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Is there 'hope' in Hollywood?

By PETER KEOUGH  |  January 29, 2010

Most critics loved it. Daniels has been nominated as best director by the Directors Guild, the first African-American to be so honored in the organization's 62 years of existence. He's likely to be nominated for an Academy Award, as well, and if so he'll be only the second black director to be recognized thusly (the first was John Singleton for 1991's Boyz n the Hood). Then he could make history as the first African-American to win an Oscar for Best Director.

A huge breakthrough for African-Americans in Hollywood, right? As big a deal in film as Obama getting elected is in politics, you'd think.

1001_theman_main
THE LONG WAY: In the past, putting an African-American in the White House on film often required wildly implausible plot lines, like 1972’s The Man, starring James Earl Jones.
Some critics don't see it that way. Armond White, the African-American film critic for the New York Press, calls the movie "the con job of the year." He adds, "Not since The Birth of a Nation has a mainstream movie demeaned the idea of black American life as much as Precious. Full of brazenly racist clichés (Precious steals and eats an entire bucket of fried chicken), it is a sociological horror show."

Courtland Milloy, an African-American columnist for The Washington Post, agrees. He describes Precious as "a film of prurient interest that has about as much redeeming social value as a porn flick."

Is it Art or is it Poverty Porn for white voyeurs? Is it both? Regardless of how you rate it as filmmaking (I gave it three stars), you have to admit it is a little strange that such a debased portrait of black family life has been so warmly embraced at the same time that the first black president has taken office. So it could be a great film, but it could also be symptomatic of something disturbing and ugly in the national subconscious. Because as despicable asTheBirth of a Nation might be in its content, nobody can say it's not a pretty good motion picture.

Nor is Precious the only film to dramatize the subject of broken African-American families. Directed by John Lee Hancock and based on the nonfiction book by Michael Lewis, The Blind Side tells the story of Michael Oher, a homeless teenage African-American boy taken off the streets of Memphis by Leigh Anne Tuohy,a wealthy white matriarch, who brings him into her home. Maybe her move is not altogether altruistic: she recognizes "Big Mike's" football talent, nurtures him into a star offensive lineman for her kids' private Christian high school, and guides him to a football scholarship at her alma mater Ole Miss (which, you might recall, was all white until 1962, when James Meredith, a non-football player, enrolled with the protection of US marshals and the National Guard). Eventually he gets to the pros, winning a starting spot on the Baltimore Ravens this past season as a rookie.

Christian groups have hailed the film and flocked to see it. It has grossed more than $228 million to date, helped no doubt by the efforts of its marketing firm, Grace Hill Media, which, according to Nicole Laporte in The Daily Beast, has promoted it with "sermon outlines" sent to 22,000 megachurches. Many critics have also lauded the film, especially Bullock's performance.

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  Topics: Features , Barack Obama, Barack Obama, World Politics,  More more >
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