Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Introducing Dorothy Dandridge

Introducing Dorothy Dandridge
last seen online @ YouTube

So this seems like a natural progression,
right, after my last two movie posts? When I watched Carmen Jones the other night, I saw that YouTube also had the entirety of Introducing Dorothy Dandridge too, so I knew this had to be my next movie. I saw it when it first aired on HBO years ago, and I remain convinced that this is Halle Berry's best role.

The truly sad part, though, is how little has changed in Hollywood since Dandridge's time. The success of recent films like Precious and Dreamgirls indicate that audiences are willing to watch black women in starring roles, but it still seems like movies like these get made in spite of the studios, not because of them.

And it's not just blacks suffering this problem. The controversy earlier this year over the cast o
f M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender stirred Asians and Asian-Americans to fight for the right to see themselves in movies.

There was a line in Dandridge t
hat stuck out. Concerning the production of Carmen Jones, someone (Dorothy's sister, I think) says something like, "They [Hollywood] finally realized that black people have sex!" I found that striking since these days, black actors almost never get to express their sexuality in their roles. If there is sex in a black movie, it's either rape or some other sexual violation (Dandridge has a really disturbing scene in which young Dorothy's "aunt" has a rather... unique way to tell if Dorothy's still a virgin, one which affects her future relationships), or it's broad, exaggerated comedy. Nobody's making films like Blue Valentine or Love and Other Drugs, to name two examples from this season - i.e., smart, mature romantic dramas that challenges the audience as much as the actors - with black casts.

Truth is, quality dramas are getting harder to make these days, as studios increasingly turn to money-making franchise films, and that will affect everyone. I think it's telling that Berry (an executive producer on this film) made Dandridge at HBO. More and more, cable is where top filmmakers and actors are going to make either the movies or TV shows they want to make the most. If that's the case, then maybe that's where we'll find more movies like Dandridge. At least they'll get made.

(A brief word about Brent Spiner. This die-hard Trekkie was very pleased to see him in this movie when I first saw it. It seemed like whenever he was on The Next Generation, they had to stretch to find situations where he could visibly emote, since his android character, Data, couldn't. Subsequent roles in post-TNG films were mostly small and worthless, so it was great that he not only landed such a major role in Dandridge, but that he pulled it off so well.)

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