|Pioneer African American Filmmaker, Oscar Michaeux|
They Shoot Black Movies...Don't They?
(The Realization of a Hustlerz Ambition)
By Barry Michael Cooper
At the dawn of the Black Hollywood Renaissance of the '90s, the sodality of filmmakers like Spike Lee, F. Gary Gray, The Hudlin Brothers, Bill Duke, Stan Lathan, John Singleton, The Hughes Brothers, George Jackson, Doug McHenry, Mario Van Peebles, Robert Townsend, Keenan Ivory Wayans, Kevin Hooks, Fred "Fab Five Freddy" Braithwaite, Charles Stone, III, Nelson George and this writer, to name a few, felt like the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. We--like Rossetti, Millais, and Hunt at the height of their artistic revolt in the U.K. during the late 1800s--were cinematic reformers, rejecting the cartoonish mythos of African American life, as depicted in the Black Exploitation flicks of the 1970s. In the 1990's we were Dr. Martin Luther King, we were Malcolm X, we were Gordon Parks, we were Melvin Van Peebles. We were insatiable American Dreamers, like Oscar Michaeux; albeit with limos, first-class, transcontinental transport, five-star luxury hotels and cuisine, Armani-Brioni-Versace-Zegna-Valentino-Ferragamo gear, expanding bank accounts, and cell phones. We had Been To The Mountaintop and had G.P.S.'d that noble glide-path while tracking the Realization of a Negro's Ambition, guided by the voice from an ancestral control tower which intoned, By Any Means Necessary.
We just knew The Dream would last forever.
Twenty years later Spike Lee--one of the most talented and prolific directors this country has produced in the 20th Century--can't get a green light for the sequel to Inside Man, despite the fact that the original film grossed nearly $200 million dollars worldwide. Twenty years later, two supremely talented actresses--Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer--are given Oscar nods for their portrayals of wise but weathered Mississippi domestics in a highly praised film titled The Help.
Twenty years many black filmmakers (including myself) haven't had a movie financed by a major studio in over twenty years.
Twenty years later and America has its first African American President of the United States, seeking re-election for a second term at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Twenty years later, African American filmmakers navigate a course that is slightly sticky, smelly, and saggy, the aftermath of an exploding Dream deferred by Hollywood's Grand Illusion of Inclusion.
Twenty years later, is this the way it's supposed to be?