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‘They’ve Gotta Have Us’ Is a Lesson On Black Cinema We All Needed!

written by Kimberly Jones

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They’ve Gotta Have Us created by director Simon Frederick is a three-part docuseries that tells the story and history of black filmmakers and actors in Hollywood. Now available on Netflix, it is just in time for Black History Month. The series provides the audience with an in-depth behind the scenes look at the many struggles that black artists and filmmakers faced and the events that led to Black Hollywood as we know it today.

The documentary opens with a scene from the 2017 Oscars ceremony in which the winner for Best Picture was incorrectly announced as La La Land but the trophy belonged to Moonlight. It was this moment that stuck out to creator Simon Frederick; this pivotal moment and win for Moonlight (which had an all-black cast) had been overshadowed by this mistake. Once again black artists were taking a backseat to their colleagues and not given the full moment of celebration that they deserved.

Image: Getty

Frederick shot the docuseries in three parts. The first focused on the pioneers of the black film industry. Harry Belafonte gives some of his very candid accounts of how difficult it was to become a lead in a film and to also be a love interest of a white actor. Belafonte broke industry barriers in the movie Island in the Sun. When the film came out in 1957, it was not accepted for the interracial relationship displayed on the big screen. Other pioneers who paved the way include Hattie McDaniel who in 1939 became the first black actor to win an Oscar for her role in Gone with the Wind. In 1964 Sidney Poitier was the first black actor to win Best Actor in a lead role for Lillies in the Field. The late Diahann Carroll, who was also featured in the documentary, received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for the 1974 film Claudine. The movie highlighted the stories and daily struggles of black women on screen for the first time.

Among the innovators of Black film are Robert Townsend, Spike Lee, and the late John Singleton. After growing exhausted of the roadblocks he had faced in the industry, Townsend produced his first independent film Hollywood Shuffle in 1987 – a comedy about the stereotypes black actors faced in the film industry. Academy Award-winning director Spike Lee took the industry to the next level with his groundbreaking films including She’s Gotta Have It (1986), School Daze (1988) and Malcolm X (1992). John Singleton’s coming of age film Boyz n the Hood earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Director making him the first black and youngest person to have received a nomination for directing. Most of the time the producers had a small budget and often struggled to get funding, but their films had box office success. This sent a clear message to Hollywood – black films were in demand and people wanted to see them. The innovators of the 80s and 90s had a very different approach to filmmaking. By taking matters into their own hands these producers created timeless masterpieces that generations to come could enjoy.

British actor John Boyega became the first black actor to be cast as a lead in the Star Wars franchise – Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). Boyega’s role, however, was not accepted well by everyone. In China, for example, on the promotional posters for the film, Boyega’s picture was reduced significantly in size compared to his counterparts. Boyega didn’t let that discourage him, however, he knew he got the leading role based on his talent, not skin color.

Selma (2014), directed by Ava DuVernay and starring David Oyelowo, was a historical drama based on the 1954 voting march from Selma to Montgomery. The film focuses on Martin Luther King Jr, the significant role he and his associates along with his wife Coretta Scott King played in the march, as well as the events that led to it. Before DuVernay got on board as the director, the films’ focus was on President Lyndon B. Johnson, which really did not make sense to Oyelowo and other cast members. DuVernay used her vision to tell a more detailed story of the black people involved in this historic day. This fact goes back to the running theme of the documentary – the importance of having black writers, producers, and directors to tell black stories.

‘They’ve Gotta Have Us’, Netflix

Moonlight (2016) written and directed by Barry Jenkins followed the journey of a young black boy into adulthood. Throughout the film, the main character deals with a drug-addicted mother, struggles with sexuality and searches for his rightful place in the world. Moonlight opened a new chapter for black films – it was the first movie with an all-black cast and also the first LGBTQ film to win an Oscar for Best Picture. Jenkins is considered a trailblazer because of the doors he opened for future artists.

The future of black cinema seems to be bright largely because black artists have taken creative control over the black stories being told in Hollywood. With more up-and-coming black writers and directors black films are starting to get the recognition they deserve. There are more doors opening for creators to tell their stories. Actor Jessie Williams made a valid point about the creative freedom white artists have. He stated, “I lost my dog, here’s a little independent movie of me going to find it and how it reminds me of my mother. And it’s not even good.” Williams’ point was that all artists have the right to create their art, regardless of race. They’ve Gotta Have Us provides a necessary history lesson, shows how far the black film industry has come and excites with what is yet to come.

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Rihanna’s New Wax Figure Unveiled at Madame Tussauds in Amsterdam

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Rihanna wax figure

The global icon and entrepreneur Rihanna was honored with a new wax figure at Madame Tussauds in Amsterdam, Netherlands, this week.

Her outfit this time around is inspired by one of her looks from the 2020 Savage x Fenty show, which streamed exclusively on Prime Video.

Rihanna wax figure Amsterdam

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Starz Releases Official Trailer for ‘Run The World’ Season 2

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Run The World

The squad is back! Starz dropped the new trailer for ‘Run The World’ season 2, and it looks like our favorite NYC girls are in for more fun and drama. Bresha Webb, Amber Stevens West, and Corbin Reid are reprising their roles as Renee, Whitney, and Sondi, respectively. Andrea Bordeaux (who played Ella in Season 1) departed the show over the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

The new season will follow the “euphoric highs and heartbreaking lows that Whitney, Renee, and Sondi must endure in their pursuit of world domination,” says the official synopsis. “Whitney must follow the road of self-discovery to thrive in her life with or without Ola, while Renee and Sondi must decide what they truly want out of life — both in love and their careers. Whether they reunite with a past love, taste the life of a millionaire, or see their career take off in a radical new direction, these powerful Black women, fortified by their impenetrable friendship, won’t let anything get in their way.”

The new episodes of ‘Run the World’ will premiere on Friday, May 26.

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Disney Casts Actors of Color to Play Fictional White Characters – Impactful or Opportunistic?

The studio has faced criticism for hiring non-white actors to portray roles depicted in Disney cartoons as white for its live-action remakes.

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This year, Disney is gearing up to release live-action remakes of ‘The Little Mermaid’ and ‘Peter Pan.’ Each will feature a Black actor playing a fictional character originally portrayed by a white actor. Halle Bailey, a Black actress and singer, is set to portray the beloved red-haired, fish-tailed under-the-sea princess Ariel. Yara Shahidi, a daughter of an Iranian father and an African-American mother, will star as Peter Pan’s most trusted fairy friend Tinkerbell. Both movies are scheduled to be released in the next two months.
 
The casting decisions came with backlash from a vast number of Twitter and Redditt users, who claim – “blackwashing” childhood characters (i.e., taking an originally white character and making them a person of color) will not solve the lack of inclusivity in Hollywood. But is that really why they so passionately stand against it? The negative attention on Little Mermaid and Tinker Bell has also fueled great support from other fans who view such anger as racist behavior. “Those opposed to diversity on screen are the ones fighting it in real life,” one Twitter user wrote. Rob Marshall, who directs the upcoming Little Mermaid remake, admitted he was caught off guard by some of the negative responses that came with casting Bailey. “I wasn’t anticipating that because, in a way, I felt like we’ve moved so far past that kind of thing.” He also insisted there was no agenda in Disney’s decision to hire the 22-year-old, “We just were looking for the best
actor for the role, period. The end,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “We saw everybody and every ethnicity. The goal was to find someone who can be incredibly strong, passionate, beautiful, smart, clever, and with a great deal of fire and joy,” Marshall explained.
 
For a few years now, Disney, among other media companies, has made an effort to
redeem itself from a century-long history of producing controversial movies and
animated films (‘Song of the South,’ ‘Dumbo, ‘The Aristocrats”), some of which have been deemed racist or ‘culturally outdated’ as Disney conveniently describes it. Most recently, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company announced a diversity and inclusion program ‘Reimagine Tomorrow,’ that is committed to “amplifying underrepresented voices and untold stories as well as championing the importance of accurate representation in media and entertainment.” Casting more people of color could count as a way to honor their commitment, but is changing the ethnicity of established characters the best solution? Some argue that it could be. Several previously released remakes that followed this model have done well, despite surrounding controversy.

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella cast/ Disney

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella cast/ Disney

In 1997, Disney released Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, a reimagining of the famed tale. It did not just have a non-white main cast but also received a budget of $12 million, which ranked it among the most expensive television films ever made. The remake featured Brandy, an African-American actor/singer, as Cinderella, the late Whitney Houston as Fairy Godmother, Paulo Montalban, an Asian actor as Prince Christopher, and Victor Garber and Whoopi Goldberg as the king and queen. Although the non-traditional reiteration of the Disney story received mixed reviews from critics, it was met with a lot of praise, specifically from the Black community. “This Cinderella remake is such a beautiful, magical gem of a movie filled with a multiracial cast, and I can’t believe it came out in 1997! Talk about progressive!” a review on IMDb reads. “I think this live-action Cinderella movie is my most favorite. I love the songs and the comedy. Most of the actors are familiar. This movie also teaches us that no matter what we look like, black, white, Asian, we are all the same,” another fan wrote in his five-star review.

Most recently, Disney doubled down on casting non-white actors to star in their remakes. Aside from the aforementioned ‘Little Mermaid’ and ‘Peter Pan’ films, Rachel Zegler, a Latina actress, was cast to play Snow White in a movie scheduled to be released in 2024. Disney’s ‘Wonder Years’ reboot features an all-Black main cast. Zendaya plays MJ in the new Spider-Man movies. And that’s not just with Disney. Amazon Prime Video recently cast Afro-Latino actor Ismael Cruz Córdova to play Arondir, a Silvan elf, in ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.’ The reimagining of ‘The West Side Story’ featured Latino actors in leading roles. Almost every casting announcement caused a social media stir.

Rachel Zegler spotted on the set of ‘Snow White’

But why remake in the first place? According to Dr. Matthew Jones, Film Studies lecturer at De Montfort University in Leicester, “Remake and reboot culture is not new. It’s often framed as something novel and unique to our postmodern times, but there is actually a rich tradition of remakes in Western film culture,” he told Cosmopolitan. So why are they still being made? The answer is fairly simple – remakes are a safe financial bet. Studios capitalize on people’s nostalgia and the connections they already have with their favorite characters. “The most secure option for studios is always going to be something we call a ‘pre-sold property,’ Dr. Jones continued, “meaning films with pre-existing fan audiences. And what types of films have fan audiences before they are even released? Remakes, reboots, and sequels do, precisely because they are already properties familiar to audiences and which some people will feel an emotional attachment to already.”

Those opposed to Disney’s casting decisions to ‘race swap’ insist the company should focus on creating original characters and storylines instead of reimagining the ones they have become so accustomed to. “Another remake! Did Hollywood run out of ideas?” One Reddit user asked. “Disney is only changing the race/ethnicity of characters in live-action remakes to spark controversy and get more people talking about the movie rather than trying to bring minorities to light as protagonists,” another speculated. However, it’s no secret that the United States has a long and dark history of racial discrimination and injustice. So, when minority groups are shown outside of the tired, stereotypical roles or, furthermore, play roles that are considered “traditionally” white – it implies a change that some simply don’t want to accept.

Indeed, Disney had succeeded in the past in introducing original non-white animated characters such as Mulan (the live-action version was released in 2020), Tiana in ‘Princess and the Frog’ (the remake is currently in the works), Moana, and most recently, the family of ‘Encanto.’ But original content inevitably means more resources spent, and with remakes that deliver guaranteed financial gains and casting decisions that bring attention (positive or negative), studios seem to achieve desirable results still. Additionally, the cultural and racial diversification of Disney’s fan base and the pressure to acknowledge and show more of those faces on the screen pushes the company to do just that. So the main question remains – does Hollywood genuinely cares about inclusivity, or is it just adjusting for the sake of profits? No matter the answer, one thing is clear – Disney is not going anywhere any time soon, and neither are the Black, Asian, Latino, and other non-white people across the globe. Those who have a problem will just have to learn to live with it.

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