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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: the arts and the black revolution

Neal, Larry
Notes and discussion: film and the black cultural revolution,   pp. 348-[351] PDF (3.4 MB)

Page 348

by Larry Neal
We are talking about a New Way.
We are talking about making "new gods."
One of the problems of the movement
for human rights has been its inability
to project new and more powerful
symbols. Failing to project a unique
cultural point-of-view, the movement,
until recently, floundered in a white haze
of contradictions. The most important
contradiction was in the movement's
tendency to hope that the establishment
communications media would present
a truthful picture of Afro-American reality.
It is ironic that the integrationist leaders
of the movement deeply believed in the
sincerity of the white news media.
Lacking a unique cultural attitude these
leaders honestly believed that the media
would truthfully transmit the complexity
of the Afro-American situation to the
dominant white society. What they failed
to understand is that much of the
racism in American society is directly
related to the cultural sphere of
television, radio, theatre, and the movies.
For years the Black man's image was
exploited and distorted in white
America's cultural expression. White
performers painted their faces black and
satirized Afro-American characters and
life styles. White minstrels made millions
acting out the racist assumptions of the
dominant white society, while B'ack
people were prohibited from performing
on the American stage. When they were
finally allowed to perform onstage, they
were relegated to stereotyped roles
created in the minstrel period.
The movie industry's emergence on the
American cultural scene must be seen
in this context. From its very beginning,
the movie has distorted the humanity
of Black America. Griffith started it with
the Birth of a Nation, a film oozing with
racist propaganda. Griffith's film must
be seen against the pervasive backdrop
of American racism. Based on a cheap
novel by Thomas Dixon entiled
The Clansman, it was transformed by
Griffith into a film whose main thrust
justified the systematic terror of the
Ku Klux Klan.
Griffith's film, therefore, has its
historical roots in the racist psyche
of American culture. In this culture the
Black man and the Indian rarely
have been honestly portrayed. The
Indian's culture was systematically
destroyed. The African's culture was also
substantially destroyed, but the Black
man survived to construct a "neo-African"
culture. It was this "neo-African"
culture that was co-opted by white
entertainers such as Daddy Rice, Paul
Whitman, and Al Jolson. Guided by
these kinds of cultural imperatives, the
film industry would have to be racist
in character.
Even serious attempts to deal with
Black people as human beings would
have to be marred by the latent
racism of white America's cultural
continuum. It is the responsibility of the
Black creative artist to correct
this situation:
The Negro creative intellectual must
also take action against the film-
producing conspiracy in the United
States, where a "one star" system has
been manufactured around Sidney
Poitier. He is supposed to represent the
cultural presence, the aspirations,
and the social pyschology of the largest
minority in the United States, a minority
whose population is considerably larger

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