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, December 9, 2023

A Tough Winter (1930)

"A Tough Winter" (1930) is a comedy short part of the "Our Gang Comedies [a.k.a. The Little Rascals]" by Hal Roach and is the 99th episode of the series. The film stars Stepin Fetchit, Allen 'Farina' Hoskins, Jackie Cooper, Mary Ann Jackson, Bobby 'Wheezer' Hutchins, and Pete the Dog.

Lincoln Theodore Perry [a.k.a. Stepin Fetchit] became famous in Hollywood in 1929 and starred in nine films. However, his fame was due to his negative stereotypical depiction of Black people in movies. Most of his portrayals were shiftless, slow-talking, tap-dancing, and dim-wittedness. He was a comedic relief, making him the first black actor to earn $1 million. 

Allen 'Farina' Hoskins started acting in 1922 as an original cast member of the "Our Gang Comedies." He had a total of 118 credits, with his last in 1936. He branched away from the "Our Gang Comedies" in the 1930s and appeared in a few films, such as "The Mayor of Hell" (1933) and "Reckless" (1935). 

Unfortunately, many Hollywood films that feature Black actors in the 20s and 30s suffered from racist stereotypes. The early years of "Our Gang Comedies" were a product of the era, so Farina and Stepin Fetchit are examples of Hollywood's depiction of Black people. It may be challenging for some to see this film and not feel offended, which is understandable. But we must be critical and truthful about history, even if it makes us uncomfortable. Pretending it didn't happen helps nobody.

Director: Robert F. McGowan
Writers: Robert A. McGowan, H.M. Walker

Starring Stepin Fetchit, Farina' Hoskins, Jackie Cooper, Mary Ann Jackson, Bobby 'Wheezer' Hutchins, Pete the Dog, Thomas Atkins, Walter Weidler, Warner Weidler

Stepin Fetchit allows the gang to come in from the cold and later attempts to help Mary Ann clean up after a "taffy pull" goes wrong.

Friday, December 8, 2023

Wattstax (1973)

"Wattstax" (1973) is an iconic documentary about the legendary concert known as Wattstax. Stax Records organized the event on August 20, 1972, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the 1965 Watts riots. This multilayered film is strong in black culture, idealism, politics, music, style, fashion, language, art, dance, and beauty. Richard Pryor is the host of the film, and there are several excerpts from actors and everyday folks discussing life as a Black American post-Civil Rights.

The music in the film was nothing short of amazing. The concert was six hours long, but the film only showed parts of the entire show, including performances by Isaac Hayes, The Staple Singers, Carla and Rufus Thomas, Johnnie Taylor, Jimmy Jones, Rance Allen, Albert King, The Emotions, Little Milton, Luther Ingram, and more! Jesse Jackson also delivered his famous "I'm Somebody" speech, which Kim Weston followed by singing "Lift Every Voice."

This movie is one of the richest experiences of black culture. It was a moment when black people united for a common cause and celebrated with each other. Very few films can capture the essence of the black experience, but "Wattstax" did an excellent job of displaying the most profound aspects of Black Americans—comedy, music, dance, soul, and love.

Director: Mel Stuart

Starring Richard Pryor, James Alexander, Rance Allen, Raymond Allen, The Bar-Kays, Andre Edwards, The Emotions, Isaac Hayes, Luther Ingram, Jesse Jackson, Erik Kilpatrick, Albert King, Ted Lange, Little Milton, Richard Pryor, Mavis Staples, Roebuck 'Pops' Staples, Johnnie Taylor, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas, Kim Weston, Jimmy Jones, William Bell

In 1972, at the Los Angeles Coliseum, director Mel Stuart captured the performances of the Watts Summer Festival. Stax Records organized the festival as a gathering of musicians and entertainers from the black community, brought together to remember the Watts Riots from seven years prior. Key performances include comedian Richard Pryor and singers Isaac Hayes and Luther Ingram. Stuart also presents shots of the Watts streets, community, and festival footage.