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Cheryl Dunye on Making History with ‘The Watermelon Woman,’ Representation, and Performance

Twenty years ago, Cheryl Dunye made history as the first African-American lesbian to direct a feature-length film. Now that film, The Watermelon Woman, has finally been given a proper DVD release, courtesy of First Run Features. To mark the occasion, we spoke on the phone with Dunye about the film, history, performance, and authenticity.

The Film Stage: Both The Watermelon Woman and the short that’s included on the new DVD, Black Is Blue, express a high level of commitment and detail in the recreation of documentary form. What documentaries and / or mockumentaries influenced you?

Cheryl Dunye: I’ve been working in this practice since the late ‘80s. I went to Rutgers and had a studio practice there, got my Mfa, and that’s where I discovered what was becoming the queer film world. There was a lack of identity, representation — in the work that was being seen — by,
See full article at The Film Stage »

How to Read (Black) Classic Films

Although the title of this article might appear pedantic and perhaps even a tad condescending, I hope to convince you of its urgent necessity and importance by the end. The work of tenacious film historians like Sergio Mims here at Shadow & Act, Donald Bogle and others are constantly bringing to our attention buried and neglected Black films from a time period when it was once thought that the only Black films that mattered were those with Sidney Poitier in the lead. I should like to define a certain twenty year period as the Black Classic Film Period which is roughly from 1948 with Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini’s film Paisan which featured an episode with a Black G.I. and...
See full article at ShadowAndAct »

S&A 2013 Highlights: How to Read (Black) Classic Films

Although the title of this article might appear pedantic and perhaps even a tad condescending, I hope to convince you of its urgent necessity and importance by the end. The work of tenacious film historians like Sergio Mims here at Shadow & Act, Donald Bogle and others are constantly bringing to our attention buried and neglected Black films from a time period when it was once thought that the only Black films that mattered were those with Sidney Poitier in the lead. I should like to define a certain twenty year period as the Black Classic Film Period which is roughly from 1948 with Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini’s film Paisan which featured an episode with a Black G.I. and...
See full article at ShadowAndAct »

TCM And The Academy Team Up With TCM Classic Film Festival Style In The Movies Events

The TCM Classic Film Festival is teaming up with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) to showcase a unique slate of programming that taps into Academy archives and distinguished membership to illustrate this year.s overall festival theme of Style in the Movies.

AMPAS will exhibit Hollywood home movies, preserved by the Academy, featuring legendary stars and filmmakers, presented by Randy Haberkamp of AMPAS and Lynn Kirste of the Academy Film Archive with special guests Margaret O’Brien; Steve McQueen.s former wife Neile Adams McQueen Toffel; Henry Koster.s son, Robert Koster; and the daughter of Fred MacMurray, Kate MacMurray.

AMPAS will also present a discussion of how art directors use various items to aid in storytelling featuring members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Art Directors Branch as well an exhibit of sketches and behind-the-scenes photography that illustrate the work of costume
See full article at WeAreMovieGeeks.com »

Club TCM to Offer Celebrities, Expert Panels, Exhibits, Music and More During 2011 TCM Classic Film Festival

Club TCM to Offer Celebrities, Expert Panels, Exhibits, Music and More During 2011 TCM Classic Film Festival Exclusive Gathering Spot for Festival Passholders to Feature Appearances by Mickey Rooney, Debbie Reynolds, Leslie Caron, Marni Nixon, Marge Champion, Debbie Allen, Peter Guber and Brett Ratner

Legendary stars, fascinating presentations, panel discussions, live music and special exhibits are just a few of the exciting experiences on tap for Club TCM, the central gathering spot for the 2011 TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood. Located in the Blossom Room at the historic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, the site of the very first Academy Awards® ceremony, Club TCM will be open throughout the festival, giving passholders a place to relax, meet new friends and mingle with special guests. Among those scheduled to appear are Mickey Rooney, Debbie Reynolds, Leslie Caron, Marni Nixon, Marge Champion, Debbie Allen, Peter Guber, Brett Ratner and graphic artist Michael Schwab, as well
See full article at WeAreMovieGeeks.com »

The First Book By A Black Author Adapted To Film By A Hollywood Studio Was…?

While researching for a future books-to-film post, I suddenly wondered what the first book by a black author to be adapted to film by a Hollywood studio was…!

Anyone… anyone… anyone…?

No, Oscar Micheaux doesn’t count in this case, because, again, I’m only considering books that have been optioned and adapted by Hollywood studios.

A headscratcher… so, I went through a few books of mine that cover, in some facet, black film history, notably books by Donald Bogle, bell hooks, Manthia Diawara and Ed Guerrero, and others. And I think I found the answer within the pages of Guerrero’s Framing Blackness: The African American Image In Film (a recommended read if you haven’t read it already).

On page 28, in the chapter titled Hollywood’s Inscription Of Slavery, Guerrero mentions a 1946 book by African American author, Frank Yerby, titled, The Foxes of Harrow. Guerrero doesn’t explicitly
See full article at ShadowAndAct »

Heat Wave – The great Donald Bogle’s new bio on Ethel Waters

Though I missed his book signing in NYC this past Thursday (had a screening of my own film – hallelujah!) all film, and Black film (and music) lovers have to go out and get Donald Bogle’s new book on the turbulent life of Ethel Waters, entitled Heat Wave.

If you’ve somehow never read any of Bogle’s books, he’s the preeminent historian on all things Black film. I spent a geeky but fulfilling summer of my youth reading his work, which includes:

Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks: An Interpretative History of Blacks in Films; Brown Sugar: Eighty Years of America’s Black Female Superstars; Blacks in American Film and Television: An Illustrated Encyclopedia; Dorothy Dandridge: A Biography; Primetime Blues: African Americans on Network Television; Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams: The Story of Black Hollywood.

If you’ve read ‘Bright Boulevards…’ in particular, you learned a lot
See full article at ShadowAndAct »

Holiday season gifts for the Black film lover

In my quest to figure out good Xmas and Kwanzaa gifts for my people this year, I realized we always recommend movies, DVD’s and VODs, but I’ve seldom read about good books here on S&A. So, I’ve compile a great list for of Black cinephile-based books for the filmgoing audience. Some you’re definitely familiar with, others maybe not, but nonetheless here it is:

Donald Bogle’s books

I’ve been reading Bogle’s books for 20 years now, so considering I’m just on the precipice of my (eek!) mid-30’s, that’s saying a lot of the amount of Black film knowledge that he’s imparted to the masses for decades.

Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks

Arguably Bogle’s greatest, if not simply his best known book, “Toms…” is the definitive study of American Black film images going back to the beginning with Birth of
See full article at ShadowAndAct »

Jim Brown

Jim Brown
Spike Lee's new film chronicling the life and times of one of the most heralded and complicated sports figures of the century treats its subject with a reverence that surpasses even the director's portrait of Malcolm X. An exhaustive account of every facet of Jim Brown's sports and show business careers, not to mention his troubled personal history, this video documentary occasionally lapses into the realm of self-importance, but is nonetheless mostly gripping throughout its overlong running time. Made for HBO Sports and due for cable broadcast later this year, "Jim Brown: All American" is now receiving its theatrical premiere at New York's Film Forum.

The opening segments of the film are the least impressive, including an extraneous sequence in which we see Brown giving a pre-Super Bowl pep talk to the Baltimore Ravens, and a scene shot on St. Simons Island in Georgia, where Brown grew up, in which he discusses his segregated childhood while pointing to the graves of various deceased ancestors. The focus then shifts to his high school sports career in a fairly affluent section of Long Island, N.Y., with his exploits beamingly described by various teammates and his beloved old coach. Terence Blanchard's jazz score, similar to those in many previous films by the director, provides a suitably plaintive and emotive musical background.

The film naturally gathers steam when it reaches Brown's pro football career, when the descriptions of his exploits are well illustrated by archival footage documenting his extraordinary skills and iron-man stamina. The latter is demonstrated not only by the footage of his evading being tackled by scores of players, but also by the amazing statistic that during his nine-year career he missed only half a game.

His film career is discussed in rather grandiose terms, with the film's position being that Brown made revolutionary strides in redefining the image of the black male onscreen. While there is some truth to this -- his interracial sex scenes with Raquel Welch and Stella Stevens were highly unusual for the time -- such films as "100 Rifles" and "Slaughter", clips of which are shown, hardly make the case convincing. The thesis is made even less credible by the commentary of such figures as historian Donald Bogle, who, at least as edited here, seems to have a major preoccupation with black penises.

Also handled in extensive detail are Brown's aborted production company partnership with Richard Pryor, his leadership role in the black community and his efforts to stop gang violence in Los Angeles through the founding of the Amer-I-Can organization.

Contrasting with his humanitarian efforts is his checkered personal history, including numerous arrests for assault. Although not shying away from the controversies, the film is clearly on Brown's side, letting him extensively tell his side of the story and including numerous exonerating interviews with his supposed victims, including the woman whom he was accused of throwing off his balcony and the current wife whose car he vandalized. A lengthy interview with one of his sons, who has had extensive difficulties with drugs and alcohol, makes clear that his emotional reticence, so useful on the football field, was less helpful in terms of his relationships with his children.

Lee's clearly admiring approach, typified by a climax in which we get to witness graphic video footage of the birth of Brown's latest child, occasionally gives the film the air more of a promotional video than a no-holds-barred cinematic examination.

JIM BROWN: ALL AMERICAN

HBO Sports

A 40 Acres and a Mule release

Director-producer: Spike Lee

Executive producers: Ross Greenberg, Rick Bernstein

Co-producers: Mike Ellis, Sam Pollard

Director of photography: Ellen Kuras

Editor: Sam Pollard

Music: Terence Blanchard

Color/stereo

Running time -- 130 minutes

No MPAA rating

See also

Credited With | External Sites