African American Cinema


The new millennium was ushered in by a series of firsts, including the awarding of an Oscar ® to Denzel Washington for Best Leading Actor in 2002, the first time the award was given to an African American since it was bestowed upon Sidney Poiter in 1964. And, perhaps even more significantly, it was the first for a performance in an African American–directed film, Training Day (2001) by Antoine Fuqua. MTV, the video music network powerhouse, entered into the realm of filmmaking with Save the Last Dance (2001), a teen film directed by Thomas Carter. And for the first time, African American directors were given the green light to direct big-budget films, films that did not necessarily feature African American characters. Though this was not the first time African American directors worked with non-black subjects— Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Michael Schultz, 1978), The Cemetery Club (Bill Duke, 1993), and Swing Kids (Thomas Carter, 1993) are notable examples—it was the first time they were granted control of tent-pole pictures such as the epic King Arthur (Fuqua, 2004) and the summer blockbuster Fantastic Four (Tim Story, 2005), one of the few summer spectacles that did not disappoint at the box office that year.

This status granted to African American filmmakers holds great promise but also may bode ill. Hollywood's interest in maximizing profits mandates films centered on white protagonists more often than not. If African American directors are to concentrate on the larger-budgeted films, that leaves the untold stories of the African American community without a voice once again.

SEE ALSO Class ; Race and Ethnicity

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Frances K. Gateward

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