I have been reading about the history of black people in cinema recently and it came as no surprise that black people in film have always been unfairly represented.

Originally, blacks were played by white people in early films. When we started playing ourselves, these first images were as water melon eatin’, big lipped having, always smiling subservient caricatures, who would do anything for their ‘Masser!’. Men were often seen as being cowardly bug eyed buffoons always ready to run away from trouble.

Black women were portrayed as ‘mammies’, non sexual, overweight and adorning a napkin on top of their heads or as oversexed and scantily clad harlots. The stories were even more ridiculous with the zenith of this stupidity perhaps being a film where the black ‘mammie’ maidservant gave up a huge inheritance, (and the chance of true freedom), from her invention, to stay faithfully with her white ‘owners’. The reasons for these images according to Hollywood, was that the American South would only pay to watch films where the image of a black person was what they were used to!

Even when blacks started making their own films they still continued producing the same comical characters. The era of self ridiculing had begun brought on by the fact that positive black role models in film would not be shown by mainstream American film studios. If you look at the portrayal of blacks in film today you could argue that things haven’t changed that much.

So where are we at today? Will Smith is the hottest actor on the planet, and he’s black! Surely that has to be good news right? Not necessarily because Will just fits into that other stereotype of blackness, the Superspade!, made popular in the 70’s. Will can do no wrong and earns more than the golden child Tom Cruise per picture and we see him in a huge number of different roles, mostly as a hero. It is a different kind of ridiculing, one that appears to be saying ‘all blacks can do this’, when in truth they are really saying ‘only the blacks that we create, can do this, and they don’t really exist’. From a character point of view, Will Smith is a kind of Richard Rowntree/Sidney Poitier hybrid, love child type…thing!

At first I was angered by this poor treatment of my people. I love watching films and want only to see a fair representation of my race. Then it hit me that the film industry in the first place was not created by blacks. It was and is very much a white phenomenon. And with this came the fact that white people can only show the images of blacks that they know and from their viewpoint. In short, the film industry is a white place that for years blacks have been knocking on the doors of in the hope to be accepted on equal terms. Unless you have control over all the areas of production from creation to distribution, you cannot hope to compete fairly in this arena.

Considering we are a very small part of the overall game, I think we are doing pretty well. Look, it is never going to be a level playing field because it is never going to be a level playing field, and instead of focussing our energies fighting for the scraps in this industry and in effect bolstering its profits, we need to be bold and start our very own.

Black film makers for years, have been looking for a way out through this white mans world, rather than start their own shit! The only way we can have a fair reflection of our race is by running our own studios. The Jewish built Hollywood, India has Bollywood and the Japanese have their film industry. Nigeria’s Nollywood is our guiding light.

Admittedly when I first watched these films I thought they were terrible. Bad plots, terrible acting and crappy technical work seemed to be a staple. But a year later I am beginning to see changes, better scripts, better acting, in fact, better everything. It is only a matter of time before they can compete on bigger terms, and this is how it should be. Old Hollywood films were not much cop either, (and some stuff that comes out now is truly shite!). But isn’t this just a part of the learning curve?

Now when I watch films and begin to get pissed off at the racial stereotyping, I just remind myself that it doesn’t matter and what I am viewing is just someone else’s image of me.

It will only really matter if we don’t now realise that there is something we can do about it.


3 Responses to “Nollywood…anyone?”

  1. Interesting post… I agree alot of the Nollywood stuff is a load of crap but things are slowly but surely looking up… and no matter how bad they burn me I just can’t help going back!!!

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