The most exciting aspect, then, of 2013’s resurgence has been the high quality of black-centered films and the corresponding depth and breadth of their portrayal of the black experience at the local (Fruitvale Station), national (12 Years a Slave and The Butler) and global (Mandela) levels.
Yet despite this optimism, the nagging feeling that this is part of the cyclical pattern of feast and famine regarding black films will remain a troubling reality of our cultural landscape until more African Americans attain the power to create films of their own.
The ability to write, direct and act in a movie is surpassed by the power to finance certain scripts and themes. Major studios are, of course, interested in profit, but also motivated by issues and stories that resonate with their own cultural backgrounds and personal interests. Black films for the most part appear to stand outside of these interests, even as the African-American experience remains at the heart, for better and worse, of our national saga. Ultimately, movies about slavery, civil rights and the ordinary lives of working-class black Americans should not be once-in-a-decade events that garner extraordinary attention. They are part of the very fabric of not only the black experience, but the American one as well.
And at this year’s Golden Globe Awards, that experience will be well recognized.
Peniel E. Joseph, a contributing editor at The Root, is founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy and a professor of history at Tufts University. He is also the Caperton fellow for the W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute at Harvard University. He is the author of Waiting ’Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America and Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama. His biography of Stokely Carmichael will be published in 2014 by Basic Books. Follow him on Twitter.