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Clarence's Hollywood

  • 01/15/2010 - 22:28
    The release of Ron Clements/John Musker’s The Princess and the Frog (2009) through Disney Studios has created controversy which probably started while the animation was still on the drawing boards. No wonder. Disney Studios has a history of distorting racial images and playing to the lowest common denominator. Among the issues raised about The Princess and the Frog have been its setting; in hurricane ravaged New Orleans though set in the 1950s; its emphasis on Voodoo; or in the age of First Lady Michelle and President Barack Obama, that the prince is not black enough for the African American princess. It’s easy to condemn these controversies as being from people who are too thin-skinned, but a deeper analysis is in order.
  • 12/30/2009 - 19:23
    On December 4, 2009, Amanda Knox, the 20 year-old white University of Washington study abroad student was convicted of participating in the vicious November 1, 2007 murder of her roommate, the then 21 year-old Meredith Kercher, a British Anglo-Indian student, in Perugia, Italy. The American media has been wagging its tail as to the "obvious" innocence of Knox. No doubt screen writers are now busy. The common theme will be that any foreign-based criminal justice system can not possibly be as "fair" as our own in spite of acquittals such as OJ Simpson, Claus von Bulow, or the gang of four Los Angeles policemen who brutalized a defenseless Rodney King. In courtroom movie dramas set in foreign countries, the message is usually sent of a lone white American hero trapped in an alien culture that has a draconian legal system.
  • 12/09/2009 - 14:18
    Considerable liberties have been taken with Irish writer Bram Stoker’s gothic novel, Dracula, published in 1897, about a centuries-old vampire born of the ruling class and described as a devil-on-earth. This murderous aristocrat from Transylvania and his cinematic (and literary) descendents have been transformed into god-like heroes in an age of Christian Fundamentalism. It may be only fitting then that popular Mormon writer Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight Saga, about white teenage angst and abstinence, has captured this genre with big-money film adaptations of her novels, Twilight (2008) and New Moon (2009), and with still more to come.
  • 11/30/2009 - 21:47
    African American filmmakers Spike Lee and Tyler Perry are having a bit of a dust-up. The urbane Lee, a dozen and one-half years older than Perry and half Perry’ size, has confronted cinematic colleagues before about racial imagery on the screen. Lee sees Tyler’s characters as modern-day regurgitations of the early racism historian Donald Bogle wrote about in Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, & Buck: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films (1991). Lee has also taken on Quentin Tarantino for his gratuitous use of the “n” word in the violent and redemptive modern gangster film, Pulp Fiction (1994). He publically chastised Clint Eastwood for ignoring the contributions of black soldiers in Eastwood’s critically acclaimed WWII drama, Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) which focused on the Japanese soldiers’ point-of-view.
  • 11/07/2009 - 03:28
    Historian John Hoberman’s, Darwin’s Athletes: How Sport has Damaged Black America and Preserved the Myth of Race (Mariner Book, 1997), provided a much needed indictment of race and racism in the big-money American sports. Dave Zirin, a sports scholar we are unlikely to hear on National Public Radio, has also deconstructed the racial mythology in sports by articulating a capitalistic fixation on African Americans athletes.
  • 10/29/2009 - 18:13
    Not even United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was able to avoid the Hollywood generated stereotype of the hot-tempered Latina. Republicans challenged Sotomayor, a woman of Puerto Rican heritage, to cool her alleged temper in service to the Court during her confirmation hearing in summer 2009. These staunch believers of rugged American individualism could well have been channeling the image of early movie actress Lupe Velez (1908-1944) known as the Mexican spitfire. The tragic and assertive Velez was reduced to drug and alcohol dependency and committed suicide at age 36.
  • 10/07/2009 - 23:19
    Now that Oprah Winfrey has bequeathed her blessings to the motion picture Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2009), we can all rest assure that this is a film we all must see. On September 28, 2009, National Public Radio featured the diva of the TV talk show giving gushing praise to director Lee Daniels' new movie featuring a brutally frank depiction of incredible insensitivity being inflicted on an overweight African American teenage girl in Harlem by her own family. The long title reflects not just film’s source but is probably employed to distinguish it from several other films with the same name.
  • 09/25/2009 - 14:36
    President Barak Obama and Michelle have re-ignited a vision of marital concordance that is seldom seen in popular cinema. This assessment does not come from a rigorous, scientific analysis of a random sample of Hollywood films, but is more an impression from a critical viewer. Gender problems exist between couples of color in real-life and on the screen, but Hollywood has not by and large given us anywhere near the romantic realities of couples such as Will and Jada Pinkett Smith or Denzel and Paulette Washington. No wonder then that a predominant image left in the public psych might be the dysfunctional Bobbie Brown and Whitney Huston and the domestic violence of Chris Brown toward Rihanna.
  • 07/18/2009 - 03:17
    For all that can be said for racial imagery in Hollywood, the cinematic representations of African Americans continues mainly as clowns. An empirical assessment of comedy vis-a-vis dramatic images is not the point of this perspective, but an argument can be made that a 21st Century buffoonery in motion pictures seems to be very prevalent. I argue that movie-goers continue to be inundated with up-dated depictions of African Americans cut from the cloth of Jim Crow as in Coon Town Suffragettes (1914). Such a legacy of racist cinema seems to have made little difference to the disrespect Cedric the Entertainer showed Rosa Parks or the bug-eye antics of the late Bernie Mack. The irritating performances of the likes of Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, Chris Tucker and the glad-to-be absence Whoopi Goldberg, overwhelms the dramatic impact of actors the caliber of the always impressive Denzel Washington.
  • 06/30/2009 - 22:39
    African Americans are 13% of the U.S. population but make-up 28% of the arrest made and are 40% of the inmate populations in U.S. prisons and jails. Whites comprise 67% of the US population and are 70% of arrests made yet are only 40% of the inmate population. Hollywood propaganda is disguised as popular entertainment and operates to floods the collective psyche with images of incorrigible African Americans and Latinos. Policemen are more often seen as being forced to trample over Constitutional rights in order to protect the greater public from the hoards bent solely on perpetuating total anarchy.
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