Twenty-five years ago, I started a magazine called Black Film Review because the movies I was seeing--and I went to the pictures a lot back then--either had no black characters or else featured thinly disguised stereotypes of the kind present in American culture since the beginning.
When I go to the movies these days, mostly I go with my 8-year-old son. Confounded by how little has changed, I'm beginning to wonder if it might not be time to resurrect BFR.
Take the new Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.
The first in the series, Night at the Museum, featured the great Bill Cobbs in a fairly large supporting role, but--unless I'm forgetting someone--no black characters among the historical figures who magically come alive once the museum closes.
The sequel remedies that, featuring a group of Tuskeegee Airmen in two or three scenes, though none of them is really important to the picture.
Is the paucity of black figures in the two movies the result of the filmmakers' ignorance? Or are the pictures a fantasy that blacks weren't really part of American history?
I'd be a lot more depressed about this if I hadn't seen the new Star Trek, which features lots of steamy looks between Capt. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Lt. Uhura (Zoe Saldana), and more than a few steamy kisses between Uhura and Spock (Zachary Quinto). Of course, as real fans know, in 1968 Nichelle Nichols' Uhura and William Shatner's Kirk shared what might have been the first televised interracial kiss.
Sadly, in 2009 "post-racial" America, there's less of those kinds of interracial relationships in the movies than there are in real life.
Last week, the New York Times ran a story about Phylicia Rashad's role at the mother in August: Osage County. It's an inspired piece of what's sometimes called "non-traditional casting," as Rashad's family in the play--husband, daughter, sister, and others--are all white.
Too bad Hollywood can't be as colorblind.