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Hollywood’s progressive filmmaking overshadows its ‘blackface legacy’

Hollywood’s progressive filmmaking overshadows its ‘blackface legacy’
Oscar statues. (AMPAS/Getty Images)

To the editor: Khalil Gibran Muhammad admonishes Hollywood “to account for its role in a culture that allowed one young white man … to blacken his face and another to don a white hood.”

Muhammad cherry picks evidence to overstate a silly premise. Dwelling on Hollywood’s periodic use of blackface during the first six decades of movie history, and tying real-life vigilante violence to silver screen versions, to make a point about a current controversy requires him to ignore subsequent decades of Hollywood’s cultural contribution to counter racism and bigotry and to promote civil rights.

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One obvious film is “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Other examples abound, and prominent among them are the variety of dignified black male characters portrayed by actors like Sidney Poitier.

Aside from the genre of black exploitation films, storylines challenged racial stereotypes, caricatures; among these films are “Mississippi Burning,” “Malcolm X” and “The Learning Tree.” More recent films offer even more insights into the African American experience beyond outdated imagery.

Jacqueline Braitman, Valley Village

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To the editor: Muhammad’s informative analysis of Hollywood racism falters when he claims that Don Siegel’s “Dirty Harry” sanctions white vigilante racist violence against minorities.

Clint Eastwood’s eponymous “hero,” Harry Callahan, is an inspector with the San Francisco Police Department who acts with the gut impulses of a fascist vigilante. But the focus of Harry’s animus is a crazed serial killer, played with psychotic brio by Andrew Robinson, who happens to be white.

The serial killer is a rebarbative racist. His letter to the SFPD announcing his next victim uses the N-word.

Both Siegel and Eastwood as directors often take a fascist line on violence but defend ethnic diversity.

Leigh Clark, Granada Hills

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