the extensive help and support of professionals in front of and behind the camera, I was able to complete my first film. The film went on to be screened at nine film festivals during the following year, and it was selected for inclusion in Showtime Network’s Black Filmmakers Showcase in February 1999.

Among the many valuable lessons learned while making the film, I was forced to deal with the realities of filmmaking that often go unnoticed or without assessment by most film critics and scholars. My hope is that in shaping this book, I have been able to bring some of that experience to bear on my evaluations of the directing process, thus avoiding a mocking or arrogant posture.

As a professor who teaches film studies and popular culture, I know too well how scholars rush to find a haven in theory and academic jargon that sometimes become ends in themselves rather the means to illuminating a film. My concern was to avoid that entrapment with this book because I wanted to reach that same wide audience that the directors themselves have been seeking to reach. Therefore, I have not adopted a critical framework or a central thesis by which to analyze the directors, nor have I utilized an academic lexicon to render the text.

In the introduction to his book Am I Black Enough for You: Popular Culture from the ’Hood and Beyond (1997), scholar Todd Boyd writes about the emergence of black cultural critics, such as Cornel West, bell hooks, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Michael Eric Dyson, who have revealed complex areas of African American culture to audiences that are both academic and popular; these intellectuals have worked to move away from an elitist, disconnected scholarship toward an accessible connection with black culture and a mainstream audience. Although I am not placing myself by any means within that circle of distinctive black intellectuals, I am embracing the spirit of their scholarship that acknowledges that all black cultural expressions war-

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