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Blacks and Whites in Movies

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The object of this paper is to portray the role of African Americans and Whites in modern contemporary films. It is evident that there has been a great deal of effort in the integration of black people into American society. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has strived to undo the ties of segregation and disenfranchisement of African Americans. The NAACP has used several strategies to overturn segregation rules and obtain suffrage for black citizens. With the introduction of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950's, the motto "We shall overcome' served as inspiration for the fight against segregation. Although much effort has been made to integrate black people into society over the years, there still exists significant segregation with respect to roles in motion pictures and modern film. However, great advancements have been made in recent years to overcome this struggle to equally include African Americans in the wealth and success of the media culture. With the recent surge of technological advancement and media industry, the black role has simultaneously advanced. The African American history of struggle, misrepresentation, and segregation has been the theme of many modern movies, music, and television shows. African Americans are taking advantage of this opportunity to represent the African American culture, even though it serves to explain their historical oppression and misfortune and not of their success and well-being. They are turning a negative history into a positive career and future. Approximately eighty years ago, it was only a thought that African Americans should indeed make movies and appear in the big screen alongside white actors and actresses. Today this dream is now reality. The road to making motion pictures with the inclusion of African Americans has been evolutionary on all levels with lots of observable changes. The movie industry has become more willing to produce new themes and films featuring African Americans as stars.

The advancement of African Americans in the movie industry has become evident with their recent accolades in film roles and production. The Oscars present a golden statuette to a person in recognition of their achievements in the filmmaking industry. History was made in 2001 when African Americans won in both the Best Actor and Best Actress categories. This was the first time an African American woman has ever won this category. Also, in 2003, films were produced that included the first performances by African-born actors to receive nominations. Some say that these victories mark the beginning of a new era or more importantly the end of an old, oppressed one. The Oscars were won purely out of talent and not because of symbolism or pity. The turn of the century seems to have brought along with it the commencement of new opportunities as well as newly defined roles for African American stars. Hollywood's long history of indifference to black talent is clearly over.

A prime example of the role of African Americans in the filmmaking industry can be seen in the 1992 movie The Bodyguard starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner. This movie depicts the talent and brilliance of two great stars. Whitney Houston made her film debut in this movie in which she is a popular and highly admired music/movie superstar. One fan plans her demise and plots to kill her. That is where, Kevin Costner, her bodyguard, step in. They unexpectedly fall in love. This inter-racial relationship was accepted by the American audience. There were no references to black discrimination or inferiority in this movie. Whitney and Kevin's characters developed a relationship based purely on unconditional love and caring. The idea of inter-racial relationships was never a factor in their love. The color of their skin had nothing to do with the human bond they shared. Whitney's character, Rachel Marron, was a cocky, extroverted African American woman who was highly successful in her music and movie-making career. Her character was rare because most African American actresses portray the role of unsuccessful, burdened women. Kevin Costner's character, Frank Farmer, was humble and introverted. He lived by himself and was very lonely. His life would be complete if he had companionship and love. When Rachel and Frank went on their first date at a bar, there were both black and white people in attendance. This shows that there was no segregation of races and inter-racial relationships were not frowned upon. Racial harmony existed in this movie.

In 2001 (nine years later), Monster's Ball was produced starring Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton. Unlike, The Bodyguard, this movie had strong racial vibes. The characters of Billy Bob and Peter Boyle were extremely racist. An example of their ominous hatred for African Americans is the scene when Billy Bob's character, Hank, fired warning shots so that the negro boys would stay off his property. Ironically, at the end of the movie, his character winds up falling in love with Halle Berry's character, Liticia, who is of color and befriends the two negro boys. Halle Berry portrays a young black woman who is taking care of her son after the execution of her husband. She can't afford to keep the house and the car that she once had so she starts depending on Hank to help her out. She doesn't dress glamorously because she can't afford to. Liticia is an emotional mess and that continues on even when she discovers happiness. Hank is a white man who lives with his father and son. He seems to be careless about his future because he quits his job of a corrections officer and buys a gas station that he does nothing with. He isn't a loving man. In fact, the death of his son was because he told him straight out, "I hate you, I always did". Also, he puts his father into a home because he can't deal with the responsibilities of looking after him. Neither character is better than the other, but it seems that the director tried to portray Halle as the lower end because of her color. In this movie, there was, in fact, racism. Peter Boyle, played Buck, insulted Liticia when he said that in his days he also wanted a taste of the "nigger juice". Interesting enough, he felt comfortable that that term would be okay and accepting with Liticia. She resented him for it and never saw him again. Since Hank didn't particularly like blacks in the beginning of the film, his love for Halle was purely based on her personality and not of color. At the end, color was not the issue.

The third movie I watched and researched was Save the Last Dance starring Julia Styles and Sean Patrick Thomas. This movie is about a white Midwestern girl who moves to Chicago after the death of her mother. She is an aspiring dancer who now stays with her



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