"Black power" is dominating Hollywood. After a series of movies featuring black actors playing leading roles, Steve McQueen, the African-American director of "12 Years a Slave," became the first black filmmaker to win the Oscar for best picture at Sunday`s Academy Awards. There have been brisk activities by new black directors and actors.
The trend is conspicuous just by looking at Hollywood films that hit screens in Korea over the last six months. In addition to "12 Years a Slave," which opened on last Thursday, "The Butler" (opened in November 2013) and "Fruitvale Station" (opened in January 2014) all dealt with racial issues, featuring black protagonists with black directors.
In an interview with U.S. media, Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of the Weinstein Company and an influential film producer in Hollywood, referred to the rise of African-American films as the "Obama Effect." His interpretation is that the trend reflects changes in U.S. society that led to the re-election of Barack Obama as U.S. president.
"In the past, Hollywood often gave black actors roles just to add variety to the movies," film critic Kang Yoo-jeong said. "These days, the number of films with black protagonists looking into the lives of African-Americans has increased. Moviegoers are also beginning to feel white-centered films trite."
Many of the latest Hollywood films look back on the history of racism from African-Americans` perspectives on the basis of true stories. "12 Years a Slave" deals with the pre-Civil War slavery system, while "The Butler" is about the black movements from the 1950s to the 1980s. "Fruitvale Station" deals with a racism case in 2009.
In these movies, there are no white saviors who help the black protagonists. Although Bass (played by Brad Pitt) helps the protagonist (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in "12 Years a Slave," the amount is only minor. The films contrast with previous black films such as "The Blind Side" (2009) based on a true story involving a white mother bringing up her adopted black son as a star football player and "Men of Honor" (2001), which highlights the role of a white man helping the black protagonist overcome hardships.
Still, the recent movies do not depict blacks as the "absolute good." The protagonist in "12 Years a Slave" drew a line between him as a free man and black slaves. "The Butler" highlights the conflict between a White House butler father (Forest Whitaker) and his civil rights activist son (David Oyelowo). "Fruitvale Station" does not depict white police men driving the black protagonist to death as evil.
"Recently films on racism have taken a step forward in that they have gotten out of the stage of taking a dogmatic approach to the issue of racism or viewing the black-white conflict as a confrontation between good and evil," said Kim Chi-wan, a film columnist. "There are increasing attempts to highlight black people`s identity by using historical or true events."
Non-black directors` view of African-American has also changed. In particular, the number of remakes with black protagonists has increased. "Django," a 2012 remake of the 1966 original, features Jamie Foxx as the protagonist. Denzel Washington plays the leading role as a former intelligence agent who saves a white girl in "The Equalizer," a remake of a popular 1980s` TV show. The film is scheduled to open in Korea in the first half of this year.