Black History Year

Destroying the Narrative White Hollywood Created

Episode Summary

No matter how many tickets we buy, or how many hours we watch, Black Americans still have very little influence over what film or television gets made - or how it portrays us. The images of Black people pumped out to the mainstream range from affirming to annoying to actively damaging. Morehouse’s Dr. Stephane Dunn helps us unpack how we got here. She is one of the founding members of Morehouse’s Cinema, Television, & Emerging Media Studies Program, serves as its program director, and takes us from "Birth of a Nation" to "Good Times" to Tyler Perry.

Episode Notes

No matter how many tickets we buy, or how many hours we watch, Black Americans still have very little influence over what film or television gets made - or how it portrays us. The images of Black people pumped out to the mainstream range from affirming to annoying to actively damaging. Morehouse’s Dr. Stephane Dunn helps us unpack how we got here. She is one of the founding members of Morehouse’s Cinema, Television, & Emerging Media Studies Program, serves as its program director, and takes us from "Birth of a Nation" to "Good Times" to Tyler Perry.


Black History Year is produced by PushBlack, the nation’s largest non-profit Black media company. Obviously, the power that comes from knowing our history is important to you. PushBlack exists because we saw we had to take this into our own hands. You make PushBlack happen with your contributions at Most people do 5 of 10 bucks a month, but everything makes a difference. Thanks for supporting the work. Production support from Mikel Ellcessor and Jessica Rugh Frantz from Limina House and Sasha Kai Parker as editor/sound designer, with the PushBlack team: Tareq Alani, Brooke Brown, Eskedar Getahun, Abeni Jones, Patrick Sanders, and Cydney Smith.


Useful links:

They Set Us Up to Fail’: Black Directors of the ’90s Speak Out

How John Singleton Made History as the Oscars’ First Black Best Director Nominee

Charles D. King's Media Production Company Macro Puts Diversity First


Episode Transcription

HOST: Do you think Hollywood has the best interest of Black people in mind when they make films?

TEASER: Decisions are made in rooms and offices at the highest level that are very conscious. It's not happenstance that a man ends up on the screen.

HOST: Welcome to PushBlack’s Black History Year. I'm Jay and thanks for giving us some time today. When we were putting together ideas for the podcast, we knew we wanted to dig into the ways Black folks are represented in media. We wanted to know, why are we portrayed in certain ways? Whose interest does it serve? And how can we take back control of our images? I'm sure everyone has a lot to say about this one, so when we were looking for an amazing expert Morehouse’s Dr. Stephanie Dunn was at the top of our list. Dr. Dunn is one of the founding members of Morehouse’s Cinema, Television and Emerging Media Studies program and she serves as its Program Director. 

Jay: So in the context of film and other popular media. What does Black liberation look like to you? 

Dr. Stephanie Dunn: Wow, that's such a great question. Well, I think that film, just like the autobiography, I think, served as a literary genre for one of the platforms for us to articulate a vision of ourselves, which was radical and revolutionary, because it pushed against the mainstream representations of us as merely servants, as Stepin Fetchits, as mammies, etcetera, etcetera. So it's one of the modern technological, artistic spaces right for us to claim as well to offer counter narratives first about who we are and who we were not in the complexities that make of us.  But also as a call to arms, for example, pushing back as Oscar Micheaux did with “Within our Gates,” against “Birth of a Nation,” which is you know, the first sort of when you think about it, modern film in one way, but absolutely still one of the most racist films ever to be made ever anywhere, right? So cinema was a space that we entered into fully conscious of its power to articulate, right, who we were, or to represent where who we are and who we are not. But at the same time, it certainly was also entertainment, joy, as well as this weapon or tool, if you will, for our liberation. So I think when you think about films like “Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song,” which Huey Newton called ‘the first revolutionary film.’ Now, other folks debated that, but the point is that it did come out of the Black political movements of the 1960s and the early 70s. That film, hard to imagine that coming to be if it were not for the Black Power movement, the civil rights movement, the demand to see that represented on the screen, but also to see Black voices articulating what revolution in liberation looks like on the screen. 

Jay: I’d like for our audience, to have an understanding of how our images have changed over time. So can you give me an overview of how Black folks have been depicted in film over time? 

SD: Sure, absolutely. So we start with motion picture in the early nineteen hundreds, really, when motion picture was really beginning to develop and all signs were there that it was going to be the most powerful entertainment medium, surpassing stage to a certain degree. So we see a lot in those early films, two things. One, African people, and literally, people of African descent being presented as primitives because those Tarzan films, by the way, which came out of the books began to be made into movies very early on, by 1919 or so. So we received supposedly primitive Africans, right, seen through the prism of white folks coming to so-called ugly Africa, right, and then conquering them. So there's one. So by the time we get to the 30s, and 40s, and we have sort of dominant genres, where you'll see Black Folk represented in film where they are safely contained in comedy and in music, so to speak, lots of times even performing in front of sort of like a white Cotton Club sort of audience even within the film, so the talents of Black folk are sort of confirmed. You've got the Shirley Temple films, right, which become vastly popular sort of war elixir in terms of entertainment with the great Bill Robinson dancing alongside his little white co-star, you know, this grown man is a sidekick of this little white girl, right? So then we have sort of an emergent creeping sense of the civil rights movement, right, and the sort of cultural heat that is going to be fully probably realized by the time we get to 1960 because we'll have in there the death of Emmett Till and we'll have films that are the kind of the liberal films that are directed like “Member of the Wedding” and you've got, you know, films like “The Defiant Ones,” Sidney Poitier, and we see the rise of Sidney Poitier as the preeminent Black star who is playing middle class characters a lot of times, he's SO undeniably perfect. Well, who in their right mind, Black or white, rich or poor, would, you know, deny this Sidney Poiteir character of “Guess Who's Coming to Dinner” fame, he's got like, 60 million degrees and, you know, he's cultured and he's --  and you're going to yourself like, well, what does the, what does the white girl in there have to offer him? But that's not the way he’s played. So in the 60s, you see that but you also see Black America going, ‘these images are out of date.’ Right? And we are not necessarily after quote, integration. We are, you know, radically demanding something more than integration to be on the screen, represented as so perfect that, you know, white folks approve of us. But by the time we get to ‘73, ‘71, we've got Melvin Van Peebles, Sr. who is now capitalizing on this Black power, Black Panther sort of icon of bad actors who are like, ‘no, to the status quo. Oh, we comin’ to blow stuff up lest we get our rights.’ And so you get a whole bevy of Black directors and writers and storytellers with ideals because we are responsible for some of the iconic characters that come to life. You know, even films like in “Superfly” directed by Gordon Parks, Sr., the great photographer’s son, right, and we have “Shaft” directed by Gordon Parks. And we have the “Spook that Sat by the Door,” one of my all time favorite films, based on a book by a Black man, Sam Greenlee, directed then and somewhat controlled, that film, by Black folk, that was so hot it only stayed in the theater a few weeks, but it showed total Black Armageddon. So you get these films and at the same time, you've got films still directed, you know, sort of mainstream liberal film in a sense, like “Sounder,” “Claudine,” I mean, just think those were in the same three years, ‘73, ‘74. And each was nominated for an Academy Award. It's films that people don't even remember, along with the films, people tend to focus on the most, that will coin blaxploitation, which really sort of embodies both the problem and the promise of radicalize films. And then that kind of sets the, the, you know, the stage for Spike Lee to then emerge in the 80s and then, you know, by the 90s, the Hughes brothers and menace to society and we have kind of a genre, Black male oriented, another cycle of urban set films, largely, you know, as they were, focused on sort of a Black male coming of age in the ghetto, trying to survive narrative and then come to kind of an explosion of some urban romances that genre, right, of the “Love Jones” and so forth. Before we get to Tyler Perry really, in the new millennium.

Jay: “Spook Who Sat by the Door” is also one of my all time favorite ones. I recommend it to every new person we bring on the team of PushBlack, I’m like hey you gotta watch this before we even get started. So I want to dig a little deeper into the why. So we have these characters, these stereotypes, these tropes that exist, but it's not a coincidence they exist, right? Give me some insight on why you think the industry promotes certain images like the Stepin Fetchit or the jezebel, all that stuff. Why do you think that these images are shown in repetition from when they were created, even up to now? 

SD: Well, first, we got to understand that these images were never separated from the political and economic importance of maintaining them, right? Slavery had to be justified. It was justified largely through imagery, imagery of happy slaves, of the mammy, etcetera. Now, that translated in film, which was not owned, operated at all by Black folk. So it represented the Jim Crow segregationist mentality of the time by showing Blacks constantly, really as second class citizens. So that helped to maintain the status quo, if you will. So they're not separated from the political implications of the racial segregation and also the racial brutality and so forth and second class citizenship that was being afforded to Black folk. Now, by the time you get to the 50s, 60s, and 70s, we are in this, you know, radical movement towards really a transformative status quo. Never realized, mind you, but we come to a very violent decade and period by the time we're, you know, out of the 60s. Now, Hollywood is both a reflection, I like to say, you know, of who we are culturally. So if we are, in terms of women still trying to fight for the equality of women, women are still not represented very well in terms of executive leadership at studios and so forth, it's going to reflect in the films that get made. So we think now that because sometimes by the time we get to, you know, having a Spike Lee and others that because we see more films sometimes that seem to indicate,’ hey were’ in a renaissance.’ We did that in the 70s. ‘Renaissance, look at all these films starring Black folk!’ But see, we forget the economics of Hollywood. Not all of these were Black independent films. And some of these were Hollywood studio films: the Shafts, the Cleopatras. Well, what happened when Hollywood lost interest? It no longer needed it to sort of help with the economic decline that Hollywood had actually found itself in. Those films cheaply made helped to both bolster by tapping into this Black audience that Hollywood periodically goes, ‘Oh my goodness, yes there are Black movie goers and they pay money, yes, to go!’ And we have since segregation, right, watching it up in balconies and segregated, you know, poor theaters and so forth. So by the time we get to a contemporary moment, even like we’re in now, we're still, if you notice, having circular conversations, you know, Oscar’s so white, hello, check the box, right? You didn't think we were having that in the early 70s, the 60s? Hello, we were, okay. We were still having the same conversation not only about that, but also about Black control over the narrative who gets to call the shots behind the scenes, and we're having conversations about the same thing when films are successful. There's a big surprise. Why are there articles about the film making money? As if Black films don't make money when that's been proven time and time again, whether you're talking about a Batman that makes a lot of money, right, or something like that, or you're talking about a Black Panther. But you see, we continue to have to push back on a couple of myths. One is that we don't make money overseas when really Hollywood Studios haven't invested or believed in that. Not that it's necessarily the truth, you see what I'm saying. And so we have a Black Panther. And it's like, why people? Why are you surprised? Wow, this movie made a lot of money. But we can point to countless films, so called Black-oriented films, can we not, that have done that, including “Sweetback”? That's why they started to invest in, to kind of rip off films, because this film, which was, the money was independently raised, you know, among, you know, some Black colleagues. That's what he did, Melvin Van Peebles, Sr. And then he made all that money after being rated X by an all-white jury. So I say that, to say that now we see people like Tyler Perry, who under- Tyler Perry, as a businessman did understand something very fundamental, right, which is that you can make movies but you're going to basically be at the mercy, still, of Hollywood’s elitism and Hollywood sort of steal money, studio control, sort of center, unless, heck, you build one your own self. 

Jay: Right. Great point. We're gonna get into Tyler Perry, for sure, towards the end. So I'm glad you brought that up. Take it back to the question of why would it be fair to say that there is an element of propaganda that exists in these films? 

SD: Absolutely. As they have from the beginning, I mean, that's what “Birth of a Nation” was, right? And then most of the films that, you know, sort of put us in the box of music and comedy, right? They were propaganda in a sense as well and that they reinforced the idea that this is our space, this is where we belong, this is, you know, the second class citizenship and not as tycoons on Wall Street and so forth. This is not-- it didn't do films on Black Wall Street, you see what I mean? That was not what the focus was because that didn't match the Jim Crow and, you know, racial hierarchy. That was very well established. So the films reflected that.

Jay: So, I’ve got a question about Blackface, all right. Can you, for our audience, can you speak on what that is? And ways you see that relating to what's created today. I have some ideas, but I'm interested in your thoughts on that.

SD: Sure, of course. Blackface comes from its original minstrel tradition that was around before the advent of film and television in stage entertainment. And it's been called, you know, America's first quote, popular entertainment, and that you had supposedly, you know, a white man who Blackened his face, right, who was supposedly imitating an old slave man in his walk and his dance. And he put that on and turned it into basically his comic entertainment routine in front of white audiences. And then, of course, that form of entertainment caught on and you had many white men, you know, forming their entertainment groups as minstrel groups, if you will. And they went around the country in places where people had never even really seen Black folk period. And then you have Black entertainers, talented entertainers, like the great Bert Williams, who also had to participate in supposedly the parody of Black identity and also Blackening their faces and participating in this tradition of Blackface. Now, it translated to film, so in “The Jazz Singer”, by Al Jolson, is probably the first famous representation of it all, though you'd see this in cartoons and you can even see Bugs Bunny in a Blackface in a cartoon. Oh, yes, absolutely. Gotta go in that vault! But in “The Jazz Singer,” right, we have Al Jolson singing by his dear old mammy in Blackface, so it translated to screen and of course, we see even now, that we see in America, we think it's 2020, it’s 2019, it’s ‘20 anything, 2000 anything, and how could you think it's correct? I don't think it's shocking that it ends up still, you know, being a conversation that we keep having because that's so insidiously implanted in American culture’s representation of an ideology of Blackness. 

Jay: So, I have this idea that I want to run by you see what you think about this. You have people like Norman Lear who create, right, “The Jeffersons,” “Sanford and Son,” “Diff’rent Strokes,” all that stuff. Iconic shows that Black folks to this day love, however, creator was white, the writing room was white. They're presenting their idea of what Blackness is, how Black people are to masses of people and we often bought into that and white folks often bought into that. And I actually see that as a form of Blackface and I think that the way that it’s still set up today, like if there's not a Black folks in the story, I think that's still a form of Blackface just in a more subtle ways since we don't really see that person on stage but we see them presenting this image still of what they think Blackness is. What are your thoughts on that? 

SD: Those television shows that you mentioned by Norman Lear, who I've incidentally spent the whole evening with and had at Morehouse, and we had private conversations about that. And so we spent a whole evening talking about and had the Jefferson stars and some of “The Facts of Life,” Kim Fields got her start there, there with us that evening. You know, at the time, of course, there was controversy with Black folk on the show, right, as you know, and other folks like Eric Monte, who you know, had helped to create “The Jeffersons.” There was first “All in the Family” and so forth, obviously, and then you had the show “Maude,” Esther Rolle was on “Maude,” and then they came to her to show her the idea about “Good Times,” and she was like, she was supposed to be a single mother, right, with these children in the Chicago ghetto. And she was like, basically, ‘hell no, where's her husband? I'm not doing that.’ So hence James Evans. So even right there, you see, and I guess she had enough pull in the sense that they wanted her, you know, as to role play Florida Evans, but she was like, I'm not, you know, doing that. But the fact is that they had that's the ideal that they had that was sellable, right? Is this gonna be this Black mother sort of, you know, hey, unable to take care of her children, not without a nuclear family, in other words. And then we have the, you know, by the time we have “The Jeffersons,” you can clearly see in in some of the writing, that it was a liberal, white sort of mentality, not necessarily all the time a Black one, because then that would have required there to be the diverse Black voices behind the scenes that had sort of equal power, so to speak, in terms of the writing and just shaping the direction. That's why there was a great push and pull between the JJ character, John Amos, the James Evans character and Esther Rolle, who begin to be very uncomfortable about what they saw sort of the buffoonery, what they saw as sort of the buffoonery from smart comedy to sort of a more of this, you know, kind of Zip Coonish type stuff, they were uncomfortable with that, they felt like they had-- and Norman Lear said this to me, he said, that they had a difficult situation and that they were in tune with the desire of Black audiences, not to see themselves misrepresented. He felt that responsibility. And so he fought, you know, when he didn't think that it represented the dignity, so to speak, of Black folk, it was, you know, coming off at the rails in terms of that. And so that's why, you know, you see those characters and that conflict come out in whether you're watching “All in the Family,” or you know, later on in “The Jeffersons” with George Jefferson. But certainly there was a great push and pull because again, no, you know, Black folks starred in the shows, they were not the controller's of the creative vision, right? And the story and often the writers room, right? 

Jay: Right, they were the Blackfaces. 

SD: Well, that's, that's what you said! 

Jay: I'm not gonna put that on, not gonna put that on you.

SD: I think that I can see your, definitely, your argument for calling it that.

Jay: So Tyler Perry mentioned that he recently opened his studio. He's found success primarily through Black audiences and he works outside the system to a larger degree than most Black directors or producers in the, in Hollywood, and he probably hires more Black actors than anybody, but he's been criticized through his entire career probably more than anybody, as well. So what, in your opinion, are some of the main critiques you know of regarding Tyler Perry's films and how valid do you think they are? 

SD: Well, I have myself two published chapters in two books on Tyler Perry. And I think the first one was one of the first ones of academic treatment on Tyler Perry's film. So I've, you know, dealt with it in my writing as well. But of course, there's the central argument about representations that they contribute really, to stereotypes of Black folk, and sort of cross the line of, you know, comedy into stereotypical comedy. So that's probably the first primary one, right, is that films traffic in stereotypes, the Medea's and so forth. And, you know, these are parodies that do not represent us any more than some of the traditional films that you know, by white folks. So that's been one of the central arguments right, early on, and throughout the years, sporadically. And that's been pushed up against people who then argue back you know, so you have those diehard Tyler folks who were just then you know, he's a great businessman, which I always say there's two different things going on and they don't need to be- we can celebrate. And I think on what is the savvy, entrepreneurial vision of Tyler Perry, that's legitimate and he is going to be very much an important part of Black history and American history, American cinema history, in terms of that. But we can also take issue in question and interrogate his trafficking in certain images of Black women, Black folk, upper class white identities, you know, people supposedly who are working class characters or, quote, ghetto characters, we can interrogate that, I think. I think that that is absolutely justifiable to interrogate that. I don't think anybody makes so much money that they are above our interrogation. If we strongly see that the representations on screen when we've had and continue to have such a problematic history of being misrepresented. You don't get a pass because you are Black. 

Jay: How important do you think he is in the history of Black film and filmmakers?

SD: Extraordinarily so. I mean, I think about Oscar Micheaux and he's probably the most well known figure that we know from the early 20th century that we would point to as ahead of his time, but also sort of, to me, he anticipates the Tyler Perry, because Oscar Micheaux was absolutely a businessman and was trying to own his product. It was not just this artistic or political thing. He saw it as a business as well. And he was trying to exploit that as well as he could. So Tyler Perry, sort of to me is the realization of Oscar Micheaux’ vision and effort in the early 20th century. So he is going to be very important. He's going to be in the history books, this is a very important moment that this Black men built a studio and that he makes it in some ways for him an ode to some of the the, you know, the Black folk that he sees as important like the Sidney Poitier’s, all of that is really important. But I also think that there is going to be obviously interrogation and measurement of his legacy, both of his representations of Black Folk on screen but beyond that, as a writer and a filmmaker in terms of the quality of stories, the quality of his taking on the mantle, always of director, writer, producer, because that's I think those are all aspects that should be interrogated. Some of the measure of his legacy is also about what he does to push Black cinema narratives, opportunities for other artists forward which I have not seen yet quite frankly, with him. I see him investing in emerging artists who, quite frankly, can just write their, you know, their behinds off, right? Really well. They're not business folks, but they write better than him. They have studied film more as a craft and art and they're invested in that. And I, that's the push I haven't seen that disappoints me. 

Jay: You mentioned the critique of representation of Black actors and sort of the imagery that’s on the screen. And I know whether with him or any other working Black actor or Black guy just trying to work, there's roles presented that may not be the best look for Black people as a whole, they may be a good look for that actor, but they might be a good look for the community. It makes me think of “Hollywood Shuffle,” where the critique I took away from that was, I love the way they framed it like, if you need work then the post office is always hiring. Do you think that Black actors and Black creators in general have a certain responsibility to be more critical of the roles they accept and the images they portray?

SD: So I think I want to take the word responsibility out of this for once and sort of answer it without saying that particular word. Because, of course, that's been an age old discussion since our advent into film, when the great Hattie McDaniel, who people then critiqued in 1930s, 1939, when “Gone with the Wind” came out, for being mammy, the maid in “Gone with the Wind.” And she said something famously akin to, “I rather be paid such and such thousands of dollars to play a maid rather than be one.” Well now that's real talk, right? And I don't think we can dismiss all of the roles, particularly prior to the 60s as one in which they just sold out and that was the end of it, right? Because I don't see the great Burt Williams, for example, who became the highest paid entertainment, entertainer on Broadway at one point, who performed in Blackface as a sellout. So there is, I think, always going to be this clamor, and not you know, unjustifiably I mean, I think there's some justification for that because if you look at how we have been demeaned and and disempowered, in terms of American cinema, of course, it's gonna come up. But we're not in the same place that we were 67 years ago and making choices in these narrow ways. So of course, we have more opportunities, but it's still also some slim pickings for Black actresses. Right? That's why you can't, you can't necessarily at one time in every period up to now name 10 Black actresses getting as many roles as as Cate Blanchett and Kate Winslet, am I right? So there's a lot of states, I think, still in terms of actresses and actors, Black actresses and actors, trying to sustain a career, to keep working, to build a career. 

Jay: Yeah, it's interesting because I hear that critique often, however, I don't necessarily hear that about your average person working a nine to five like, that may also be contributing to the system of white supremacy in a certain way, right? So if it's like, the critique is that these images contributed to that, but someone who works for the bank as a teller as a nine to five, but they're still doing something that enforces things that may harm us, depending on what that banks involved in. 

SD: But that's understandable, isn't it? Because cinema is something that is a global industry that puts people in the public space, and the public sphere, that is consumed globally. And it is true that people have very distorted imagery of who African Americans are, because what gets imported, even in parts of Africa to the country is so limited or maybe so that that's what they think is African American identity. They don't understand this, the diversity of it, of our many identities, because they're only getting the certain vehicles and nuggets imported. And heck, yes, it matters. For sure. It results in real world decisions and treatments. 

Jay: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you. So one trope that I've seen critiqued often recently is this idea of the white savior. Can you describe what this is for our audience? 

SD: Oh, it’s one of my favorites, one that annoys me a lot, right, that I've written about myself a number of times. So that's the character in the film, even if it's a supposedly Black film or Black story, who ends up being really the hero, who ends up saving the day or being the character who is most noble, or appears to be at the end of the day, the most noble sort of outside whoever the Black character is, or the you know, the Black hero is supposed to be.

Jay: Mmhmm. Can you give a couple well known examples our audience may be familiar with? 

SD: You want me to go there, please. “The Help.” That's one of my favorites. And one of the films that left me livid when I left the movie theater, I was livid is “Amistad” because it really focuses so little on the voices and the story and instead, I mean, you get more of Adams, you know, in his garden mooning over some African violet than you get-- I mean, it's just, it's just, it's completely insane to me. And “Green Book” didn’t set too well with me either. The dynamics of that being billed as the Black guy story and it's really not. And some of the representations of him, including his sexuality, were really horrible and that it did fall into some of that white savior-esque trope. 

Jay: So who do you think benefits from these type of images? 

SD: You know, film is a very psychological enterprise, isn't it? That's why there's so many articles and essays over time that study the psychology of cinema, right? Psychology, all spills out on the screen. So I think there's some real psychological implications to how that feeds a certain level of white man's burden as, you know, release there. I think that's been a part of liberal cinema. 

Jay: Yeah, I would agree with that. And we see these images repeated, there’s this idea of repetition in propaganda. Are you able to speak a little bit to how the repetition of images may affect how Black people see themselves, to see their place in the world? 

SD: Sure! That's why you get conditioned. That's why there are so many stories of people growing up, you know, and they're standing on that Oscar stage, and what are they talking about? Growing up, right, not seeing images of themselves over and over again, even in the shows that they may have loved as children. They didn't see people who look like them with complicated stories or with stories that were, you know, normal human beings type of stories. So it has a great, as I say, a psychological impact. Because if you don't see yourself represented all the time, in a space where you live, like popular culture, particularly film, then that's going to have this sort of social and you know, I think psychological implications and consequences. And it also means that collectively, people are not seeing other groups of folk, as, quote, the norm. They measure themselves as the norm because they're being represented as the measure, right? And the norm.

Jay: Do you think Hollywood has the best interest of Black people in mind when they make films? 

SD: Well, this is funny thing because when I'm sitting in class with students, often in a class called “Film Criticism in Theory,” when have hit them historically, sometimes, with this ideal that this was conscious, that Hollywood was a conscious machine. In other words, decisions are made in rooms and offices at the highest level that are very conscious. It's not happenstance that a mammy ends up on the screen. It's not happenstance that you see dark skinned Black males maybe represented in characters associated with violence, when there is a distinct belief that attaches criminality, to Black folk, in particular, young Black males, youthful Black males particularly even of a type of skin color. That's not happenstance that you then see it represented on screen that way. Because I think it's really hard and horrific to think people intentionally sit in offices and make decisions that demean you, even if it's because privilege allows you. Well what kind of excuse is that because my white privilege allows me not to interrogate my choices. But we've seen plenty of folks who were really radical, of all races, go against the strain of their time, and do just that, haven’t we? 

Jay: What would it take for Black creators to create an empire of our own that actually was established with an interest of telling stories about our community in a way that we controlled to a degree that we don't control now with the Hollywood system? 

SD: Well see, I think that's happening, but understand it's not going to look the same as it did in the early 20th century. Because very many people are entering the space because you can now, we can make film on our computers and we can do it with our iPhones and people can get together and form their companies. So that's going to look differently. But you have people right now doing that. They understand the power of media, they understand that we have to be in ownership, we have to be producers of it, right? I mean, what do we think of the Charles Kings, the Will Packars, the Byron Allens, are doing if not that? And Oprah. Hello. I mean, when she went off to do her own network, and she was like, this is what I'm going to do and she could stay comfortably. I think one of the things is to demystify entertainment a little bit. I mean, I tell my son who's only 10, right? We have conversations when we go see things because I'm getting him introduced to the ideal that critical thinking and entertainment are not separate things. That we see things on TV, favorite shows or films that we want to go see. We always have responses to them. So I think that we have to have more conversations like that, that really illuminate something that's really basic in our thinking about that, that these go together, critical thinking, right, and watching for our pleasure, and that there's joy and pleasure in the critical thinking and talking about something that we spend 15 bucks to go see, and that we know cost millions of dollars to make. That's worth talking about and having real conversation about it. And we shouldn't be afraid to debate it and have, you know, be passionate about it. 

Jay: Yeah, I think people often forget, well I don't even know if people are aware, that storytelling as the oldest form of passing down ideas and values society is intended to serve a certain purpose and doesn't just exist in a vacuum. But I think there's opportunity to tell stories that are more influenced by our experiences and our traditional approaches to storytelling in a way that I think may connect with Black audiences in a way that we haven't seen on a mass level before.

SD: Well see one of the things that has to happen is that we have to really mature our palate for films stylistically. Because that is, I think, one of the worst things that holds us back from embracing the fullness of the stories that are being told by Black filmmakers and other filmmakers of color. We're very attached to a very, really relatively narrow stylistic way of telling films so that things that are not quickly sort of dismissed or relegated to art house or avant garde in such a way that in other countries, they would not be that, right? I was very encouraged by seeing “Parasite,” you know, won Best Picture but when we think about somebody like Barry Jenkins, and the conversations I had with some people about, you know, “If Beale Street Could Talk” and you know, you know, that particular film and I think that some of, you know, our folk, Black folk, were were somewhat bothered by you know, the pacing and the fact that he really takes his time in terms of the silences, the way he plays with silence and you know, darkness and light is very artistic, lyrical sort of narrative, right? It is not what we, quote, are necessarily used to seeing right now. Do you see what I'm saying? And so I think that is a real issue with us. Because I think that's the reason why something like “Daughters of the Dust,” or way before that, “Killer of Sheep” which are classics but are in some way sort of relegated, sort of contained in a sort of box of like, “this is a certain level of artistic film, a blah, blah, blah, blah, right? Rather than one of our standards, one of our stylistic choices. You see what I’m saying? We have to kind of grow our palette, we got to be able to appreciate the artistry of film, and really kind of I think, be able to take it in and appreciate, you know, those things that are not typical that we see in film. 

Jay: Dr. Stephanie Dunn. Thanks so much. This has been great. 

SD: Go see more cinema but always, you know, don't be afraid to think about it and talk about it in a real way.

Jay: And just like that we're at the end of this episode of Black History Year. Black History Year is produced by PushBlack, the nation's largest nonprofit Black media company. Production support from Mikel Ellcessor and Limina house. Obviously, the power that comes from knowing our history is important to you. PushBlack exists because we saw we had to take this into our own hands. You make PushBlack happen with your contributions at Most folks do five or 10 bucks a month, but everything truly makes a difference. Thanks for supporting the work. I'm Jay from PushBlack. Thanks for checking us out. Peace.