Example research essay topic: Representations Of The Black Male In Film – 1,202 words

… motivation and their will to compete with the
“regular” society. And it seems planned! One of
the kids we interviewed said, “We’re going the way
of the American Indians. They killed our spirit,
our self esteem.” (qtd. in Reynaud 330) All that
many young black men have to model themselves
after is the media’s definitions of who they are,
and a cycle of destruction of the black family is
allowed to propagate. JoNina Abron writes in The
Black Scholar, “In most cases, the media’s
portrayal of life in the so-called black
‘underclass’ focuses on mores, living habits and
social patterns, such as promiscuity, drug
addiction and crime.

Thus, the stereotypes that
far too many whites have of blacks continue to be
perpetrated” (50). Regardless of whether Hollywood
portrays black men as murderous drug dealers or
ineffective celibates, the result is not good for
black society. “Blacks complain that mainstream
films present a negative impression of Black
people and have a detrimental effect on their
lives,” says Jacqueline Bobo, Post-Doctoral Fellow
at the Center for Study of Women/Department of
English, UCLA, “[I]f Black producers were given
the freedom and support to produce films about
Black people, they would project a different
image” (428). Dictating how images in American
film are portrayed is the business side of
Hollywood. Independent film producer Dennis Greene
says Hollywood is not merely concerned with
profit, but also with the status and marketability
of individual executives in the movie industry
(28). Blacks have found themselves excluded from
the upper echelon, and that leaves white
executives in charge.

Joy Horowitz, writing in
American Visions, calls the lack of black
executives “Hollywood’s dirty little secret”
because it is “not overt racism but a subtler
prejudice” (16). This unspoken conspiracy keeps
black people from being hired and promoted from
within. Executive Producer Grace Blake explains
how blacks are excluded even from film production
crews: The industry is so much of a
family-oriented business. Nobody really wants to
teach anybody anything. You may find that all of
the people in a particular category are blood
related, specifically with grips and electricians.
That’s one of the ways we, as black people, have
always been kept out of this business. (qtd.

in
Rhines 30) Nepotism and cronyism keep Hollywood a
shop closed to outsiders (Horowitz 18). White
executives, who control the money, are happy to
keep making films using the images that they grew
up with (Greene 28). Thus, modern film images are
constructed in the same racial paradigm that
produced Birth of a Nation. Jane Rhodes, Assistant
Professor of Journalism at Indiana University,
says, “Racial identity has been–and continues to
be–a crucial factor in determining who can
produce popular culture, and what messages are
created” (185). And those in control of the images
are free to promote their own politics, clarifies
St. Clair Bourne in The Black Scholar : [M]ost of
the current black images emanating from Hollywood
are essentially those which have as their primary
function to entertain, advocate no change and,
more importantly, to suggest the legitimacy of the
current social and political order.

(15) Thus, the
images offered in American film are a product
based in Hollywood’s hereditary political
agenda–a white political agenda. But the system
does not merely control the images in American
films, it ensures that the public will see them by
monopolizing marketing and distribution. According
to Jacqueline Bobo, there has been an increase in
the number of films produced by black people, but
black filmmakers have trouble getting their films
in front of an audience: They receive limited
financial support, and their films fall victim to
inadequate distribution and marketing campaigns.
The result is that Black films are, in effect,
unavailable to a large number of Black people and
other interested viewers. In addition, Black
filmmakers have difficulty getting certain films
screened at “showcase” theaters where a large
number of people can have access to them. (428-29)
The power of marketing and distribution goes
beyond excluding independent filmmakers, however.
Marketing and distribution create the audience,
that is, the demand for the films it offers
(Bourne 19). Thus, Hollywood and the audience have
a sort of symbiotic relationship, each feeding off
the other.

Until there is a change in either
Hollywood or the audience, the audience will
continue to consume whatever Hollywood chooses to
feed it. “The problem,” says independent filmmaker
Spike Lee, “is getting Hollywood to expand the
kinds of films it will make, and raising the glass
ceiling in terms of money and marketing” (qtd. in
Lowery and Sabir 108). And until there is a
change, independent filmmakers will have to
continue struggling to get their movies seen.
Examining a film by an independent filmmaker can
show how black men can be depicted positively.
Michael Roemer’s Nothing but a Man (1964) is
representative of the relatively few independent
films that realistically portray black men and the
problems they face. Nothing but a Man is the story
of Duff, a black laborer who falls in love with
and marries Josie, the minister’s daughter. The
film examines Duff as he struggles to define his
worth as a man in the context of his family and
his job.

Duff’s need to define himself as a man is
symbolic of the black man’s need to define his
identity. Other black males Duff encounters are in
themselves symbolic of the compromises that blacks
are forced to make by white society. And they do
not offer a solution Duff can live with. Josie’s
father, for example, has a “solution” for being
black– assimilation into the white man’s world.
Although he has an ordered and secure life,
Josie’s father has sacrificed his black identity
for it. Duff is not willing to make that
sacrifice, so he tries to define himself through
his job at the mill. He knows how to work hard and
relies on that ethic for his success.

But Duff
refuses to play the white man’s “game” and loses
his job. Duff finds himself faced with the reality
of being black in America: play the game or pay
the price. He is falsely denounced as a labor
organizer and a troublemaker, and he is
blacklisted from or forces out of the good jobs.
The only work Duff can find is the kind of jobs
reserved for those of an ex- slave class: picking
cotton and emptying ashtrays. Because he is trying
to define himself through work, Duff cannot bear
to take on such degrading jobs. While this is
happening, Duff and Josie have started a family.
She is pregnant and he finds himself unable to
support her, much less a child. And she wants his
son to move in with them, too.

Duff’s frustration
manifests itself in anger and violence. But Duff
and Josie’s marriage seemed doomed from the start.
The broken house they move into foreshadows a
broken home; the broken neighbor slumped on the
porch virtually offers Duff his only role model of
a father and husband. Duff had a biological
father, but he is a man who has never been a part
of his life. When his father dies, and Duff cannot
tell the undertaker how old his father is or where
his father was born or what his father did for a
living, he sees that he i ….

Research essay sample on Representations Of The Black Male In Film