Getting Uppity: Reinventing the black villian

I don’t really have much to add to this American Gangster inspired article about the evolution of the black villians in the film industry. But it is:

A) Well written and interesting

B) About American Gangster

C) From the American Prospect …the best magazine you’ve never heard of. So read and enjoy. Here’s an excerpt:

But Gangster is more than a critical and commercial success. It’s a sign of an important progression in American cinema. There is, of course, nothing new about gangster movies with Oscar aspirations. But a gangster film starring an emotionally complex, flawed but redeemable, African American character? That’s almost unheard of. By taking on such a role, Washington is reinventing the conventional villain, and the black villain in particular. The traditional one — wide-eyed, wild, and inherently evil — is so common in American cinema that he’s hard to ignore, yet he’s rarely recognized as part and parcel of what got the medium itself off the ground. In fact, just about every black actor has played such a villain (with the notable exceptions of Washington and his forebear, Sidney Poitier). And the back story to this stereotypical character offers a rare opportunity to reveal a long list of forgotten movie history.

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One thought on “Getting Uppity: Reinventing the black villian

  1. COMMENTARY: Drug Dealer Frank Lucas, Denzel and Dad

    My Father as a kid delivered groceries to the first drug kingpin “Bumpy” Johnson, who at the time, lived in the corner building on 120th street and 5th Avenue, across the street from Mount Morris Park. He use to tell me these colorful stories with admiration, about this man. Bumpy was an employee and conduit for the mafia, helping to orchestrate the distribution of heroin into Harlem and surrounding communities in the 1940’s, an epidemic that would later spread and engulf the entire country for generations to come.

    The street gangs of the 40’s would become some of the first addicts, their members would ultimately form the first ruthless drug-gangs of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Families were destroyed individual lives ruined, violence and crime across the board increased at staggering rates. In spite the gains from the Civil Rights Movement, as a community we never fully recovered from the initial impact of the flooding of drugs into our communities.

    Frank Lucas, portrayed by academy Award winner Denzel Washington in “American Gangster”, was the driver for Bumpy Johnson until his death by heart attack in 1968. By the time Mr. Lucas took power- the Harlem community had been decimated by this epidemic and the second generation of addicts already overwhelmed the streets. Like the Hip Hop culture violent movies have a tremendous impact on our children. Our young-people are continually bombarded with negative messages that unfortunately help shape and mold their character, Al Pacino’s as Scareface is still a popular image on T-Shirts.

    The moral of the story is not that the bad guy gets it in the end. Too many hopeless kids who are engaged in criminal activity, view the demise of these individuals in a fatalistic and morbidly glamorous way. Enlighten by our past history and current events we have to be careful not to glorify criminals. Mr. Lucas has the right to have his story told but as parents, mentors, big brothers and sisters, we must always monitor the messages and more important the response to the message portrayed in media.

    Dad’s discussions about Bumpy, were a small part of the rich history of the community that he shared with me. He gave me, as I did my son, Claude Brown’s definitive book on life in Harlem, “Manchild in the Promise Land”, when I was a teenager. He also talked about Malcolm X and Dr. King, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker. Together we watched, Gil Noble’s informative program “Like It Is”. My love of history and current events came from my dads talks about the Bumpy Johnson’s as well as the Dr. King’s of this world. He taught me to discern the messages that would bombarded me in my life-time. He knew then that no matter what, there would always be plenty of people like Bumpy Johnson and Frank Lucas around to share theirs.

    Brotherman

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