The very first black movies were mostly race films, produced in the beginning parts of the twentieth century. These films were made up of mainly black cast and were produced with the black audience in mind; with the objective being to create a more accurate portrayal of black people than that seen in early white films. The most prominent producer of the black film was Oscar Micheaux.
Oscar formed his own film production company and between 1919 and 1948 independently released over forty black movies. Oscar’s first black film was the 1919 silent film “The Homesteader,” this was the first feature-length production made for and created with a black cast and crew. Oscar’s next film “Within Our Gates,” directly addressed racism and depicted lynching. Both starred well known black actress Evelyn Peer.
In 1929, MGM became the first major studio to release an all black film, with the release of “Hallelujah!” The MGM produced musical was notable for its attempt to create a more positive portrayal of black life, than contemporary while films of the time. There were two notable black musicals films released in 1943 each featuring actress Lena Horne, “Stormy Weather” and “Cabin in the Sky”.”
Black movies allowed black actors and musicians a chance to play starring roles instead of being relegated to supporting roles as domestic characters in mainstream films. In Hollywood’s’ early days, it was not uncommon for white actors to appear in black face and carry off stereotyped portrayals of blacks. Actress Hattie McDaniel became the first black person to win a best supporting Oscar, for playing a housemaid in the 1939 production of “Gone with the Wind.”
The Civil Rights struggle of the 50s and 60s paved the way for a change in black movies, by addressing racial tensions and depicting accurate black experiences. White actors and Black actors now star together in movies thus reaching a larger audience. Leading black actor Sidney Poitier won a best acting Oscar for the 1963 film, “Lilies of the Field.” Dorothy Dandridge was the first black woman to receive a best actress Oscar nomination for her role in the all black musical, “Carmen Jones.”
The 1970s brought Blaxploitation black films such as “Shaft” starring Richard Roundtree and “Foxy Brown” starring Pam Grier to the big screen. Black comedians have benefited significantly from the increased exposure of black movies. In 1976, one of the top black actors – Richard Pryor stared in various successful movie projects including “Car Wash”.
In more recent times, starting from about the 1980s and 1990s, black actors were now able to become major movie stars and earn a lot more money. Eddie Murphy was the main star in the Beverly Hills Cop franchise while Danny Glover co-starred in the Lethal Weapon series of movies. Denzel Washington was the leading black actor of the day and won a best supporting actor Oscar for starring in the black film Glory, in 1989. Influential directors: Spike Lee, Mario Van Peebles and John Singleton all left their mark. Black films covering science fiction, fantasy, romance, hip hop culture and other genres gave black actors more freedom than ever before.
Oscar wins by Halle Berry and Jamie Foxx further show appreciation for black movies and black actors/actresses in the 21st century. Black film makers such as Tyler Perry continue the tradition of the black film with primarily black cast. However, major films feature an ethnically diverse casts offers the most opportunity for black actors and a chance to play other roles that are not the typical stereotype roles.
After facing numerous rejections from the major movie studios, Black directors, writers, producers and actors are creating their own production companies to promote and green light their own black movies, they are building Web sites, and turning to social networking and black film festivals as a way to network and gain exposure for black films.
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The African Side website showcases African movies rarely ever seen. Visit to see interesting trailers of some more recent black movies to learn more about black films today.