Black Film- Past, Present, and Future

Disclaimer: I want to be sure folks understand that my overview of Black Film history is extremely brief here and I do not profess to be a film history guru.  I will fully admit that many of the things stated here are generalized for the sake of brevity, and that an entire book could be written on this subject.  I simply tackled it for the big picture affect.  This idea was sparked from my last entry regarding my review of Red Tails, and the ensuing clamor I saw happening the weekend it premiered.  Enjoy.

George Lucas appeared in various places to promote Red Tails, a film paying homage to the Tuskegee Airmen. In a viral explosion, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and various other media quoted Lucas on how he couldn’t get financial backing from major studios for Red Tails because of its all Black cast. In the minds of major film studio execs, an all Black cast for any story would not generate enough sales domestically or internationally. Lucas shared the logic of the execs with blunt terms, and said that he put $58 million of his own money to distribute the film. Lucas had confirmed the racism within the Hollywood system, and it became a rally cry to support Red Tails with its dollars to disprove “the suits”. Various other Black writers and bloggers were skeptical as to why they should see the film, even using Lucas’ interracial relationship as fodder for their criticism.  Nevertheless, the primary voices seemed to shout, “We have to show Hollywood that Blacks have a voice!  If we don’t support this with our money, we can say goodbye to high budgeted, good quality films!”  It was  a call to action to prove the power of the Black audience and their desire for positive portrayals, that all black casts were just as equal to the primarily all White films distributed, as well as pay homage to these Black war heroes. If people didn’t see the film, it would prove the studios right and we would pretty much say goodbye to all Black films.  One must ask, is Black cinema truly in danger of extinction?  Through a brief look at Black film history we see that if extinction were possible, it would be less about the restrictions from major studios and more about the Black community that has diversified in many directions.

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Red Tails- My review

*sigh*…

First question…have you seen The Great Debaters?  EXCELLENT film.  Great writing.  Great acting.  And a piece of history that maybe no one hardly knows about.  The movie has the ability to make verbal debates look like war. Which in a way it is.  You are talking about all African Americans, the underdogs, showing their intelligence and wit.  It has all the drama you need and to this day is one of the best portrayals, I think, of historical events in telling one piece of the African American legacy.

Now about Red Tails…

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The Creative Mind

Finally, there’s proof.  Something I always felt I saw happening.  Something many people have commented on in various ways, perceiving, but not quite able to articulate.  Probably part of the reason why a lot of films are starting to feel redundant, why the music is so repetitive, why you probably can’t name four contemporary pioneers of visual art right now…

Creative intelligence is dropping.

I got this article from Newsweek that states that creative intelligence has been steadily dropping year by year since 1990.

Intelligence can be marked in various ways.  Some have emotional intelligence, meaning they can perceive emotions well or how to manipulate the emotions of others around them.  Some have a spatial intelligence, which would make them a great architect or artist.  Some have academic intelligence.  Some are creatively intelligent, meaning they are good at taking one thing and creating something new or improving it.  It could mean a whole range of things.  For all these kinds of intelligence there is usually some kind of test that is associated.  We most know of IQ tests or SATs.  Well then there’s the Torrance test.  The article goes into some detail on the test and so forth, but here are the most striking parts of what the article says about the decline of creativity over the years…

…there is one crucial difference between IQ and CQ scores. With intelligence, there is a phenomenon called the Flynn effect—each generation, scores go up about 10 points. Enriched environments are making kids smarter. With creativity, a reverse trend has just been identified and is being reported for the first time here: American creativity scores are falling.

Kyung Hee Kim at the College of William & Mary discovered this in May, after analyzing almost 300,000 Torrance scores of children and adults. Kim found creativity scores had been steadily rising, just like IQ scores, until 1990. Since then, creativity scores have consistently inched downward. “It’s very clear, and the decrease is very significant,” Kim says. It is the scores of younger children in America—from kindergarten through sixth grade—for whom the decline is “most serious.”

It’s too early to determine conclusively why U.S. creativity scores are declining. One likely culprit is the number of hours kids now spend in front of the TV and playing videogames rather than engaging in creative activities. Another is the lack of creativity development in our schools. In effect, it’s left to the luck of the draw who becomes creative: there’s no concerted effort to nurture the creativity of all children.

The age-old belief that the arts have a special claim to creativity is unfounded. When scholars gave creativity tasks to both engineering majors and music majors, their scores laid down on an identical spectrum, with the same high averages and standard deviations. Inside their brains, the same thing was happening—ideas were being generated and evaluated on the fly…

A large part of the reason why I created this site is because I wanted to use the arts as a way of communicating the idea of “creative intelligence”.  It’s my belief that in order to be a great artist/entertainer, you have to have some kind of creative intelligence in order to move what you’re doing forward.  Of course, there are plenty of musicians who can play instruments, but do not have the creativity to improvise a piece.  Many people who are artists can copy a picture, but probably can’t create something out of their own head without a direct reference in front of them.  But that’s what, to me, means they are not ARTISTS in the sense of it being their path of life.  The life of a person who produces a product based on their creativity.

Leonardo to Picasso.  Stravinsky to Stevie.  Hitchcock to Spielberg.  Some of these folks have an ability to take a medium to the next level.  That’s the kind of thinking I am talking about.  Someone that can take one piece of an idea (like the Torrance test does in it’s drawing section) and being able to expand on it to create something different.  It’s a quality of leadership.  It’s problem solving.

So when we hear music, see movies, or other things that make you say “I’ve seen that before” and we feel that it’s copying something else, it’s probably because the person behind it was not entirely creatively intelligent.  But the folks who have a deep following and fan base, that have set the trends, that have changed the game, were creatively intelligent.  Kanye West.  Heath Ledger.  You name it.  They take the art to the next level that inspire us.  They are leaders.

It’s not enough for a person to get a mic, pro tools, and a computer program to make beats, and then call yourself a music artist.  Sure you can do it, or imitate others.  But come up with something on your own, that’s honest, and catches fire like Prince?  That takes another level of thinking.

I’ve seen a lot of people suddenly take up cameras and call themselves photographers.  People who jump in front of that camera and call themselves models. Folks who buy the cheapest Flip Mino and want to make music videos.   But compare the work of an amateur to that of the creative intelligent person with the natural knack and learned skill?  You can’t compete.

So before someone jumps up and calls themselves an artist, I ask, are they creative? And as the article says you don’t  necessarily have to be in the arts.  A business person can be creative.  Anyone can use a creative mind in any field, it’s just that we usually recognize efforts of creativity in musicians and storytellers.

And who are the culprits when it comes to the fall of creative intelligence?  Well we can definitely point toward the American school system.  We measure achievement by how well you can do on academic tests.  Your grade is reflection of your ability to learn. But plenty of people in leadership positions didn’t do well in school.  Along with that, how many of us learn how to create the solutions to problems?  We learn the process and get the answer.  But how often are we asked to create the process itself?

And furthermore, we have a society that doesn’t really reward creative thinking…at least, not until the thought has been proven to work.  Imagine someone coming up with the idea for an iPhone in 1978?  A computer, a camera, AND a phone all in one?  Yeah right.  How is that going to happen?  We doubt imaginations that don’t seem immediately practical.  A seed of doubt can kill an idea.  So we place a lot of doubt on “out the box” thinkers.  So then they also doubt their own intelligence.  But the ones that truly believe in their idea, and prove others wrong?  We praise them later, especially once they make millions of dollars.

I can go into a whole rant on the industries (i.e. film, music, television, radio, etc) that take “creative” works and market them.  Contrary to popular belief, people aren’t dumb.  It may take a while for others to catch on, but when they notice a remade film disguised as being “new”, a song that follows the exact same format as another one, people begin to catch on.  And when they notice their pockets being drained by nothing but the same product, that’s when the pirating happens.  And yes, the industry wants things “proven” to work, so they tell artists to copy the creative minds.  It’s a very interesting cycle that happens in every business, but we treat it with a different regard when it comes to art.  We think of art as needing to have some kind of unique mind behind it.  I don’t care if my socks are the exact same, but the art I enjoy?  Some of it needs to be original and unique to me.

It’s no wonder that a lot of younger people now are listening to older music.  They feel the creativity and honesty in it.  People are going back to older things trying to figure out where to go next.  Leadership is dropping.  A lot of people sense it happening.

I saw this video a while ago and couldn’t wait for the right post to put it up.  I think you all should check out the WHOLE LECTURE HERE.

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