Imitation of Life (1959)
Written by Eleanore Griffin & Allan Scott
Directed by Douglas Sirk
This was the final film from Douglas Sirk. He didn’t die following its release. He just left the United States and lived in Switzerland for the next twenty-eight years when he passed. He taught briefly in the 1970s at Munich’s University of Film and Television. But this was it. When asked about this stint in America making movies, Sirk said in a 1975 interview: “When I went to the United States, I was making films about American society, and it is true that I never felt at home there, except perhaps when my wife and I lived on a farm in the San Fernando Valley. But I always wanted my characters to be more than ciphers for the failings of their world. And I never had to look too hard to find a part of myself in them.” Sirk and his wife, Hilde, would quickly become tired of the Hollywood scene and return to Europe, but never Germany for too long. The memories were too harsh.
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The Glass Shield (1994)
Written by Charles Burnett, John Eddie Johnson, and Ned Welsh
Directed by Charles Burnett
Charles Burnett continued making movies after My Brother’s Wedding, despite it being taken away from him in the editing room. In 1990, he directed what is arguably his best film ever, To Sleep With Anger, which I previously reviewed. That was my introduction to Burnett a few years ago, coming across this movie I’d never heard of with Danny Glover. The 1990s for Black filmmakers was an extremely fruitful period. Directors like Spike Lee & John Singleton found enormous fame and opportunities. People who worked on their films in various production capacities also emerged as writers & directors. Burnett was clearly aware of the types of movies finding a foothold with audiences, stories of the Black experience, especially regarding racism. But none of the pictures Hollywood was making ever really zeroed in on the most insidious problem in these communities, but Burnett sure as hell was going to talk about it.
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Killer of Sheep (1978)
Written & Directed by Charles Burnett
To be Black in America is to live in a constant state of contemplating whiteness. Of course, being a white person, I can’t say with any absolute sense what that feels like, but I can imagine it can be overwhelming at certain times. Eventually, you would become somewhat numb but never enough to escape the torment of it, to be constantly reminded of an artificial inferiority imposed on you by a culture of people who revel in their mediocrity. As a result, in the United States, there have been waves of Black cinema, each with its own distinct tones & styles, attempting to capture & communicate a feeling of what it felt like to be Black at that time.
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Hoop Dreams (1994)
Directed by Steve James
Since the first African people were captured, sold through European markets, and forcibly transported to “The New World,” Black bodies have been commodified by white supremacy. African people were not the first slaves, but their subjugation under the institution of chattel slavery is a defining aspect of humanity in the Western world. To pretend that it “was a long time ago,” that we live in a “post-racial world” or any other white copium is just that. It’s a complete dismissal of material facts and accurate historical analysis. Today, Black people are still seen as white commodities in capitalism’s gaze. Instead of working the fields of cotton plantations, American society works Black men as gladiator figures, tossing them in arenas to destroy their bodies and damage their brains for our entertainment. The thought of what these men will do when natural aging & physical strain catch up to them is not even contemplated by most people.
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