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Black roles in film: Then and now

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  1. Introduction
  2. The post-civil rights era
  3. The tom character in the movie Driving Miss Daisy
  4. The character of the coon
  5. Stepin Fetchit
  6. The tragic mulatto
  7. Dorothy Dandridge and Lena Horne
  8. Today's tragic mulatto
  9. Queen Latifah
  10. Hattie McDaniel's sexless image
  11. Bucks and black whores
  12. Ving Rhames
  13. Conclusion
  14. Work cited

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. [...]

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