Some of the more honest participants in the films, like D'Urville Martin, admit the films are low quality. But Martin claims: "Black films are getting better." He attributes the poor quality of the films to a lack of initial capital from the black community. "Some of these people who are criticizing black movies have money to invest in black films," he complained. "But it's impossible to get any money out of them for a black film."
Black money does not always sponsor good black films. Black professionals apparently hungry to make a buck financed a large share of Super Fly. As Griffin explains: "This exploitation does not necessarily stem from the white community. It is impossible now for whitey to exploit blacky unless he has a black broker, and we've got plenty of people out here who are willing to sell out blackness. All they're doing is asking a higher price."
No matter how poor black movies are, they are probably no worse than 75 per cent of the trash Hollywood has continually turned out for the white market. In recent years there has been a steady deterioration in the quality of American films marked by the swift move to exploit new markets soon after they are discovered. After the success of Easy Rider, we were forced to endure countless poor imitations produced in an attempt to drain the maximum amount of dollars out of a new consumer group.
BUT IN THE CASE of the black market the exploitation is compounded, for a people who have starved for a self-image tend to over-identify with slick and flashy characterizations. This has horrifying consequences given the perverted characterizations promoted in black movies. This summer in Chicago, for example, three black youths who were strangers joined up after seeing Shaft's Big Score. Proclaiming themselves to be John Shaft, they pulled a foolhardy robbery that culminated in a dangerous high-speed chase through city street by Chicago police. Two were shot to death after their auto crashed.
The faults in black movies are made more glaring by the quality of at least one of their kind, Sounder. Based on a Newbury Award winning children's book, the movie deals powerfully and honestly with the life of black sharecroppers in the 1930's. Instead of black women parading lasciviously through Fifth Avenue apartments, it features Cicely Tyson as a strong and devoted black mother, Paul Winfield avoids the black superman stereotype as a loving but tough father who is interested only in dignity and a better life for his family. Sounder's success indicates what a black movie can and should be.
Other black movies could begin to match the quality of Sounder, but the white movie producers and their black allies have other aspirations. American International already has Blackenstein under production, and there is talk of yet another Shaft film. White producers justify their efforts by the old rationalization, "We're only giving them what they want." But like heroin and cocaine, whites and some unscrupulous blacks are once again giving the black community what it wants but not what it needs.