Take Two®

News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

Is it time to retire the term 'black film'?

by Austin Cross and A Martínez | Take Two®

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Still from the film "Moonlight." David Bornfriend

For the past two weekends, two films with black directors and mostly black casts have garnered considerable attention.

"Boo! A Madea Halloween" and "Moonlight," a coming of age tale of a young African American finding his identity as a gay man.

Tyler Perry's latest Madea film cost about $20 million to make and has already brought in more than $56 million.

Barry Jenkins' "Moonlight," shot on a shoestring budget, has been almost universally praised by critics and has earned more than $1.5 million playing in just four theaters over the past two weeks.

These successes have led some to wonder if black film is entering into a new chapter, and if the title "black film" ought to be retired for the term: "film."

For answers, Take Two's A Martinez spoke to Filmweek contributor Tim Cogshell.

Highlights

By calling a film a black film, does that confine it?

You know, it depends. If we say 'French film,' we understand that we're probably talking about a film that is in the French language, but we're probably also talking about a film that references French culture. I could say 'a French film,' and it might be made by an Algerian or a Moroccan, and it will be in the French language but it will very much not be about the French culture.

I think that what we have to do is to allow the notion of black film to evolve just like we have every other genre of film: German film, Japanese film, all those films can carry those monikers, but they're all just films. They're all cinema.

What if the movie has nothing to do with the black experience? Say a black filmmaker is hired to direct a film about unicorns and rainbows?

Then you're going to have yourself a film about unicorns and rainbows that is a black film. It's gonna be a black film about unicorns and rainbows. And by the way, if it were a woman directing that film, then it would be a film about unicorns and rainbows that's very female.

So the identity will always be there. Moonlight director Barry Jenkins was asked whether he saw himself as a black filmmaker or just a filmmaker. His response was that there's no time when black ceases to be a defining characteristic.

This is absolutely true. It's true of us. Me, I'm a film critic, but I'm unequivocally a black film critic. My thoughts about film are filtered through my blackness because I'm black all day, every day.

Are we going to start classifying movies differently going forward or will they always go back to those labels?

You know, I think that they will always sort of go back to those same categories. What we need to expand is our understanding of what those categories mean. 'Black film' don't necessarily mean Tyler Perry and Kevin Hart and "Boys in the Hood." It can also mean Daughters of the Dust, wonderful Julie Dash's movie. "Killer of Sheep," by Charles Burnett. It might even mean a film that stars a white kid doing things in a white neighborhood that some black guy thought of.

Press the blue play button above to hear the full interview.

(Questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.)

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