African-Americans have always had a bit of a love-hate relationship with the movies. While black artists in front of and behinds the cameras have created indelible performances, stories and images that audiences of all backgrounds cherish—there has been an ugly side to black representation in Hollywood that is unavoidable and continues to this day.
From the very beginning of movies, with D.W. Griffith’s racist propaganda film The Birth of a Nation there have been racist themes and images in mainstream movies. For much of the 20th century black audiences endured blackface, coons and with the exception of a few dignified Sidney Poitier roles in the 50s and 60s — barely any representation at all. When the blaxploitation genre broke through in the 1970s it did give more African-American talent a chance to shine but these films largely glorified violence and crime, as well as brutality towards women.
In recent years, blacks have seen offensive stereotypes passed off as comedy in movies like Soul Plane and Bebe’s Kids. These films remind us that we still have a long way to go when it comes to portraying our culture and lifestyle accurately and respectfully on the big screen.