Friday, June 15, 2012

Looking For Black Role Models

"An impressionable young black man in search of roles and images in the movies and media, however, would have found a sorry set of models. In the forties, the dominant representation of the African American was the comic minstrel, typified by the national radio show Amos 'n' Andy. (Ironically, of course, the original actors in the series were white, mimicking black dialect.) In films, blacks were generally presented as clowns or mental incompetents. Gone With the Wind, Hollywood's 1939 extravaganza celebrating the prewar slave South, offered up the servant Mammy, docile yet loyal, obese and hardworking. One of the few Hollywood movies of the period that departed slightly from crude stereotypes was Warner Brothers' Bullets or Ballots, featuring black actress Louise Beavers as the notorious Nellie LaFleur, the numbers queen. It is likely that Malcolm saw this film as well as dozens of others that addressed racial themes; decades later he would recall Hollywood's distortions of black people as part of his general indictment of white racism. Even the title of the Warner Brothers' film may have been recycled in Malcolm's 1964 address "The Ballot of the Bullet.""

- Manning Marable, 'Malcolm X'

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