Professor Artel Great: Black Cinema Matters

Friday, September 11, 2020
Still from Fruitvale Station of Michael B. Jordan as Oscar Grant carrying his daughter on his shoulder while looking back at her
Michael B. Jordan as Oscar Grant (left) and Ariana Neal as Tatiana Grant in the 2013 film “Fruitvale Station.”

THE NEW REPUBLIC -- Artel Great is the George and Judy Marcus Endowed Chair in African American Cinema Studies and assistant professor of Critical Studies in the San Francisco State University School of Cinema. He is, along with Ed Guerrero, co-editor of the forthcoming book “Black Cinema and Visual Culture: Art and Politics in the 21st Century.” He wrote this essay for The New Republic.

“The separate-and-unequal attention Hollywood pays to Black cinema has left moviegoers mostly unaware of its rich tradition,” Great wrote. “Even the Criterion Collection, the most prominent gatekeeper of the cinematic arts, has had to reckon with the fact that it features only four Black American directors in its canon.

“Throughout its roughly 125-year history, Black cinema has served as an avenue for creative expression, cultural affirmation, and a reimagining of what freedom really means. It has also forecast, critiqued, and documented the social changes we now see unfolding. Since the very inception of moving pictures, Black directors have occupied a paradoxical role in American cultural history: They have represented an artistic vanguard, introducing innovations in aesthetic sensibilities and production practices, while remaining perpetually on the outside looking in. The truth is, Black artists helped build the American film industry — and it’s finally time for a widespread recognition of that legacy.”