What happened to Black film?

    Is the African-American movie market fading to black? Films featuring Black stars are on the decline.

    Who doesn’t have an impression of Denzel Washington’s self-assured strut and belligerent rants in his Oscar-winning role as Alonzo in Training Day? No one can ever forget the passionate, warm embrace that Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan shared in romantic drama Love & Basketball. And nothing matches the feeling of triumph when Goldie finally sticks it to “the man” in the 1973 blaxploitation classic film The Mack.

    Without question, Black filmmakers and actors have given audiences some of the most memorable moments on the silver screen. But in recent years, however, Black-themed films have drastically declined.

    In a grassroots campaign aimed at increasing awareness of Black contributions in cinema, Film Life Inc. and Black Enterprise magazine have teamed up to launch Black Movie Month. Beginning October 1 and running through the end of the month, the campaign celebrates films made by, about and starring persons of African descent and seeks to stimulate sales of Black movies.

    “Black people in America go to the movies an average of 13.4 times a year. We represent 195 million trips to the box office versus eleven times per year for other races,” explained Jeff Friday, CEO of Film Life Inc. and Founder of the American Black Film Festival. “We clearly have a huge appetite for cinema but there are not a lot of movies that sticks to our culture.”

    Throughout the month of October, consumers can visit www.BlackMovieMonth.com to participate in trivia contests, read film-related articles and books, chat live and learn about upcoming theatrical and DVD releases. In addition, the site features a “Speak Up” section with a petition to Hollywood studios advocating increased diversity of images in film.

    “Fifteen years ago, we had 15 or 16 movies produced a year. Now, we’re down to two or three,” says Friday. “The psychology in not seeing ourselves in movies has a double impact- not only on us but how the world sees us.”

    According to REEL FACTS: A Movie Goer Consumption Study recently commissioned by BET Networks, African-Americans account for $513 million spent annually on movies. The study states that 81 percent of films seen by African-Americans do not prominently feature an African American cast, storyline or lead Black star. 

Of the 402 movie releases in 2011, only four were made by or feature a person of African descent in a leading role: Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family (Lionsgate), Big Mamas: Like Father, Like Son (20th Century Fox), Jumping The Broom and Columbiana (TriStar Pictures).

"Everybody knows that Black movies are a fruitful, viable business…Black people are not joining forces and making movies like their forefathers did,” said Friday. “In the 70s, we had people like Mario Van Peebles, Ossie Davis and Gordon Parks, who were talented people as well as trailblazers. We had people who had courage. Every year, there was a Spike Lee movie or a John Singleton movie or F. Gary Gray. What happened to that?”

    To sign a petition in support of Black Movie Month, click here.



    –Carlton Wade




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