W.D. Griffith (Birth of a Nation) had provocatively endorsed racism and sexism. But he had also made money. From this point forward, until around the 1980s, Black folks would never be portrayed as outright villians– that was far too controversial. But for the remainder of the silent film era, and as films began to “speak,” we would be depicted as mammies, jezebels, and uncle toms.
In response to the negative imagery of White Hollywood, the Black dreamweavers emerged–African American independant filmmakers. These independants were in business as early as 1913, making movies such as The Butler, The Grafter and The Maid. And they were not at all opposed to featuring other folks of color as perfomers.
While I find it admirable that the Black dreamweavers included other Black and Brown folks in their films, it disturbs me as Hollywood was busy making clowns out us, we turned around and (sometimes) pandered to the same stereotypes. For example, in the 1921 Lincoln production of By Right of Birth was the tale of Romero a Mexican-American stockbroker who was cheating Blacks and Indians out of valuble oil lands (Leab, 1975). Comic relief was provided in the film by Romero’s chaffeur, Pinky (Leab, 1975).
To be continued…
Copyright Valjeanne Jeffers, Valjeanne Jeffers-Thompson 1997, 2012 all rights reserved.