The mission of The Department of Afro-American Research Arts and Culture to identify the global significance of the creative contributions pioneered by an international diaspora of Blackness
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Saturday, March 16, 2013

New Jack Cinema

       The end of the 1970s saw a great diminution of films by African American directors. This was particularly the case in Hollywood, for the industry had committed to the blockbuster model of filmmaking, more or less abandoning the production of low-to-middle budget films—the range in which most African American movies were placed. Many of the established directors moved to television, while still others worked on direct-to-video releases. A few directors capitalized on the newly developing youth subculture of hip hop with films like Beat Street (Stan Lathan, 1984) and Krush Groove (Michael Schultz, 1985), films centered on the music industry. Another link to popular music was Under the Cherry Moon (1986), a black and white feature directed by and starring the musical artist Prince.

      The course of African American filmmaking was redirected, literally, by the newcomer Spike Lee (b. 1957), who in 1986 saw great success with his independently produced first feature film, She's Gotta Have It , an irreverent look at an African American professional woman and her romantic relationships. Well-received by critics and audiences, She's Gotta Have It , along with Hollywood Shuffle (Robert Townsend, 1987), a comedic treatment of Hollywood's racist production practices, and I'm Gonna Git You Sucka (Keenan Ivory Wayans, 1988), a parody of blaxploitation films, heralded a new era in African American filmmaking. The popularity of these three films, as well as the ascendancy of rap music, opened the door for a new generation of directors. In 1991 sixteen African American–directed movies were released theatrically, the most since the era of the race movie. Those titles included Jungle Fever , New Jack City , True Identity , The Five Heartbeats , House Party II , Talkin' Dirty After Dark , Hangin' with the Homeboys , A Rage in Harlem , Chameleon Street , Strictly Business , Living Large , To Sleep with Anger , and Up Against the Wall.

      It was also the year of release for Boyz N' the Hood by John Singleton (b. 1968) and Straight Out of Brooklyn by Matty Rich (b. 1971). Both films were tense coming-of-age dramas about male teens trying to make it out of the ghetto (South Central L.A. and Red Hook, Brooklyn) and its pervasive cycle of poverty. While Singleton's film was supported by a major studio (Columbia Pictures), Rich's film was funded by family credit cards and an address on a local radio station for investors. Both went on to receive widespread attention. Singleton became the youngest person ever nominated for an Oscar ® for Best Direction, as well as a nominee for Best Original Screenplay. A number of movies followed in their wake, all featuring young men in urban locales and focusing on crime, such as Juice (1992) and Menace II Society (1993), causing many critics to wonder if it was a case of blaxploitation revisited. In addition, cultural critics lamented the masculinist perspective of the films, concerned that the films perpetuated the stereotype of young urban African American males as crack-dealing gangsters pervasive in the late 1980s and early 1990s. There was also the issue of presenting a singular construction of African American communities—ignoring the true diversity of African American populations.

     One film that did diverge from the urban male hegemony was Daughters of the Dust (1991) by Julie Dash. The first feature-length film by an African American woman to be released theatrically, this unique vision, which took more than twelve years to bring to the screen, is a hypnotic period drama, set in 1902 on one of the Sea Islands off the East Coast of the United States. It is a celebration and remembrance of Gullah, a distinct African American culture that developed during slavery. Because of the islands' relative isolation, the inhabitants were able to build a culture more closely linked to that of Africa than were those enslaved on the mainland. Dash uses this setting and rich cultural tradition to tell the story of a family that gathers for what may be their last meal together.

     Toward the end of the 1990s, African American film making was no longer typified by the narrow parameters that defined its renaissance. Haile Gerima provided a harrowing, much-needed lesson on slavery in Sankofa (1994), the most successful self-distributed independent feature of African American cinema, while Spike Lee with Malcolm X in 1992 brought the slain activist to the consciousness of a generation with no experience of the civil rights movement. This was also the decade when several women directors came into their own. With Just Another Girl on the I.R.T . (1992), Leslie Harris provided a female perspective on teen life in an urban locale. I Like It Like That 1994) by Darnell Martin (b. 1964), the first film directed by an African American woman to receive studio funding, provides an interesting tale of a woman who, driven by a family crisis, finally comes to full selfrealization. Other women directors who would emerge in the 1990s include Bridgett M. Davis, Alison Swan, DeMane Davis, Cauleen Smith, and Neema Barnette. Cheryl Dunye directed Watermelon Woman , the first African American lesbian feature, in 1996, and in 1997 Kasi Lemmons delivered a haunting, atmospheric drama, Eve's Bayou , the most successful independent film of that year. Chicago-based George A. Tillman, Jr. (b. 1969),

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Preliminary List of Films (not accurate and will be updated)
  • A Low Down Dirty Shame (1994)
  • A Rage In Harlem (1991)
  • A Thin Line Between love and Hate (1996)
  • Above the Rim (1994)
  • Babe's Kids (1992)
  • Beat Street (1984)
  • Blankman (1994)
  • Boomerang (1992)
  • Boyz N The hood (1991)
  • Breakin' (1984)
  • Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo (1984)
  • Brother From Another Planet, The (1984)
  • CB4 (1993)
  • Class Act (1992)
  • Coming to America (1988)
  • Crack House (1989)
  • Crooklyn (1994)
  • Dead Presidents (1995)
  • Def By Temptation (1990)
  • Disorderlies (1986)
  • Do The Right Thing (1989)
  • Don't Be A Menace While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood (1996)
  • Drop Squad (1994)
  • Eve's Bayou (1997)
  • Fast Forward (1985)
  • Fear of a Black hat (1993)
  • First Time Felon (1997)
  • Five Heartbeats, The (1991)
  • Fresh (1994)
  • Girl 6 (1996)
  • Great White Hype, The (1996)
  • Harlem Nights (1989)
  • Hav Plenty (1997)
  • Hawk Jones (1986)
  • He Got Game (1998)
  • Higher Learning (1995)
  • Hollywood Shuffle (1987)
  • Hoodlum (1997)
  • House Party (1990)
  • House Party 2 (1991)
  • House Party 3 (1994)
  • I'm gonna Git You Sucka (1988)
  • In Too Deep (1999)
  • Jason's Lyric (1994)
  • Juice (1992)
  • Jungle Fever (1991)
  • Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. (1992)
  • Krush Groove (1985)
  • Last Dragon, The (1985)
  • Lean On Me (1989)
  • Love Jones (1997)
  • Malcolm X (1992)
  • Mena II Society (1993)
  • Meteor Man (1993)
  • Mo' Better Blues (1990)
  • Mo' Money (1992)
  • New Jack City (1991)
  • New Jersey Drive (1995)
  • Original Gangstas (1996)
  • Panther (1995)
  • Players Club, The (1998)
  • Poetic Justice (1993)
  • Posse (1993)
  • Purple Rain (1984)
  • Rappin' (1985)
  • School Daze (1988)
  • Set it Off (1996)
  • She's Gotta Have It (1986)
  • Slam (1998)
  • Soul Central (1992)
  • Straight Out of Brooklyn (1991)
  • Strapped (1993)
  • Strictly Business (1992)
  • Sugar Hill (1993)
  • Sunset Park (1996)
  • Tales From The Hood (1995)
  • Tougher Than Leather (1988)
  • True Identity (1991)
  • Under the Cherry Moon (1986)
  • Vampire In Brooklyn (1995)
  • Who's The Man (1993)
  • Wild Style (1983)