There is a disconnect between the lived experiences of contemporary Black America and the movies. One reason is that there simply aren't enough films featuring the lived experiences of people of color that are greenlit for production. Not that the stories or screenplays aren't there -- they are not being made.
This period of what is being called "slave films" is discomforting. On the one hand so many people are unfamiliar with that period in American history. Common thought also suggests that so many of us think that slavery was such a long time ago -- so we do need films that show that part of the county's despicable history.
That said, in many ways, the films about slavery are not telling us anything new and in fact continue to highlight the same premise and archetypes -- that slavery was terrible not because people were stolen from their homelands, bought and sold and insured (by still surviving U.S. insurance companies) but because the white slave owners were sadistic. Cut to -- let me show you how sadistic. The sadistic (often well to do) slave owner and his seemingly powerless wife are finally challenged by the well-meaning white man who will essentially become the turnkey hero through an act of kindness or bravery. This of course disallows for the historical evidence of how many slaves survived, rebelled and escaped. It also closes the door on a deeper visual rhetoric about how slavery was part of a knotty American fabric -- common -- ubiquitous -- often without fanfare. It's residue still has death grip on modern day America.
You can tell a great deal about a culture through its art and specifically through its national cinema. Not only by what is produced but what is absent. Timing is everything -- so the question does remain -- why now are "slave films" being produced? We often hear that screenplays by African American filmmakers cannot be found. I have a science fiction film and am adapting the novels of Pearl Cleage to the screen, others that I know have dramas, comedies and historical pieces. What they have in common is a modern day take on African American lives -- and points of view that we seldom see expressed in American cinema. The absence of this work on screen is very telling about American culture.
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