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"Century of Black Cinema" is a very good song for folks who know very
little about the subject. However, due to the brevity of the film, it's
also a bit superficial and I would really love to see a much longer or
multi-part documentary about black actors and actresses in film.
The film pretty much gives a chronological overview of the subject-- from the days around "Birth of a Nation" where many of the 'black' actors were actually white folks in black-face to the first inroads of black actors into Hollywood films to the all-black cinema of the 30s and 40s to more mainstream roles in the 1950s and beyond. Many of these early stars and important films were discussed, though because the film is so short, some films were sadly omitted (such as "Imitation of Life" in 1934 and "Intruder in the Dust") and a few actors omitted as well. This is NOT to say it's a bad film. Despite having a distinctly made straight to video look, the film was interesting, well written and worth seeing.
Century of Black Cinema (2003)
*** 1/2 (out of 4)
Ted Newsom directs this well-made documentary that gives us a history of black cinema. This documentary was a lot better than I was expecting it to be but the director goes into some great details about various movie stars from the past. The film starts off with early silent cinema and how most black actors were just white people in blackface. We then discuss the likes of D.W. Griffith's THE BIRTH OF A NATION and then we get into the likes of Oscar Micheaux.
From here the documentary covers a wide range of films and actors including the popular ones like Sidney Poitier but also some of the lesser known or forgotten artists like Stepin Fetchit, Mantan Moreland,and Willie Best. We also cover even smaller artists who have sadly been forgotten over the years. Films like GONE WITH THE WIND are discussed as well as some of the rock and roll films of the 1950s that at least allowed America to see the real artists like Chuck Berry.
While the running time keeps this from being even better, there's no question that Newsom has done a terrific job with not only the interviews but also the film clips shown. The story and how he tells it are extremely good and I thought this would really be beneficial to people that aren't overly familiar with some of these names. Yes, there's an error in regards to an actress in THE BIRTH OF A NATION but that's just a minor thing.
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