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The Mass Media

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March 4, 2024
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February 26, 2024
An inside look at Bobby B. Beacon’s insides. Illustrated by Bianca Oppedisano/ Mass Media Staff.
Bobby's Inside Story
February 26, 2024

The Black Community in Hollywood

The heartbreaking news of Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman’s death was announced by his team on his Instagram and to his 11 million followers on August 28. This unexpected announcement triggered numerous heartfelt responses from Boseman’s coworkers, fans, family, and friends all across the internet. People were fast to share their condolences, and personal stories of the beloved Get On Up actor with many devastated by Boseman’s sudden passing; it was unknown to the public that Boseman had been suffering from stage four colon cancer and had been battling this horrible disease for almost four years. 

Reflecting on Chadwick Boseman’s career, he was an active advocate of Black Lives Matter which is a prominent movement created back in 2013 in response to Trayvon Martin’s case, and it was revitalized as a result of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin this past May. This unjust event sparked protests all around the US and globe as people stood together with black lives and against the many injustices this group faces daily. 

Boseman used his voice against these same injustices and shared his own experiences as a black man. He especially voiced his mission of being a successful black man in Hollywood as the entertainment industry has lacked and is still lacking in true, appropriate representation of diverse groups. This mission is something that made a lot of people admire him and look up to him. As I looked more into this goal that Boseman had, it led me to research more on the timeline of the black community within Hollywood which I wanted to share in this week’s volume as it is eye-opening to the foundation of black representation in motion picture films.  

I learned that the origins of the Black community in entertainment are very dark and disturbing as they derive from a time where this community was discriminated against and segregated from the white community. Going back as early as the 1800s, Thomas Dartmouth Rice infamously began performing as “Jim Crow” in blackface makeup and depicted a very disgusting, stereotypical black character. This led to further stereotypical depictions of the black community in entertainment and sparked racist films, books, and so forth. One being, almost a century later during 1915, a film called Birth of a Nation popularized anti-black caricatures and glorified the Ku Klux Klan, helping in its revival (1). 

As time went on and the black community fought for their true representation in motion pictures; movies created by and played by black actors immersed and challenged the historically racist entertainment industry. This also extended into other art forms such as visual art, literature, and music. This era is famously known as the “Harlem Renaissance”. Lasting from the 1910s to around the 1940s, this period made New York City a hub for black art and pushed the movement of the black community’s creative voice in Hollywood (1).

One famous figure within this timeline is Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry, better known by his stage name of Stepin Fetchit. Fetchit played stereotypical black characters which caused his community to shame him and beg him to reach beyond these roles as he was prohibiting the black community from being respected in mainstream entertainment. He went against everything this movement was trying to do and that was to eliminate the stereotypes that were depicted in the industry. A lot of people considered Fetchit a sell-out as he was paid well for his work. However, he was not paid equally as his white costars. It was in the late 1930s when Fetchit began to constantly fight with Fox studios to get equal pay, which in the end, he never achieved leading to his departure from Hollywood in 1940 (2). Following his departure, Fetchit was disowned by his community who wanted to forget the damage he had made to their movement. 

After Fetchit, black actors tried to dismantle the stereotypes he played. One of these famous actors being Hattie McDaniel, the first black woman to ever receive an Oscar for her role in the 1939 film Gone with the Wind. Before her breakthrough, McDaniel had started a minstrel show in 1914 that featured characters that defied not only racial stereotypes but gender ones as well as at the time, Hollywood was known to be a man’s world. McDaniel played a significant role in the evolution of the black community in the industry, especially for black women. She starred in more than 300 movies and did other successful projects that put her name in entertainment history forever (3). McDaniel and those who followed in her footsteps during these early times arguably paved the way for what we see of the black community in Hollywood today. 

We have come a long way, however, there is still more work to do. As Boseman advocated against, the industry still finds itself lacking in diversity and appropriate representation of people of color. Some films still find themselves glorifying stereotypical elements that need to be removed and reevaluated. 

What we can do in support of the black community is to continue to educate ourselves and others on this topic. Open your eyes to these historically implemented obstacles that the black community faces in art and support projects that align with their mission and movement. I believe that art unites us all and no one should be alienated from such amazing mediums to share one’s voice and be heard. This is something we can only do together.

  1. https://www.ferris.edu/HTMLS/news/jimcrow/timeline/jimcrow.htm

 

  1. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5245089

 

  1. https://www.cogreatwomen.org/project/hattie-mcdaniel/