FEATURE OF THE MONTH
Blacks in Film and Television
Each month, the editors of the Oxford African American Studies Center provide insights into black history and culture, showing ways in which the past and present interact by offering socially and historically relevant short articles, picture essays, and links that will guide the reader interested in knowing more. This month's feature looks at African American actors in film and television over the last eighty years.
The invention of film and then television dramatically changed how people view one another. In today's culture, celebrities in the world of the moving image are held to an extremely high level of scrutiny. When they attain success, minority actors are often expected to be representative of an entire race or class of people. As such, African American actors such as Stepin Fetchit and Hattie McDaniel were criticized for playing stereotypes. The stars of television shows such as Julia (Diahann Carroll) and The Cosby Show (Bill Cosby) were asked to be more than TV stars—they were expected to be role models for their race. Likewise, television personalities such as Bryant Gumbel and Oprah Winfrey faced national controversy for comments that, if not for their success, would otherwise have been overlooked because they would have spoken only for themselves. This month's feature looks at African Americans throughout the history of the moving image, examining their successes and the criticism and challenges that accompany being a successful black actor or television personality.View photo essay
The following articles have been selected to help guide readers who want to learn more about African Americans and the history of the moving image. (Access to the following articles is available only to subscribers.)
Primary Source Documents