Accepting black culture on screen

Changing public outlook makes a difference in where the industry will go, says Simmons, and for that he credits the Weinsteins and apparent Obama Effect.

If more people accept black culture, which he believes results from Obama’s presidency, the scope of African-American stories will inevitably expand.

Along those lines, if producers of Weinstein’s caliber begin to see these tales as profitable, more films will be greenlit.

Simmons also feels Oscar accreditation for movies like The Help, Precious, and Django Unchained have contributed to the fact so many black movies are finding distribution.

“I appreciate the Weinsteins, period, because they opened up the door for a lot of black films when they did Paid in Full,” Simmons comments. “For Harvey to even think that way, it means I could possibly make the films that me and Chike want to get done.”

Advent of a new day

A great awakening or all-out renaissance, Simmons believes in the longevity of today’s market, and Ruiz admits that the public could be ready for a fresh face of blackness.

In their study of the Commander-in-Chief’s sociopolitical effects, scholars Dr. Colita Fairfax and Dr. Cassandra Cheney researched the first family’s influence on the institution of marriage in the African-American community, looking at how the Obamas superseded the Huxtables’ legacy.

They believe the film business has been lagging behind the television industry when it comes to portrayal of African-Americans.

“If you take for example the advent of the Cosby Show or A Different World, you’re seeing what those of us who are born and raised in the black community see all the time,” says Fairfax. “What is so annoying is that with the movie industry, it tends to only unravel and expose one complexity and one dimension of the lived black experience with this notion that all black people experience ghetto poverty everyday. All black people come from fragile families.”

She continues, “I’m African-American. I grew up with both of my parents, who were educated people and raised my sisters and my brothers. I went to school, went to graduate school. I’m married to a man who comes from that same experience, yet it’s once in a blue moon do you really see that experience played out in the movie industry.”

Both agree with Ruiz that seeing a range of black composites in film is rare, which makes a difference in public awareness.

The strength and solidarity of a couple like the Obamas seldom finds screen time.

“I can’t relate to ghetto culture glorified on films,” Chaney comments. “More black people than society realizes can’t really relate to that experience.”

The once and future renaissance

Until that day comes, the renaissance remains more of a proclivity, says Ruiz.

Where are the committed black families? Where are the ambitious black teens on the rise to professional prosperity? Where are the strong black women?

“All of these films are about black men – the righteous black man,” Ruiz observes. “Black women aren’t there yet, and that doesn’t make any sense. On television, you’ve got Scandal – tons of people watch Scandal, black and white – the story of a black female just simply living life and not necessarily making the cornerstone of her story her struggle. That is successful. That has been successful for over a year now. The model is there.”

Even though 12 Years a Slave signifies a turn for Hollywood in documenting slavery’s horrendous legacy, from Ruiz’s perspective, it’s time to move on.

The story of Solomon Northup, on whom the movie is based, was meant to be an exceptional tale in the 1800s, raising the moral and stature of black people.

Still culturally important, it now serves a different purpose.

“Hollywood’s responsibility shouldn’t be getting people caught up to the idea that black people are people too,” she says. “When you read the critiques and reviews of 12 Years a Slave, everyone is saying Solomon Northup is different, so it’s easy to get in his shoes and see what’s so bad about slavery. That’s a bizarre concept.”

In a different way, Simmons also sees a gap when it comes to cinematic focus on African-American narratives.

He feels current conflicts in America rarely get screen time.

“As far as the state of black America, it’s at the lowest to me because we’re killing each other – blacks are killing blacks,” he notes. “You see the movies that’s being done like The Butler and 12 Years a Slave, all of that has nothing to do with what’s going on in the United States.”

Follow Courtney Garcia on Twitter at @CourtGarcia