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Black Directors in Hollywood

By Melvin Donalson

Publication Year: 2003

Hollywood film directors are some of the world’s most powerful storytellers, shaping the fantasies and aspirations of people around the globe. Since the 1960s, African Americans have increasingly joined their ranks, bringing fresh insights to movie characterizations, plots, and themes and depicting areas of African American culture that were previously absent from mainstream films. Today, black directors are making films in all popular genres, while inventing new ones to speak directly from and to the black experience. This book offers a first comprehensive look at the work of black directors in Hollywood, from pioneers such as Gordon Parks, Melvin Van Peebles, and Ossie Davis to current talents including Spike Lee, John Singleton, Kasi Lemmons, and Carl Franklin. Discussing 67 individuals and over 135 films, Melvin Donalson thoroughly explores how black directors’ storytelling skills and film techniques have widened both the thematic focus and visual style of American cinema. Assessing the meanings and messages in their films, he convincingly demonstrates that black directors are balancing Hollywood’s demand for box office success with artistic achievement and responsibility to ethnic, cultural, and gender issues.

Published by: University of Texas Press

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pp. ix-x

I began researching this book in the spring of 1997, but from summer 1998 to winter 1999 I set aside the project to write, coproduce, and direct a short film, entitled A Room without Doors. Given my desire to be a filmmaker, it was an opportunity that I could not walk away from, and with the extensive help and support of professionals in front of and behind the camera, I ...

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pp. xi-xii

I need to extend my deepest appreciation and gratitude to numerous people who have, sometimes unknowingly, provided me with support and motivation throughout the six years of completing this book. First, I deeply thank two scholars whose professional and personal endeavors have continually inspired me on this project: Marcus Bruce and Wilfred Samuels. It is my great ...

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pp. 1-8

Of the many creative people who collaborate on a motion picture, the director is regarded as the pivotal individual who governs the aggregate elements for completing the final film. In contemporary American cinema, the director serves as both the guiding force behind a film’s effective content and box-office success. Films, consequently, have been called a director’s medium ....

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CHAPTER ONE. The Pathmakers

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pp. 9-24

In addition to his distinctive career as a professional photographer, Gordon Parks Jr. has also been a published poet, an author of three autobiographies, a novelist, a composer, and a Hollywood director. With an early life filled with racial oppression, restlessness, and violence, Parks could have ended up as so many other blacks did—hopeless, forgotten, and lost. But by his own ...

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CHAPTER TWO. The Visionary Actors

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pp. 25-44

Unlike Gordon Parks and Melvin Van Peebles, Ossie Davis came to film directing via a lengthy tenure as a writer and actor for the stage. In fact, by the 1990s, Davis had achieved a distinctive fifty-year career in theater and an overlapping forty years in film and television. Ossie Davis has been an artistic forerunner and an amazing example of talent and perseverance. ...

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CHAPTER THREE. Black Urban Action Films and Mainstream Images

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pp. 45-65

The creative, pioneering efforts of Van Peebles, Parks, Davis, and Poitier were not just transitory occurrences that had no impact on the Hollywood scene. It wasn’t that Hollywood was contritely endeavoring to make reparations for its legacy of African American screen images, nor was there a particular era of egalitarianism that white studio bosses were opening up for ...

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CHAPTER FOUR. Black Sensibilities and Mainstream Images

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pp. 66-77

With black urban action films presenting the dominant images of blacks in the early 1970s, there seemed to be little room for any other depiction in mainstream entertainment. On the one hand, the prevalence of black superheroes, who were protecting the ‘‘community’’ against the ‘‘man’’ and drugs, provided an affirmation of black existence previously absent from the ...

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CHAPTER FIVE. Michael Schultz: The Crossover King

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pp. 78-94

Between 1964 and 1985, Michael Schultz was Hollywood’s major black director of feature films. Unlike other black directors, Schultz won acceptability and approval from the established studios, and he served as a formidable presence in stage and television direction as well. ...

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CHAPTER SIX. Spike Lee: The Independent Auteur

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pp. 95-123

Between 1986 and 1996 Spike Lee completed ten feature films, and though this number does not qualify him as the most prolific black director ever in Hollywood, it would be impossible to deny that since the 1990s Lee has been the most visible and controversial black filmmaker. Lee’s popularity has given him a recognition unequaled by other black directors. Due to his film ...

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CHAPTER SEVEN. Keeping It Real (Reel): Black Dramatic Visions

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pp. 124-173

Among the thirty-five or so black directors whose work has appeared in the1990s, about thirteen have made dramatic films that call attention to the serious content, as well as the technical merits, of their works.The extent of the box-office appeal and the storytelling success varied among the thirteen directors, but their films, collectively, address the vital need to ...

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CHAPTER EIGHT. And Still They Rise: Black Women Directors

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pp. 174-203

The dearth of women directors in Hollywood has been emblematic of the extensive sexism and patriarchy within the studio system. The celebrated white women directors of the 1930s and 1940s, specifically Dorothy Arzner and Ida Lupino, led the way for others—many of whom obtained work and prominence in the 1980s and 1990s, such as Amy Heckerling, Martha ...

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CHAPTER NINE. Not without Laughter: Directors of Comedy and Romance

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pp. 204-251

Hollywood films that have presented comedy and romance, or a combination of the two, have been an industry staple for decades. Comedies, of course, entertain by providing the audience an escape from the formidable problems of the real world outside the theater. For their part, romances plunge headlong into the emotional turmoil that surrounds relationships, ...

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CHAPTER TEN. Off the Hook: Comedy and Romance with a Hip-Hop Flavor

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pp. 252-277

Among those who study American popular music, arguments are made that ‘‘rap music’’ is an evolutionary outcome of numerous factors: the African oral tradition; African American work songs; the call-and-response tradition; the doo-wop of the ’50s; soul and funk music of the late ’60s–early ’70s; and the union of music and poetry by artists such as Gil Scott-Heron, the Last ...

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CHAPTER ELEVEN. Redefining Crossover Films

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pp. 278-322

The concept of ‘‘crossover’’ has been an operative idea in the marketing of Hollywood films for decades. It took on a particular relevance to African American representation in movies as the early-1970s formula of black urban action movies began to wane in popularity. In his study American Film Now, critic James Monaco places the term ‘‘crossover’’ into the con- ...


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pp. 323-326


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pp. 327-340


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pp. 341-344


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pp. 355-375


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pp. 370-390

E-ISBN-13: 9780292798755
E-ISBN-10: 029279875X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292701786
Print-ISBN-10: 0292701780

Page Count: 389
Illustrations: 57 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2003