With this initial idea out of the way, where did that leave black masculinity? Right to the crapper. From then on, Black men on film were seen as second class and need not be in the forefront of film for anyone to digest. Black men were compared to animals and criminalized for depictions in one film, which in turn led to the untrustworthiness of Blacks. Again, having studied a bit about African Americans in film, I turn my attention to an author that basically defined what Black men were in film, Donald Bogle.
Bogle painted a vivid picture of what Black Men was by giving the reader archetypes of the types of people they were. Bogle informs the readers that the archetypes for Black in the film were: Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks, and all of this over the last 50 years of film nonetheless. Society ate it up, because we began to see roles like Mr. Bill “Bojangles” Robinson in Littlest Rebel (1935), who played the role of Uncle Billy.
The Black Uncle Tom was only concerned for being in the role of caretaker or confidant in the White Mistress and Master of the house. The roles provided were to show subservience as a way to portray power and class. In that same movie, you have Willie Best, who plays the common coon, as he was basically there to be the footstool for his Master. I use this, only to give insight to the dramatic change to what we see later in film.
As time progressed, the role of the ‘good negro’ into that of the defiant revolutionary disobedient negro. This is when Blaxploitation plays a major role in reinventing the wheel. Directors are now experimenting with making Blacks in the film to move from good to violent. Black masculinity began to evolve right before the eyes of audiences alike. So much so, that acclaimed actor Sidney Poitier takes a role in the Defiant Ones (1958), where he is seen as a criminal for the audience and has been shackled to his white counterpart.
Films are now accepting taking Black male actors and displacing them from other Black male actors to show emasculating. The setting is in the American South, the men are the black Noah Cullen (Poitier) and the white John ‘Joker’ Jackson (Curtis), and despite their mutual hatred for one another, they are forced to cooperate, as they are chained together. Eventually, they end the movie-loving each other as their own, which references back to the idea of the ‘good negro’. The evolution still happens as time progresses because, violence now sells, and the Black identity is the best way to get audiences’ attention. Moving ahead to common day, we have films like Boyz ‘N the Hood and New Jack City, where capitalist measure and self hatred for one another come to the forefront as the Black male identity is destroyed even more, and masculinity is defined.
Black masculinity often displays a sexual appetite and violence, and to film and Hollywood, what better way to exploit this, than by showing this on screen. “These images, whether violent, aggressive, animalistic or even emasculated, points to the dehumanization of Black Men in society”. And now, more so than in the past, Hip Hop plays a role in the definition of Black masculinity and Identity. This is the 2nd point of reference, stereotypes and now music, which are all things that have an interesting place in the definition of this portrayal. “Cultural relativity is defensible and attractive. It is also a source of hope. It means we don’t have to continue this way if we don’t like it.”
This is something I find interesting because of the ultimate possibility of change. Black masculinity in popular culture is not something that has been met with positivity at time, but has been the reason that Black men are misrepresented in film as a whole. It is expected that after society has broken you down, dissected you for consumption and placed you at the mercy of others, either you accept it or do something about it. Explained more in depth the effect of race has a graves impact on identity. “Cultural identity as “perceived membership in [a] culture that is enacted in the appropriate and effective use of symbols and cultural narratives, similar interpretations and meanings, and common ancestry and traditions”, which in turns only suggests that a sense of belonging plays major impact on membership in culture. There are several ways to understand the problem, one that is most peculiar is through Buffering, Bonding, Code Switching, Bridging and Individualism