… genre quickly died out. While Hollywood
continues to portray black male characters with
“good” or “bad” extremes, some progress is being
made. Audiences in the 1990’s are experiencing a
boom of movies by black directors (Guerrero,
Framing 158). Spike Lee’s Clockers (1995), is an
example of a film that shows improvement in how
the black male is portrayed. Clockers is the story
of drug dealer Strike and his relationship with
the white cop Rocco.
Like Priest in Superfly,
Strike deals death to his own people in the form
of crack cocaine. But Strike is more complicated a
character than Priest, just as Clockers deals with
more socially relevant issues than does Superfly.
Where Superfly merely provides an escapist vehicle
for black audiences, Clockers deals with the
epidemic of violence and death carried out by
blacks on other blacks (Blake 24). And where
Superfly drew criticism because young blacks were
emulating a negative role model, Lee addresses
this issue within the film. Reviewer Todd McCarthy
remarks: Didactically but effectively, Lee
illustrates how the tough, independent, successful
images of young men like Strike and his dealer
buddies dominate the impoverished projects,
inspiring young kids to dress, talk and behave
like them and making men who try to do the right
thing, by earning an honest living and living
according to principles, look impossibly square,
even stupid, to impressionable eyes. (73) Lee puts
the problem right up front. The audience is
allowed to stand back and pass judgment in the
young men who imitate the dealers, instead of
being the ones who imitate the dealers.
Strike seems similar to Priest in that he deals
death to his own people, Strike represents more
than a black action hero who triumphs over whitey.
In fact, neither Strike nor Rocco triumph over one
another; the victory is in Strike’s internal
change. “You find yourself both despising Strike’s
blindly amoral opportunism and pulling for his
survival,” says Newsweek reviewer David Ansen.
There is something about Strike that is worth
saving, and that is Lee’s message. Strike is,
however, an extraordinary character in an
extraordinary tale. Characters like Strike do not
quite furnish the image that has been missing in
film–that of the ordinary black male as a loving
father and devoted husband. And this is still a
problem. “[T]here are no simple stories about
Black people loving each other, hating each other,
or enjoying their private possessions,” says
Manthia Diawara, Professor of African Studies at
New York University (4).
Although Strike is a step
in the right direction, young black audiences need
positive role models in the films they see to give
them a sense of direction in their lives (Reynaud
331). “What has to be developed in filmmakers,”
says Charles Burnett, “is a sense of who you are,
what you want to say, and how you want to say
it–a world view or perspective that you can
express in your own terms” (qtd. in Reynaud 329).
Some think the only way for black people to get
their films to a wide audience is to buck the
system–Hollywood’s politically motivated
enterprise–and do it themselves (Bobo 429). Since
Hollywood is not changing, or not changing fast
enough, it is time for wealthy black individuals
and black-owned businesses to form an economic
alliance and create a black film production and
distribution industry. Others say that the
audience needs to change. “Audience commitment and
not Hollywood manipulation is responsible for any
lack of variety seen in black films,” says Bill
Duke, director of such films as A Rage in Harlem
(1991) and Deep Cover (1992), “Our community has
to be a little bit more responsible about its
in Lyons 43). Duke has a
point–hit Hollywood where it hurts: at the box
office. Hollywood will drop its racist political
agenda only when it cannot make money with it. The
time is here for movie audiences–especially black
movie audiences–to make a statement at the box
office and demand more realistic representations
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Research essay sample on Representations Of The Black Male In Film