Sunday, March 16, 2014

the last book I ever read (Stanley Crouch's Kansas City Lightning, excerpt nine)

from Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch:

But nothing D. W. Griffith did after The Birth of a Nation could put the minstrel back in the bottle. The film sparked a volcanic rebirth of the real-life Klan, America’s conspiratorial domestic terrorists. It served as a model for the Third Reich when it learned to use cinema to bolster bigotry, just as that regime seized on the purportedly scientific balderdash of American eugenics to explain why the white foam was supposed to be on the top. In the long run, though, surely the most devastating impact the film had on black Americans was that its enormous financial success led Hollywood to depend, for more than three decades, on variations of one set of racist images as its nearly exclusive cinematic portrait of black America. It was not evil, Hollywood would say, just business; they chose what to put on the silver screen in order to ensure the success of products that had to address the nation as a whole: North, South, East, and West. Until the emergence of Sidney Poitier in 1950’s No Way Out, Hollywood bent down and genuflected consistently to the redneck insistence that white Southerners, old or young, be depicted as benign or cantankerous or just plain playful types, no harm intended. Black servants must be seen as uncouth clowns, as superstitious, talking work animals, male and female, small, medium, and obese. Bid ‘em in, bid ‘em out.

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