Louis B. Mayer, Founder of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Big Screen Entertainment as a Popular Global Art Form.

The recent antics of Chris Rock and Will Smith at the 94th Oscar Award Ceremony, prompted me to write this commentary asking the question, was it real or staged? In less than one hour after the slap, Smith was presented with the best actor award for his role in ‘King Richard.’ He played the father of Tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams. Many detractors exclaimed, “it is no longer Hollywood, it is now Hollyweird.”

At the same time, also in the news is a report about the new Museum of Motion Pictures. An essential American art Form, movie-making was pioneered and established by Jewish immigrants, who were central in founding the Hollywood Studio System at the beginning of the 20th century.

In the newly built 300,000 square foot museum, the jewish contributions were largely overlooked in the presentations and tributes to Hollywood.

Barraged by severe diplomatic complaints from Jewish leaders and many others. The museum directors plans to open a new permanent exhibition devoted to the origins of Hollywood, and specifically the lives and contributions of the studio founders. Who were totally responsible for creating and inventing the world of the moving image, shown on huge screens in theatres for popular communal entertainment. A world that is now slowly fading away.

Carl Laemmie, founder of Universal Pictures.

How can this oversight be explained? Whatever the reason, can it be believed? Or is it to once again falsify popular history by omission, in order to claim the glory unjustly for others. When documenting, cataloging and archiving history, to be inclusive, honest, accurate and truthful, diverse representations are vital and extremely important. Why? If not ‘History’, then becomes a one-eyed monster.

During the period of its early inception, the Hollywood Studio system was ruled by the Jim Crow Laws, the Legal Apartheid System of Racial Segregation. Negro Actors, Directors and the full crew of Film-Makers were also present in their own studio plots, making films about their own concerns and shown in theatres, located in predominantly Black neighbourhoods.

Another question is asked here, and the accusations are vast and complex. From the statement above about negro film-making in Hollywood, where is the evidence? Word of mouth or oral history is open to disbelief, we all know how inaccurate memory can be, especially becoming misty by age over time. We can start the research about ‘negroes’ from the beginning of the twentieth century in Los Angeles, California.

In the years of the economic depression and after the Second World War, many transfer of ownership occurred in Hollywood. Consequently, thousands of negro films were burnt. All archives and evidence of the black presence were, apparently, destroyed. Through good luck, I have a few that were transferred to video presentation.

During the transfer of ownership in the film industry, without one negro person among the corporate overlords guarding the cinematic classics in hidden vaults, there was very little to no chance for restoration and preservation Negro Movies. Although I am happy to secure the pre-war films on video, many people believe streaming and watching movies on home entertainment systems are more convenient. Not on the big screen, in the small multiplexes, the communal, social, cultural and aesthetic experiences are never the same.

Dorothy Dandridge & Harry Belafonte star 1954.

Did the Blaxploitattion films have connections with Hollywood?

Yes! The majority of those films were financed, approved and organised through the executives in the Hollywood movie industry.

The term ‘Blaxploitation’ playing with two words ‘Black’ and Exploitation, is credited to Junius Griffin in 1972, who was at the time, the president of Beverly Hills Hollywood branch of the NAACP – The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

He accused the Hollywood film industry of propaganda and proliferating major damage against African Americans. Griffin, described the major overall content, storylines and script, proclaimed Black people in America glorified bad behaviour and negative attitudes. Low budget, created with speed and little considerations, the majority of the films were set in poor urban ghetto communities. The action and heroes were all stereotypes, embroiled in all forms of criminal activities.

However, marketed, promoted and targeted for Black audiences, most of the films were financially successful, very popular and crossed-over to wider audiences in America and all over the world. Becoming widely influential, the Blaxploitation movies have much to say about the times, 1970s, the period of ‘Black is Beautiful,’ Black Power and the Private Dick called John Shaft. High Fashion also played a big role, Afro!

Debut film from female director – Fanta Regina Narco 2004.

If you are not a film enthusiast, not much will be known about African Film Making. The history of excellent movie making on the continent, began with the father of African Cinema Ousmane Sembene from Senegal. From the early 1960s, Ousmane was on a quest to establish movies with pure African content for African audiences. His film ‘La Noire de’ – Black Girl in 1966, still deeply resonates nearly sixty years after its completion.

The pace of African films are slowly steady, content and script are very different to what we see in the Hollywood blockbusters and high octane films. Even among the repetitive commercial formulas that are being used by many African film-makers currently, there are excellent quality in the art of movie-making to be found. The distribution and availability is a problem, to see and purchase top quality African movies can be difficult. There are some good African films online. Of course the terrain and financial support that serious artists need to complete work, and distribute to the general public are often lacking. But real gems can be found, like this one, ‘The Night of Truth,’ shockingly disturbing and excellent.

FESPACOPan-African Film & Television Festival. This is the largest and best film festival on the continent. Founded in 1969 and held every two years since that date. The week-long event is located in Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso. Delayed for a short time due to the Covid pandemic, the most recent festival was held on the 16th of October 2021. The next date for the exciting and highly successful event is in 2023.

I am yet to attend the festival, but apart from the huge number of high quality films, the ceremonies, parties, events and other enjoyable activities, all are well known among African movie makers and lovers of film across the continent. I have started to save for the next festival. God willing, my health and life intact, including the world not at war or another severe shutdown, I will be there.

Not forgetting the world of movie making is not all about adults, ‘Kirikou’ is a 1998 animation film that is not just suited for children, it can be enjoyed by the entire family. The story is a traditional West African tale about a unique boy who saved a village from evil and death. I was able to purchase a number of these on DVD, both French and English translations, to distribute among my friends as presents for their children. A much loved film, be careful of the DVD, if you can purchase more than one copy, the non-stop replay by the children did cause error on the disc. I am not sure if it is there, but not many of the best African movies are available on streaming digital platforms. Try, if it is ‘Happy Viewing.’ I-Life.