Shaping the Future of African American Film
Color-Coded Economics and the Story Behind the Numbers
Publication Year: 2014
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication
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As a scholar and as an artist with experience in directing, acting, and writing, as well as an avid film viewer who also happens to be an African American woman, I set out to determine if the above statement is true. What I discovered in the process has altered my approach to every aspect of my work. ...
Introduction. The Color of Hollywood—Black, White, or Green?
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On April 20, 2012, director Tim Story’s Think Like a Man, a cinematic adaptation of comedian Steve Harvey’s self-help book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, debuted on over two thousand screens across the United States. Produced on a $12 million budget,1 Think Like a Man earned $34 million in its opening weekend, holding the number-one spot for top-grossing movies for two consecutive weeks. ...
Part One: Finding Freedom on Stage and Screen
1. The Plantation Lives!
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Academy Award–nominated actress Alfre Woodard’s suggestion to look beyond screenplays as a source for good material offers a useful although precarious intervention in the future development of African American film due to the critical interrelation between theatrical and cinematic production. ...
2. Insurrection! African American Film’s Revolutionary Potential through Black Theater
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Plays with predominantly black casts are less likely to be adapted into films. This is in part because adaptations of plays with predominantly white casts have been more lucrative. Those plays with predominantly black casts that have been adapted to film tend to receive comparatively lower budgets and less distribution than their white-cast counterparts, ...
Part Two: Black Pathology Sells [Books and Films]?
3. Playing with Fire: Black Women’s Literature/White Box Office
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Given the racial dynamics of the entertainment industry, films by and about black women are poised to fail. Yet since 1980, there have been three cinematic adaptations of books by black women, all with black female protagonists, that are among the highest-grossing of all African American film dramas. ...
4. Breaking the Chains of History and Genre
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Considering the influence of early novels on historical films such as The Birth of a Nation and the various film versions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, translating written language for private consumption into a publicly consumed visual language historically limits black representation. It also inspires intertextual discourse between African American novelists and filmmakers. ...
Part Three: It’s Not Just Business: Color-Coded Economics and Original Films
5. The Paradox of Branding, Black Star Power, and Box Office Politics
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The Ulmer Scale, developed by James Ulmer, a film analyst, journalist, and contributing writer to the New York Times, in 1997, tracks and scores star bankability, which refers to “the degree to which an actor’s name alone can raise full or majority financing up front for a motion picture.”1 ...
6. Big Business: Hip-Hop Gangsta Films and Black Comedies
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From 1995 to 2012, there have been more films produced from original screenplays than any other source material. Novels run a close second, while stage plays are far less frequently adapted, even among African American films.1 ...
Conclusion: The Story Behind the Numbers
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Black cultural producers continue to occupy a precarious position in Hollywood, but there are promising indicators that suggest change is afoot. On July 1, 2012, Beasts of the Southern Wild,, Benh Zeitlin’s cinematic adaptation of southerner Lucy Alibar’s play, opened on four screens in the United States. ...
Appendix: Ulmer Ratings of Selected Actors
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About the Author
Monica White Ndounou is an assistant professor of drama, American studies, and film studies at Tufts University. She directs plays and teaches interdisciplinary courses in theater, film, media, and cultural studies. ...
Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 10 photos, 5 figures, 6 tables
Publication Year: 2014