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A challenge to Hollywood's one-dimensional images of African Americans

Framing Blackness

The African American Image in Film

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Ed Guerrero

Honorable Mention Theatre Library Association Award, 1994

"Ed Guerrero writes broadly and insightfully about the creation and domination of the black image in commercial cinema. This book is a must-read for anyone wishing to develop an understanding of black films and filmmaking in the U.S."
Julie Dash

From D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation to Spike Lee's Malcolm X, Ed Guerrero argues, the commercial film industry reflects white domination of American society. Written with the energy and conviction generated by the new black film wave, Framing Blackness traces an ongoing epic—African Americans protesting screen images of blacks as criminals, servants, comics, athletes, and sidekicks.

These images persist despite blacks' irrepressible demands for emancipated images and a role in the industry. Although starkly racist portrayals of blacks in early films have gradually been replaced by more appealing characterizations, the legacy of the plantation genre lives on in Blaxpoitation films, the fantastic racialized imagery in science fiction and horror films, and the resubordination of blacks in Reagan-era films. Probing the contradictions of such images, Guerrero recalls the controversies surrounding role choices by stars like Sidney Poitier, Eddie Murphy, Whoopie Goldberg, and Richard Pryor.

Throughout his study, Guerrero is attentive to the ways African Americans resist Hollywood's one-dimensional images and superficial selling of black culture as the latest fad. Organizing political demonstrations and boycotts, writing, and creating their own film images are among the forms of active resistance documented.

The final chapter awakens readers to the artistic and commercial breakthrough of black independent filmmakers who are using movies to channel their rage at social injustice. Guerrero points out their diverse approaches to depicting African American life and hails innovative tactics for financing their work. Framing Blackness is the most up-to-date critical study of how African Americans are acquiring power once the province of Hollywood alone: the power of framing blackness.

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Reviews

"This well-written and well-argued book offers both an historical survey of representations of blacks in American films and an argument about the relationship between social life and popular culture.... [It] fills an important need within the fields of cinema studies, Afro-American studies, and cultural studies, and will appeal to a broad range of readers."
George Lipsitz, University of California, San Diego

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Contents

Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. From Birth To Blaxploitation: Hollywood's Inscription of Slavery
2. Slaves, Monsters, and Others: Racial Fragment, Metaphor, and Allegory on the Commercial Screen
3. The Rise and Fall of Blaxploitation
4. Recuperation, Representation, and Resistance: Black Cinema through the 1980s
5. Black Film in the 1990s: The New Black Movie Boom and Its Portents
Notes
Bibliography
Index

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About the Author(s)

Ed Guerrero, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Delaware, lectures and publishes widely on black cinema and has worked on documentary film projects for PBS and Island Records.

Subject Categories

General Interest
Cinema Studies
African American Studies


In the series

Culture and the Moving Image, edited by Robert Sklar.

The Culture and the Moving Image series, edited by Robert Sklar, seeks to publish innovative scholarship and criticism on cinema, television, and the culture of the moving image. The series will emphasize works that view these media in their broad cultural and social frameworks. Its themes will include a global perspective on the world-wide production of images; the links between film, television, and video art; a concern with issues of race, class, and gender; and an engagement with the growing convergence of history and theory in moving image studies.

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