The Evolution Of African Americans In Film: Essay Test #5

1385 words - 6 pages

The views of African-Americans have changed drastically from the 1930s to 1980s and the film industry has been able to captures some of the more dramatic changes on film. Dating back to the 1930s, there has been films produced that depicted African-Americans as docile individuals who live to serve white families. As times changed and America made progress in integration of cultures, African-American rose to a new role on the big screen. Initially, African-Americans were introduced on the screen as closer equals to their white counter parts. However, these films did not accurately depict African-Americans as whites wrote the roles. America made greater strides towards equality in all areas, including the film industry that allowed for the development of new roles for African-Americans. This grittier and more intense approach was only achieved through African-Americans taking on the major behind the scenes. African-Americans were only to achieve a more accurate depiction onscreen as American’s perceptions of race were challenged over a 50-year period and African-Americans took on roles behind the scenes.
In the earlier stages of film in the 1930s, African-Americans are portrayed in a more submissive role in comparison to their white counterparts. This is characterized in early 1930s films through the use of good natured and kind African-Americans in conjunction with a slew of films about the Deep South. An example of this good-natured portrayal of African-Americans on screen is Gone With the Wind. In Gone With the Wind, Hattie McDaniel portrays a happy go lucky but spitfire of a house servant named Mammy to the O’Hara family. Gone With the Wind centers on the idea of the good old days of the south and makes the idea of inequality of race an okay topic rather than it being taboo. Other films followed this same process including The Littlest Rebel starring Shirley Temple. The Littlest Rebel reinforces the idea of creating a white dominated screen that allows for a simplistic inclusion of African-Americans and as the title suggests allows for a South dominated film. During this time, whites were the dominant audience thus it was socially okay to portray African-Americans in an unrealistic manner. Furthermore, the idea of complacent African-Americans is only able to come about in film, as there was a tapering off of the Lynch Laws in the South creating a newer view of a less aggressive African-American that had previously never been seen as films like Birth of a Nation dominated the big screen and society’s views.
Time and audiences at movies changed, making a way for a changed portrayal of African-Americans on the big screen in the 1960s. Sidney Poitier starred in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, a 1960’s film that broke ground and challenged the public’s perception of the racial divide. However, there are a few problems with this portrayal of African-Americans in this film. Although, Sidney Poitier presented his character in...

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