Black roles in film have expanded and transcended within American pop culture to include genres of vast variety. Today, the roles of Black actors are more diverse with actors such as Morgan Freeman playing God in Evan Almighty (2007), and Jamie Foxx playing an FBI special agent in The Kingdom (2007).
Roles of depth and intense dialogue have been made more available to actors of color in recent decades. But, the same old roles of degradation first seen in Uncle Tom's Cabin (1903) and D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation (1915) are imposed on Black actors and thus, Black audiences today. Griffith's 1915 production Birth of a Nation was the first full-length feature film, running 190 minutes and introduced cinematic techniques such as the establishing shot, close up, and reaction shot. Birth of a Nation also introduced the world to all of the Black roles of degradation found in film. Images of toms, coons, mulattoes, mammies and bucks emerged in film by way of Griffith's historic film.
[...] In each role she plays Queen Latifah is a big black woman who is a sassy, bossy, and aggressive mammy prototype. Queen Latifah is somewhat a coon; her antics and speech are comedic and entertaining. In Bringing Down the House there is even a scene in which Queen Latifah acts as a maid to the family she has befriended. She serves them Southern soul food, and is pleasant and kind, with a touch of sass like the mammy characters in the 1930s. [...]
[...] Farina was noted for speaking in a distinct Southern dialect and eating fried chicken and watermelons. The Uncle Remus character was portrayed as a “harmless and congenial” coon (Bogle 8). He was naïve and a comic philosophizer (Bogle 8). The Uncle Remus coon is seen in movies such as the 1936 The Green Pastures and the 1946 film Song of the South. Stepin Fetchit perfected the character of the pure coon in movies such as the 1929 film Hearts of Dixie, in which he played a character named Gummy. [...]
[...] and cherish are many times no different from the Black character roles created in the early days of film. The most notorious Uncle Tom appeared in the 1903 film, Uncle Tom's Cabin. The 1903 character was insisted on staying by his master's side even when he had the opportunity to run away to freedom with a fellow slave. The character of Tom is docile, simple and loyal to his white master through thick and thin. This character is dim-witted, slow, and inarticulate but is seen as a favorable Black role by whites who identify the tom character as non-threatening and benevolent. [...]
[...] After the Civil War the Old South is led by a group of free black men who are depicted as “lustful, arrogant, and idiotic” (Bogle 12). Gus, a black buck attempts to rape the young daughter of a respectable white family in Birth of a Nation. Gus is overcome by lust and rage, he is half human, half beast; a man of exaggerated strength and sexuality. Both physically daunting and sexuality deviant, the black buck was always shown as a big, muscular, savage with a lust for white women. [...]
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