The brilliant yet brutal 12 Years a Slave made history Sunday night as the first film directed by a Black man, with a predominately Black cast, to win an Oscar for best picture. In one of the most competitive Oscar races in recent memory, the honor was bestowed Sunday March 2, 2014 at the 86th Academy Awards.Special accolades to Lupita Nyong'o for her well deserved Supporting Actress Oscar. Producer Brad Pitt joined director Steve McQueen and the entire cast onstage to accept the coveted honor.
But… before we anoint Hollywood as the Savior of Imagery and doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do, let us pause for a moment.
Hollywood fell in love with these movies and glamorized the South and Southern Heritage. To this day you can still hear the “oohs” and “aahs” when discussions are held about these “great stylized” movies. To that and to Hollywood I say BS.
Hollywood does not get a passing grade after years of portraying racism as necessary. For those of you who feel an “A” should be Hollywood’s grade let me remind you…If you are failing a class…no classroom comments and contributions…no assignments turned in…no good book reports…missing assignments…and one day you get lucky and make a good grade on a test does not elevate your score from an “F” to an “A”.
Hollywood has a history of racism. Let me count the ways.
A Few of The Most Racist Movies Ever Made (in no particular order) – Thanks to AtlantaBlackStar.com
Song Of The South
Disney’s attempt to promote racial unity in the 1946 film “Song Of The South” was a complete failure. Based on post-Civil War plantation life, the story is difficult to watch, especially its portrayal of the ex-slave, Uncle Remus, who is so happy with his circumstances in the South.
Time magazine called the film “topnotch Disney.” In 2003, the Online Film Critics Society ranked the film as the 67th greatest animated film of all time. A special Academy Award was given “To James Baskett for his able and heart-warming characterization of Uncle Remus.”
White Dog (1982)
Movies are sometimes uncomfortable to watch when race is the topic, but Paramount didn’t seem to care when it made “White Dog.” In this film, a madman trains a white German Shepherd to attack and kill Black people. The dog is eventually rescued by a Black owner, who tries to reverse the dog’s racist training. At the conclusion of the film, the dog is accidentally trained to start killing white people instead and it is quickly shot dead. Dave Kehr, of the Chicago Tribune, praised Fuller for “pulling no punches” in the film and for his use of metaphors to present racism “as a mental disease, for which there may or may not be a cure”.
10,000 BC (2008)
This film, “10,000 BC,” has a template that is frequently found in Hollywood films. The white hero, against all odds, is able to gain support of Black tribes to help kill an enemy, so he can rescue his love. The film received largely negative reviews from critics, stating that the movie is mainly visual and lacks a firm screenplay.
The “Mandingo” plot is very simple. Mandingo has a relationship with the wife of a plantation owner who accuses him of rape—a crime for which he was killed in a vat of boiling water. Some observers believe this movie, like “King Kong,” was made to warn Black men to stay away from white women.
Movie critic Robin Wood was enthusiastic about the film, calling it “the greatest film about race ever made in Hollywood.” Roger Ebert on the other hand despised the film and gave it a “zero star” rating.
This entire list could have been dedicated to Disney projects, but “Fantasia” is one of the most blatant violations committed by animation filmmaker. Even in Fantasia’s beautiful, magical landscape, the black centaurs are hoof-polishing handmaidens for prettier, superior Aryan centaurs. Disney tried very hard to erase this from movie-goers’ memories by releasing later versions—minus the pickaninny centaur slaves.
Roger Ebert rated the film four stars out of four, and noted that throughout Fantasia, “Disney pushes the edges of the envelope”.
The Littlest Rebel (1935)
It would have been all too easy to populate this list with pickaninny caricatures from the ’30s, but the 1935 Shirley Temple film “The Littlest Rebel,” just had to make the cut. The film’s main purpose was to drive home the message of how happy Black folks were as slaves, so happy they sang and danced all day.
Bill Gibron, of the Online Film Critics Society, wrote at the time: “The racism present in The Littlest Rebel, The Little Colonel and Dimples is enough to warrant a clear critical caveat.” However Gibron, echoing most film critics who continue to see value in Temple’s work despite the racism that is present in some of it, also wrote: “Thankfully, the talent at the center of these troubling takes is still worthwhile for some, anyway.”
And Now we come to Two of the Most Racist Movies of all Time.
Gone With The Wind (1939)
“Gone With The Wind” glorifies the South during the time of slavery by suggesting that the region was better off during that era. It features heroine Scarlett O’Hara whose husband dies fighting for the Confederate Army in the Civil War. After her loss, the film drags viewers through a series of her hardships, implying that her life was so much better before Abraham Lincoln emancipated the slaves.
Frank S. Nugent for the The New York Times found it to be an “interesting story beautifully told”.
At the 12th Academy Awards held in 1940, Gone with the Wind set a record for Academy Award wins and nominations, winning in eight of the competitive categories it was nominated in, from a total of thirteen nominations.
The Birth of a Nation (1915)
“The Birth of a Nation” is a silent movie that was released in 1915 to critical acclaim for its portrayal of African-Americans, played by white actors in blackface. The film portrayed the Ku Klux Klan as victims of African-Americans.
The film earned $10 million in its initial release, and over the next 35 years increased its total to $50 million, holding the mantle of the highest grossing film until it was overtaken by “Gone with the Wind”.
It is amazing how film critics fall in love with some of these movies and overlook their racist tones…which does not say much for film critics.
So Hollywood you have a lot of making up to do. You have been a racist and one movie or two do not a reformed racist make. You have embraced core racist attitudes over many years. Understand it is also called Institutional Racism. Props and accolades to those associated with the movie because someone took a chance and showed slavery..to some degree…as it was. It is like making chicken salad without the chicken. You still have work to do. Just did not want you to get besides yourself and feel you deserved an “A”…because you do not.
The Struggle Continues. RLHSR.