Example research essay topic: Representations Of The Black Male In Film – 1,179 words

… s carrying on a tradition that is passed from
father to son- -a father who runs from his
responsibilities and blames all but himself– and
that this pattern repeats itself from generation
to generation. So Duff changes–he accepts the
responsibility of being a father and husband and
learns what it is to be a man. His decision to
return to Josie with his son offers some hope to
his situation. Symbolically, Duff’s decision
conveys the importance of being there for his
family–being a man. The image that Roemer imparts
in Duff is not one about race, but about manhood
and adult responsibility.

This is the kind of
positive character– one that grows–that
audiences need to see. Charles Burnett, who has
made such acclaimed films as Killer of Sheep
(1977) and To Sleep with Anger (1990), describes
what kind of films young black audiences need:
Self esteem has to be rebuilt. And very few films
contain things that could inspire their
audiences–such as real heroes–everyday people
who accomplish something and make sacrifices, real
people you can applaud and not basketball players.
Commercial movies are escapist. Not everybody has
fantasies about judo-chopping someone to death. We
need stories dealing with emotions, with real
problems like growing up and coming to grips with
who you are; movies that give you a sense of
direction, an example. (qtd.

in Reynaud 331) Film
reviewer Shelia Rule says Nothing but a Man
“avoid[s] the conventional pitfalls of
sentimentality, preachiness and demeaning
stereotypes and instead present[s] its characters
with the full range of human qualities” (C16).
Characters like Duff are the kind of images that
Hollywood needs to portray in American films.
Hollywood does not, however, totally ignore
independent filmmakers. Rather, it takes the
techniques and innovations and ideas developed by
the independents and co-opts them for its own
economic and political gain (Bourne 15). Although
black creativity commonly sets American
entertainment standards, black artists rarely
benefit from their own work (Edmond and Hayes
122-23). Thus, blacks do not get a voice in the
media they help define. “We almost never get the
opportunity to be creatively involved in telling
our own stories,” says Stanley Robertson, an
independent film producer, “We get culturally
raped by other people. It’s the denial–the
exclusion–that bothers me” (qtd.

in Horowitz 17).
One of the best examples of Hollywood profiting
from independent film is the Blaxploitation films
of the 1970’s. Black audiences were demanding to
see black actors cast in positive roles, and
Hollywood responded with what is now called
Blaxploitation. The Blaxploitation formula
replaces the traditional white male hero,
“substituting a highly sexualized black male hero
who exercises power over white villains as an
attempt to recode the Hollywood image of black
men” (Lott 226). Hollywood took Melvin Van
Peebles’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971)
and used it to create a formula for films
featuring black action heroes who stand up to and
ultimately triumph over the “man”–white America’s
political machine. Gordon Parks Jr.’s Superfly
(1972) follows the Blaxploitation formula and
casts a black man in the role of a hero. But the
film fails to provide a positive role model for
young blacks because it applauds the exploits of a
drug dealer who effectively commits an act of
genocide against his own race for profit.

Superfly
has all the appearances of empowering its black
characters–many of the traditional black film
stereotypes are reversed. The film’s hero, Priest,
is not sexually sterile as many of Hollywood’s
depictions of black men have been. The long love
scene in the bubble bath gives Priest a sexually
human dimension that is commonly lacking in black
film characters. Priest also has a sexual
relationship with a white woman, but he ultimately
rejects her. Unlike the typical Hollywood
interpretation of black-male-with-white-female
sexuality, Priest is not a sexual threat to the
white woman and the purity of the white race, as
Gus in Birth of a Nation is, rather he has
racially reversed the roles of the plantation
owner and female slave. She is one of his dealers
and Priest is merely claiming his right to sex as
her master.

And the white-oriented standards of
looks, too, are juxtaposed, which seems to empower
Priest’s character. When the brother at the craps
game calls him “white-looking,” Priest punches him
out. Looking white is bad and black is now truly
beautiful. These reversals of black and white seem
to suggest that Priest is in a position of power
and is in control. But the structure of the
economic character relationships in Superfly tells
a different story: the corrupt white cops
literally enslave Priest and Eddie in their jobs.
Instead of being factors in the production of
white cotton on a plantation, Priest and Eddie
deal in white cocaine in the city. And Eddie
promotes the slave myth; with the same slave-myth
mentality put forth in Hallelujah, having
“8-tracks and color TVs in every room” is just an
updated version of the happy slaves on the
plantation.

Although they are in the city and not
on a plantation, the relationship of the white
cops to the black dealers parallels that of a
slave-based economy. The whole movie plays upon
the fact that Priest wants out of the drug-
dealing scene. Priest’s struggle as the black
protagonist striving to escape the symbolic
enslavement of white slavery is what makes him a
heroic figure. Priest has the “street cool” of
urban black culture. He has a style that makes it
easy to want to be like him–the big car, the
clothes, the hair. He has the walk and the talk,
and he even has a funky Curtis Mayfield soundtrack
that plays for him everywhere he goes.

Priest is
cool. But behind all this cool are the movie’s
flaws. It cannot contain the surplus that comes
out of the montage of users enjoying coke: the
victims of urban drug dealers and the violence
that surrounds them. The way Priest plans to
finance his retirement–selling 30 kilos of coke
for a cool half million in cash–is paramount to
genocide. Priest saves his skin at the expense of
his own race. Black people, especially black
males, need positive role models, not drug-dealing
action heroes.

The allure of movie characters like
Priest–the cool poses and the clothes and the car
and the funky soundtrack–makes everybody want to
be like them. But this “cool” allure sends the
wrong message to an impressionable audience, who
embrace the criminal aspects of these characters
as part of the “cool” package (Johnson, “Part 1”
16). Dennis Greene condemns the effect of this
“cool” on black youth: This situation would be bad
enough if economic exploitation of the community
was the only consequence. But it isn’t. These
films validate the pathologies they depict. The
constant projection of the black community as a
kind of urban Wild Kingdom, the glamorization of
tragic situations, and the celebration of inner
city drug dealers and gangsters has a programming
effect on black youth.

The power of music in film
is a particularly seductive and propagandistic
force which . . . has rarely been used in a
positive social manner. (28) Bowing to public
pressure, the Blaxploitation ….

Research essay sample on Representations Of The Black Male In Film