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Beauty Academy of South Florida Project One Films Acknowledgement Letter

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.HHSLQJWKH%ODFNLQ0HGLD3URGXFWLRQ2QH/$5HEHOOLRQ )LOPPDNHU૷V1RWHV Zeinabu Irene Davis Cinema Journal, Volume 53, Number 4, Summer 2014, pp. 157-161 (Article) 3XEOLVKHGE8QLYHUVLWRI7H[DV3UHVV DOI: 10.1353/cj.2014.0054 For additional information about this article Access provided by Florida Atlantic University (10 Aug 2015 22:09 GMT) Cinema Journal 53 | No. 4 | Summer 2014 roles have to become ubiquitous for that wider spectrum to even occur in the first place. When can we lift the burden of representation, as it were, so that we can ask different questions of the black female roles we do see? My extension of the future text offers but one way to explore those questions and to create new ones. Since like me, I bet you are tired of expecting the same of black women on-screen and constantly not getting it. If we consider Minaj, Washington, and Perry as future texts, and if we also utilize future texts as a reading strategy with which to interrogate black media artifacts, perhaps we can reconsider the ideological underpinnings the three figures manifest. In doing so, we can get beyond hackneyed debates about whether any of their screen images are “helping or hurting” black popular culture, and we can more fully discern the nuances of how black media representations continue to recycle and recirculate the disparities between black male and female subjectivities. Perhaps such a strategy will remind us to put the question of black women back into investigations of black popular culture. ✽ Keeping the Black in Media Production: One L.A. Rebellion Filmmaker’s Notes by Zeinabu irene Davis I am a member of the L.A. Rebellion group of filmmakers who came out of the UCLA film school with an agenda. We are a small group of critically acclaimed Black filmmakers and media artists who began the first sustained movement in the United States by a collective of minority filmmakers aiming to reimagine the media production processes. Our goal was and is to represent, reflect on, and enrich the day-to-day lives of people in our own communities. Although we are of very diverse origins and conflicting ideas, we share a common desire to create an alternative to the dominant American mode of cinema. Generally speaking, the hope of the group is to realize a cinema of informed, relevant, and unfettered Black expression and the means to bypass the restrictive apparatus of distribution and exhibition to create a viable, alternative delivery system that will sustain the ongoing work of Black cinema artists. What does the Black mean in Black contemporary media production? For me, it means creating and preserving Black life, culture, and history. It means continuing to create and engage in oppositional media practice, but it also means supporting those who choose to make 157 Cinema Journal 53 | No. 4 | Summer 2014 work within more mainstream models such as American broadcast television and film. As Stuart Hall states, “The point is not simply that, since our racial differences do not constitute all of us, we are always different, negotiating different kinds of differences— of gender, of sexuality, of class. . . . We are always in negotiation, not with a single set of oppositions that place us always in the same relation to others, but with a series of different positionalities.”1 I am a filmmaker, professor, wife, and mother—all of these “positionalities” influence my choices and decisions, and they inform the “Black” in my life. My current work-in-progress, a feature-length documentary, Spirits of Rebellion: Black Cinema at UCLA, observes the lives and work of the L.A. Rebellion filmmakers. Headlined by Julie Dash, Charles Burnett, Jamaa Fanaka, Haile Gerima, Billy Woodberry, Barbara McCullough, Ben Caldwell, Carroll Parrott Blue, Alile Sharon Larkin, and Larry Clark, the L.A. Rebellion filmmakers collectively imagined and created a Black cinema against the conventions of Hollywood and blaxploitation films (Figure 1). They did this by attending to the quiet moments of everyday life in their communities and by paying homage to the digFigure 1. Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1979). nity of their characters. For the most part, ours is an oppositional cinema that tried to create its own style, approach, and aesthetic—an aesthetic that was informed by a rigorous study of other relevant cinematic approaches. Traditions as divergent as Italian neorealism, Brazilian cinema nova, African cinema, Cuban cinema, and various other “third” cinema practices have influenced our media making. Our narrative work might be characterized by a style that privileges the duration of a shot—holding an image long after an action has been completed to inscribe the beauty of the character or moment. Our style can also mean using a group of people as a symbol for an idea, rather than the story of an individual protagonist. Our cinema celebrates African diaspora culture by incorporating pan-African music, clothing, dance, and spiritual practices. As one of the younger members of the L.A. Rebellion, I know most of the people who came through the program from the late 1970s through 1990. I have always been one of the members who traveled between the filmmaking world and academia fairly easily. In the past ten years, my work has been in documentary—not because that is what I wanted to do, but because it has been what I can get funded. There is hardly any funding for narrative filmmaking now, certainly not the kind that I want 1 Stuart Hall, “What Is This ‘Black’ in Black Popular Culture?,” in Black Popular Culture: A Project by Michele Wallace, ed. Gina Dent (Seattle: Bay Press, 1992), 30–31. 158 Cinema Journal 53 | No. 4 | Summer 2014 to do—the kind that plays with and bends genre: documentary, narrative, and experimental all within the same film. The 1990s were the death knell of most public funding of the arts, especially the cinematic arts. There are no more National Endowment for the Arts regional seed or American Film Institute grants that fund anything other than social issue documentaries. Yet many of us still find ways to make media; we might not be in the mall cinemas, but we are still making work and getting it to audiences via the Internet or through traditional audience screenings in theaters. The pacing of contemporary Black oppositional cinema, especially that of the L.A. Rebellion filmmakers, is different from mainstream cinema. Generally, the narrative films by the L.A. Rebellion filmmakers have a slower pace and pay more attention to small details, such as the way a person holds a cup, or embracing silences between the characters. Action or quick editing may be limited. That’s not what we do best, and that’s not how we see the world. Quiet moments need to be discovered and explored. I trust that my audience is intelligent and will work with me. Thinking about this audience is extremely important to the way I conceive, produce, and distribute my work and that of others. My ideal audience is a concentric circle that constantly expands—first, Black women at its core; then Black people of all generations and gender orientations; and then others. My primary subject matter will almost always be Black—I see too few representations of Black people who look like myself in mainstream media. Precious few television shows exist with Black families—comedic or dramatic. My husband and I are raising two girls, ages twelve and seven. It would be wonderful to have a Black family show like The Cosby Show (NBC, 1984–1992) to watch as a family. Hell, I’d even have us sit and watch reruns of Everybody Hates Chris (UPN, 2005–2006; CW, 2006–2009) these days, but these series are not being produced now. Although I am not sorry to see it go, even Tyler Perry’s House of Payne (TBS, 2006–2012) has completed its run, and his new shows are not quite family comedies. All I can manage these days are frank and open discussions with my children on why the Black character Zuri from the Disney Channel’s Jessie (Disney, 2011–) series is not a good character to emulate. Her smart-aleckiness will get you some evil mama stares from me, and if you misbehave like she does, you will be punished by losing privileges or having an intimate date with the belt. Film is a powerful art form. As a Black filmmaker, I know it can be both entertainment and education. As a filmmaker mom, my children know that we will and must talk about the media we see. We go see movies together when we can. For example, my oldest has seen Lee Daniels’s The Butler (2013), and we used the film as an opportunity for discussions of civil rights history. It is empowering for her as a young woman to see how young people were the catalysts for much of the change that happened in the movement. But that is not enough. It means explaining to her the history of the Black Panthers and letting her know that The Butler’s depiction was not quite accurate. Keeping the “Black” in media production and practice means exposing both my children and my students to real people in the movement, reading and watching movies about the unsung heroes and heroines, like the Black Panthers, Ella Baker, Ruby Bridges, and many others who have been ignored or misrepresented in mainstream discourse. 159 Cinema Journal 53 | No. 
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