Hollywood's African-American film renaissance
By Jane Caffrey CNN | 10/21/2013, 5:06 p.m.
"Critics don't look at a film and notice that every one of the lead roles is white," said Ronda Racha Penrice, author of "African-American History For Dummies" and editor at "Uptown" magazine. "We're taught it's the norm, and it's not the norm. We believe that we can have really good films that have majority white casts; why can't we believe that we can have a majority black, Latino, or Asian cast, and have a good film as well?"
However, some point out that the idea of a black renaissance in the film industry can be simplistic, and argue that in Hollywood the most important color isn't black or white, but green. Filmmaking is a business, and ultimately diverse story lines in mainstream theaters depend on funding and subsequent success at the box office.
"I don't think it's because there's any age of enlightenment," said Alfre Woodard, who is in "12 Years a Slave." "I think it's just serendipitous for those individuals that fight to get funding for the stories they want to get told; it just sort of happened that way right now. It will go just as dry as it ever was shortly."
Nonetheless, the resurgence in movies that focus on African-American stories is apparent, with more than a dozen such films opening in the past four years. Even more, like "Belle" and "Get On Up," are set for release in 2014.
"The commercial and critical success of these films is showing," Penrice said. "Just like there are audiences for the various 'Avengers' movies, there are people who want to see these slices of wider America."
The push for more diversity is coming from within Hollywood as well. Lupita Nyong'o, another actor in "12 Years a Slave," said she looks forward to the day when films that feature African-American stories will no longer be an anomaly. Meanwhile, "The Butler" director Lee Daniels is reportedly planning production for an action movie starring an interracial gay couple.
"They have to fund those movies" said Octavia Spencer, one of the stars of "Fruitvale Station." "You have to create a level playing field for women, for people of color, gay, straight, whatever. We just need to do it. The money's there. The subject's there."
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