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Black City Cinema

Black City Cinema: African American Urban Experiences In Film

Paula J. Massood
Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Black City Cinema
    Book Description:

    In Black City Cinema, Paula Massood shows how popular films reflected the massive social changes that resulted from the Great Migration of African Americans from the rural South to cities in the North, West, and Mid-West during the first three decades of the twentieth century. By the onset of the Depression, the Black population had become primarily urban, transforming individual lives as well as urban experience and culture.Massood probes into the relationship of place and time, showing how urban settings became an intrinsic element of African American film as Black people became more firmly rooted in urban spaces and more visible as historical and political subjects. Illuminating the intersections of film, history, politics, and urban discourse, she considers the chief genres of African American and Hollywood narrative film: the black cast musicals of the 1920s and the "race" films of the early sound era to blaxploitation and hood films, as well as the work of Spike Lee toward the end of the century. As it examines such a wide range of films over much of the twentieth century, this book offers a unique map of Black representations in film.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0565-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Migrations, Movies, and African American Cities on the Screen
    (pp. 1-10)

    During the last half of the twentieth century, African American film was increasingly identified as city film in the public imagination. Its narratives were commonly assigned to specific urban settings, with New York’s Harlem and Brooklyn neighborhoods associated with African American East Coast life and Los Angeles’ South Central and Watts neighborhoods with the West Coast. The two most common genres associated with African American city spaces are blaxploitation films from the 1970s and, most recently, hood films from the 1990s. In both examples, genre is defined by urban visual and aural iconography, which is often engaged in a dialogue...

  5. 1 The Antebellum Idyll and Hollywoodʹs Black-Cast Musicals
    (pp. 11-44)

    From the bondage of the Middle Passage to present-day reports of the return of many northern blacks to the South, movement has defined the African American presence in the United States. This presence has also been linked to the terminal points of these movements and shifts, whether they are the antebellum South or the industrialized North or West. In a related and often paradoxical manner, African American images have been framed, marked, and understood in relation to these migrations and their destinations, such as Harlem, at particular times. This chapter considers one such movement, the Great Migration, and its relationship...

  6. 2 Harlem is Heaven: City Motifs in Race Films from the Early Sound Era
    (pp. 45-78)

    African American film production dates to 1912 and the release of the Foster Photoplay Company’sThe Railroad Porter, but African American subjects and subject matter can be traced back to the beginnings of American filmmaking. As early as 1895, Thomas Edison and his assistants filmed and projected the first images of American blacks on the screen in a variety of shorts. Featuring titles such asWatermelon Contest(1899),The Gator and the Pickaninny(1903),Ten Pick-aninnies(1904), andThe Wooing and the Wedding of a Coon(1905), the films continued the treatment of African American subject matter that had first...

  7. 3 Cotton in the City: The Black Ghetto, Blaxploitation, and Beyond
    (pp. 79-116)

    The release ofStormy Weatherin 1943 was the beginning of Hollywood’s shift from the segregated geography and the static etiology of the antebellum idyll toward a more apparently integrated cinema. This shift resulted less from an overt desire to change than from a combination of industrial, political, and cultural circumstances. These included the passage of Executive Order 8802 and the creation of the President’s Commission on Fair Employment, Walter White’s and the NAACP’s pressure on the studios, and African American participation in World War II. The results of these developments ranged from the decrease in the number of all-black...

  8. 4 Welcome to Crooklyn: Spike Lee and the Rearticulation of the Black Urbanscape
    (pp. 117-144)

    For a brief period spanning the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, the visualization of an African American cinematic urban-scape was inextricably linked to blaxploitation and other black-focused films. This city space, which I have referred to as a black ghetto chronotope, was characterized by precise spatial and temporal coordinates: African American neighborhoods in New York and Los Angeles in the 1970s. Films such asSweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Songand Superfly shared a temporal immediacy and documentary-like realism produced by cinematic devices such as location shooting, handheld camera, and sync-sound. References to the fashions, urban patois, and politics (such as black...

  9. 5 Out of the Ghetto, into the Hood: Changes in the Construction of Black City Cinema
    (pp. 145-174)

    During the early 1990s, a new group of African American city films appeared. Variously described as “ghettocentric,” “New Jack,” “New Black Realism,” or hood films, films such asNew Jack City(Mario Van Peebles, 1991),Straight Out of Brooklyn(Matty Rich, 1991),Boyz N the Hood(John Singleton, 1991),Juice(Ernest Dickerson, 1992), andMenace II Society(Allen and Albert Hughes, 1993) were directly influenced by black-focused films from the 1970s and the changing industrial, political, and economic environment that emerged in the 1980s around filmmakers like Spike Lee.¹ Hood films are characterized by identifiable urban settings and contemporary time...

  10. 6 Taking the A-Train: The City, the Train, and Migration in Spike Leeʹs Clockers
    (pp. 175-206)

    While British filmmaker Reece Auguiste refers specifically to the sociopolitical and the historical circumstances influencing the members of the London-based Black Audio Film Collective, in the epigraph above he stresses movement as one of the defining thematic concerns of black diasporan peoples. In fact, the very reference to a diaspora underscores the influence that movement, especially that which has been coerced, has had on persons of African descent.² As I have emphasized throughout this work, the themes of movement and mobility—migration in particular—are prime forces in the history of African American filmmaking and its construction of cinematic metropolises....

  11. Epilogue: New Millennium Minstrel Shows? African American Cinema in the Late 1990s
    (pp. 207-226)

    In Spike Lee’sBamboozled(2000), television writer Pierre “Peerless” Delacroix (Damon Wayans) attempts to get himself fired from his job at a fledgling television network by writing what he believes to be the most offensive show possible,Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show, a variety show based upon American minstrel shows from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It features “Mantan” (Savion Glover) and “Sleep ‘N’ Eat” (Tommy Davidson), a duo who wear blackface, dance, shuffle, shuck, and jive, all on a set that resembles a southern plantation very much like the idyllic settings from early vaudeville or from the...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 227-256)
  13. Index
    (pp. 257-268)