This weekend’s much-hyped release of “Straight Outta Compton” shows the explosion of fame in the 80s and 90s for Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube for what he called their brand of “Reality Rap.”
Their lyrics that conveyed the life of some African Americans in South LA helped give rise to a fit of Black Cinema in the early 90s, including “Boyz n the Hood,” “Juice,” and “Menace II Society.
Crafted as conventional Hollywood action movies with protagonists going through rites of passage in rough settings, the movies were an easy sell to distributors. It’s one of the few eras, including Blaxploitation movies in the 1970s, where a spurt of Black Cinema enjoyed commercial success.
Today’s African American filmmakers are making critically successful films such as “Middle of Nowhere” and “Imperial Dreams,” but distribution is another story. Film critic Tim Cogshell says there have always been movies that tell African American stories with finesse and skill, but the struggle is studio support.
Some history of African American cinema starts in the summer of 1915 when two brothers George and Noble Johnson founded the Lincoln Motion Picture Company in Nebraska to produce films for African-American audiences. During the 1920s, Norman Studios of Jacksonville, Florida produced silent films featuring all-African-American casts.
How have these films resonated with you?
Tim Cogshell, Film Critic for KPCC and the Alt Film Guide; Cogshell reported on hip hop and film in early 1990s Los Angeles