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chapter 10 Neither Color Blind, Nor Near-Sighted representation, race, and the role of the academic filmmaker Aaron Greer (Loyola University, Chicago) “What kind of filmmaker does not want his film viewed by a potential distributor or representative?” asked a producer’s representative in Los Angeles when I expressed some reticence about sending my film to her company for consideration. “Did you make the film with the intention that it would be distributed, or not?” The company in question represents a slate of “urban” films, the current euphemism for films featuring black and Latino characters, “urban” meaning inner city, inner city meaning ghetto, ghetto meaning black. Because I had just completed Gettin’ Grown,1 a film set in inner-city Milwaukee with a predominantly black cast, she concluded, sight unseen, that my film would probably be right up their alley. Theirs, however, was precisely the alley I didn’t want to go down. I had created Gettin’ Grown partly in response to the extremely limited and limiting representations of blackness available on American screens. In fact, my film expressly critiques all the other films in her company’s catalog. Gettin’ Grown features no sex, nudity, on-screen violence, drugs, or gangs. It does not star rappers, basketball players, or, indeed, “name” talent of any kind. It is a fairly unglamorous, realistic portrayal of a black child’s life in a Midwestern city. By design, it has little in common with any other films in the urban film and video market,2 making it a tough sell to distributors and by extension to film audiences. In other words, it is the type of film I became an academic to make. At its core, the producer’s question had merit. After all, film is a medium intended for mass consumption. Gettin’ Grown could not be posited as a critique of the films currently playing on American screens if it did not find its way to some of those same viewers. And I very much wanted my film to enter the “marketplace of ideas,” I just didn’t want it to be governed or compromised by the marketplace of dollars. My position as an academic filmmaker allows me the freedom to T4989.indb 209 T4989.indb 209 2/27/09 6:57:46 AM 2/27/09 6:57:46 AM 210 straddle that particular fence. Academics have the unique ability— even responsibility—to critique, question, and create work regardless of its commercial viability, work that is truly independent of market forces. It is a luxury that allows us to challenge not just the dominant paradigms of Hollywood but also the viewers themselves on such thorny issues as class, sexuality, gender, race, and identity. It was my interest in exploring issues of racial identity in particular that led me to filmmaking and then to the academy. Although I have been pleased to witness an increasing diversity of characters and stories in film and television, I believe that audiences in the United States continue to accept only a limited spectrum of otherness and are infrequently asked to question their own assumptions about race and identity . All too often gay men are still portrayed as fashionably dressed queens, African Americans as criminals, athletes, or entertainers, and Asians as asexual scientists or martial arts masters, because these are the archetypes with which we are most comfortable and familiar .3 Being presented with alternative images or challenging those stereotypes directly is often disquieting for audiences and consequently unprofitable for makers, leading to a vicious cycle of rehashed storylines and stereotypical characters. The raw economics of the equation cannot be discounted, since film production and distribution still demand considerable human and material resources. Although the advent of digital technologies has turned the tools of production into consumer items, this equipment , such as video cameras and desktop computer editing systems, certainly remains a luxury consumer item. For the price of a broadcast quality camera and computer editing system, one can purchase a used car, tuition at a state college or university, or a year of child care, for example. Consequently, access to these kinds of resources—not to mention intangibles such as time, creative and critical support, and a stable income—contributes to the freedom academics enjoy in form, style, and content, including the ability to challenge the viewers directly about race. In 2002, I created a short film that attempted to do just that. The Director Aaron Greer working with actor Isaiah Matthew on the set of...


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MARC Record
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