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in Filmmaking
on Feb 17, 2008

Over at his Cinema Echo Chamber, Brandon Harris has a go at Richard Corliss’s list for Time Magazine of the “25 Most Important Films about Race.”

From Corliss’s intro:

To celebrate Black History Month, we’ve chosen 25 movies to honor the artistry, appeal and determination of African Americans on and behind the screen. The films span nine decades, and reveal a legacy that was tragic before it was triumphant. At first, blacks were invisible; when they were allowed to be seen, it was mostly as derisive comic relief. The 1950s ushered in the age of the noble Negro, in the imposing person of Sidney Poitier — the Jackie Robinson of movies. Only when Hollywood realized that a sizable black audience would pay to see films more reflective of their lives, whether funny, poignant or violent, were they given control of the means of production. Sometimes. The fact remains that of the 25 films here, chosen to cover the widest range of black films, fewer than half were directed by blacks.

While agreeing with some of his selections, Harris questions the biases behind the list: “Even in our list obsessed culture, it’s hard to come across one as peculiar, clumsy and half-baked as Corliss’ attempt to assign importance to 25 films on race.”

More from Harris:

Clearly, by studying the list, one can deduce that the 25 most important films on race are really the 25 most important black films by directors working in America, regardless of color or national origin. The racial diversity of America (or the world for that matter) and its incalculable cinematic representations are reduced by Corliss to the a small crossection of films that toil in the rhetoric of American blackness….

Taking a closer look at the selections however, one quickly gleans that a majority of the films, even if they’re protagonists or a major supporting player happen to be African-Americans, aren’t really about race at all. From Corliss’ earliest pick, Oscar Michaeux’s 1925 Paul Robeson starrer Body and Soul, to his ludicrous final pick, Will Smith latest cash cowI Am Legend, many of the films Corliss has chosen, regardless of their quality, have very little to do with American race relations or notions of Otherness in our culture or any other.

His critique goes on at the link, and Harris also comes up with a list of black American indie films that should have been considered by the Time editors.

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