African American Film Genre

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Long before John Crow's laws,white Americans had already a pre-conceived view of black people as inferior,which helped them justify slavery.After all they were unable to learn English and spoke Pigeon English,another proof that blacks were not intelligent.


From the 1620s, blacks were stereotyped and the emergence of minstrel shows in the 1840s only helped in branding even more this misconception, (Davis) and introducing black caricatures, portrayed by white actors with black-make-up, as the coons, the toms, and the mammies at first, and later on followed by the mulattoes and the bucks. The first movie ever where African Americans appear was screened in 1898, where it showed black soldiers in the Spanish-American war. But it was with the 1903 movie with a black character, Uncle Tom, directed by Edwin S. Porter, a white man, that we can pinpoint the beginning of the American film industry incorporating black characters. Tom was portrayed by a white actor with black make-up. In the movie, Tom is the typical skinny, middle-aged, desexed slave, totally loyal to his white master, a far cry from the original Tom portrayed in Harriet Beecher Stowe's book Uncle Tom's Cabin, which showed a gentle, kind, and forgiving man. This first portrayal of a black in film sealed even more this misconstrued idea of black inferiority and became a vehicle used to the advantage of whites not only for entertainment but also for economic reasons - advertisement for sellable products -. What no one foresaw then was the planting of the seed of the actual African American film industry with a slew of black actors who "elevated [these roles] and brought to [them] arty qualities if not pure art." (Bogle 23). That was the essence of black film history. ...
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