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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To Whom It May Concern (Letter to The Artist)

Dear Artist.

Have you been working? I hope so.

I want to write you this letter as a reality check.  This may be hard to hear.  This may not be easy to read; but, I’m doing it because I care.  I’m an Artist just like you.  It’s hard, isn’t it?  You have all these ideas.  You have visions.  You’re pushing your way through.  You may have seen some other Artists (or people who called themselves that) push past you in what seems undeserving reward.  I know.  It sucks.  But let’s ask some real questions here.

Do you want to be an Artist, or a Celebrity?

I don’t care what your medium is.  Music.  Fashion.  Acting.  Writing.  Photography.

Are you doing this becuase you love it, or cause you want to be that popular kid in high school again?

Were you even a popular kid to begin with?  Or has the lack of popularity driven you to try to prove something?

They say a lot of Artists are insecure and want public approval.  I don’t entirely believe that.  I think an Artist is just as secure and insecure as the average person.  No matter what we do we want to make sure our work is done well.  If my work is music, I want folks to like the end result.  The ego comes in where everything has to be “my” idea, or “my” whatever.

At some point Artist (if that’s what you are), it can’t only be what you want.  Yes your intentions may be good to make people think differently, but unfortunately you might be making things too complex.  It doesn’t mean people aren’t intelligent.  It may just mean you aren’t breaking down what you are communicating in good enough language.  And putting complex things simply and effectively is difficult.  It’s nothing to fret over, it just means more work.  You don’t mind working, do you?

On the flip side of that, it may not have anything to do with complexity.  You may just not be very good.  Making art is actually a big lesson in confidence because you never know if others will see what you see.  You have to trust your sense of taste, and lots of people have different tastes.  But if you don’t seem to get consistent answers of your stuff being good, or no one seems to promote your work, then maybe you just don’t have that talent.  You can either give up or study harder.  I don’t advocate giving up…but you should know when to say when.  Quitting doesn’t mean failure.  You tried, which is a big step.

Do you have your business in order?

Being an artist pretty much means you’re an entrepreneur.  You’re a small business.  You make a product, and you sell it.  Just like a fast food chain, just like things at the 99 cent store.  I know, it’s not as endearing as you want to hear it because deep down it feels more sentimental than that.  I agree with you, but when it comes to handling business, that’s the role you play to the person selling your stuff.  Get your business mind right, or find someone else who loves business like you love art.  But first, perfect your craft.  Have you perfected your craft?  Do that first.  Then get your business right.

So, you wanna do this the rest of your life?  Well here’s something the world may not have told you:

Being an Artist doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be rich.

Being famous doesn’t mean you’ll be rich either.  There’s lots of well known names who aint making much money in Art. Yeah, yeah, I see Jay-Z.  I see Kanye.  I see Marc Jacobs.  All I have to say is, don’t let the music videos and E! Channel fool you.

You want to live “comfortably” off your art?

What does “comfortable” look like to you?  If you’re making $50k a year on your art, can you live comfy enough?  You gonna be able to raise kids on that?  Guess what, Art may have to be your 2nd job.  You know how some people have a full time job AND a part time job?  That’s most likely gonna be you.  It could be for the rest of your life.  Can you handle that?

Hey guess what else?

A lot of your stuff may have to be given away free.  Yes I know they say “If you don’t make people pay they wont take you seriously.”  Well it’s funny…people will try a restaurant and still pay if the food isn’t all that good, but no one wants to walk away with a piece of Art that’s crappy.  You see, food gets out of your system in 4-5 hours.  But a bad song?  It’s unbearable.  A bad movie?  You can’t get time back, AND it’s a waste of money!  No one wants to waste their time and money, even if it’s for a 3 min song.  But yes, they’ll pay for some OK food and a possible heart attack.  The Internet has made a whole lot of things free and accessible.  You may have to give somethings away.  But if you’re good, it’ll bring you business!

Being an Artist is a very hard job.  There are a lot of things you have to do to “make it”.  Work.  Politics.  Following up your last project.  Being professional.  Thinking out the box. Pressure.  But being a creative person means problem solving.

So…still wanna be an Artist?


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