Racism in Film Categorisation

[H]onouring the achievements of black filmmakers by declaring it “their” year does them a disservice. Lumping together heavy dramas with lighthearted romcoms simply because of the skin colour of the actors or director prevents these films from being measured against the whiter counterparts that actually share their genre — inadvertently ghettoising the former and protecting the latter from scrutiny. It’s difficult to imagine pulling, say, Blue Is the Warmest Colour, The Great Gatsby, The Hangover Part III, and The Fifth Estate into a story declaring 2013 the year of the “white movie.”

….[A]fter a number of conversations with directors and writers and filmmakers who all happen to be black, one thing quickly becomes apparent: There is no such thing as a black movie.

…[W]hen studios fail to recapture the box office magic with the formula of a previous hit, it casts doubt on all films by black directors. “Jennifer Aniston, Justin Timberlake, Vince Vaughn, they can make a flop — make five flops — and they’ll still get hired and execs will say, ‘That particular movie doesn’t work,’” [Holiday writer and director Malcolm D. ] Lee said.

That kind of nuanced analysis doesn’t often extend to movies by black filmmakers, largely because of the limited vocabulary we use to describe those films; in the language of the industry, race (and gender) of the audience and cast typically trump genre. But using “black movie” or “chick flick” as a lens through which we view bona fide hits like The Butler or Bridesmaids — rather than “sweeping historical drama” or “hilarious ensemble comedy” — leads to largely anaemic and cynical attempts at improving diverse representation.

Shani O. Hilton deconstructs the problem of talking about “Black films” as a genre, including similar euphemisms: “race-themed,” “African-American-themed,” “Black-themed,” and “ethnically diverse.“ Hilton notes that films that include a few African American actors does not mean it is “ethnically diverse.”

Hilton also raises issues of gender and class. Most so-called “Black films” are centrally stories about men directed by men. African American women directors have even more problems than their male counterparts getting their films recognised. Also, “Black films” tend to portray working class or struggling characters, and so well-educated, middle-class African Americans are largely absent from widely released films.

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