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Hollywood Black Book Review

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“Hollywood Black” is a captivating overview of the history of black cinema.

In The TCM book release of “Hollywood Black” (AKA “Hollywood Black: The Stars, The Films, The Filmmakers”) author/professor Donald Bogle does the seemingly impossible task of providing an in-depth look at the history of black cinema while also spotlighting pioneering actors and filmmakers. The book kicks off with a poignant foreword by the late great director John Singleton followed by an intro by Donald Bogle who gives readers an idea of what to expect from the book itself. After that, there are decade by decade chapters from the silent era to the modern era looking at the stars and iconic films in black movie history. Actors and actresses like Ernest Morrison, Stepin Fetchit, Hattie McDaniel, Lena Horne, Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Cicely Tyson, Sammy Davis Jr., Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Whoopi Goldberg, Samuel L. Jackson, Will Smith, Halle Berry, Queen Latifah, Oprah Winfrey, and so many more have sections devoted to them as do directors such as Oscar Micheaux, Spike Lee, the aforementioned John Singleton, Tyler Perry, Charles Burnett, and, more recently, Barry Jenkins. Of course seminal films that were groundbreaking and influential pieces of art such as “A Raisin In The Sun,” “Carmen Jones,” “Do The Right Thing,” “12 Years A Slave,” “Boyz N The Hood,” “Shaft,” and “Beverly Hills Cop” also have written words devoted to them. The book closes out with notes, a bibliography, an index and acknowledgments.

While “Hollywood Black” works as a summarization of black movie history, it’s also much more than that. The book is equally a piece about American history, politics, and culture that ties into the evolution of black cinema through the decades. As tough as it is to see and read about, the early chapters of the books are about the offensive representation of African Americans in cinema through racist depictions, stereotypes, blackface, caricatures, and parts tending to revolve around servants or cheap comic relief characters. With each passing decade, however, we the reader see the change and evolution (for the better) going from pioneering talent from the early days of cinema to Sidney Poitier’s box office reign to the blaxploitation era to the more diverse modern era of cinema which has seen smart and challenging mainstream and indie films like “Moonlight” and the recent Academy Award nominated “Black Panther.”

One of the most involving things about Bogle’s book is that he manages to infuse facts and opinions while also expressing great admiration for the artists who have paved the way for others and inspired generations of moviegoers. Whether he’s discussing underrated stars like Herb Jeffries, Ralph Cooper and Diana Sands, mentioning films you may have never heard of or writing about things such as Eddie “Rochester” Anderson’s beginnings on “The Jack Benny Program” radio show or Dorothy Dandridge’s tragic personal life, there’s so much to absorb here. Naturally, all of the beloved stars and films you treasure plenty of attention here as well.

If there’s any knock I have on the book it’s that it truncates things that probably should have been elaborated on. Even though there are 269 pages that relay so much history and facts, it could have easily been 269 more pages as there could have been much more content centered around Pam Grier, the movie “Friday,” the Hughes Brothers, Samuel L. Jackson (heck, there could be a whole book about his career alone), Billy Dee Williams and his role as Lando, as well as the new millennium section which should have been far bigger given the level of talent and gamechanging/award winning films that have been released in the past 19 years.

Nitpicks aside, what readers do get in “Hollywood Black” is a superb and detailed book that both educates and informs. I can’t recommend this title enough.

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May 12, 2019 - Posted by | Book review | , , , , , , , , , ,

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