The Great Debate: Denzel, Violence and Scholarship

I’m sure many of you contributed to the $121,716,990 box office smash, American Gangster (if not, I hope you at least got to check out the bootleg). Based on the true story of Frank Lucas, a notorious New York drug dealing kingpin in the late 1960s, American Gangster gives us yet another example of the violent, hustling, charismatic, crack entrepreneur. Washington brilliantly depicts the ruthless gangster to a tee, alongside Russell Crowe denzeland an amazing cast of characters. For his second release of the year, Washington now takes the role of director, alongside producer Oprah Winfery in a film called The Great Debaters. Also based on a true story, the film is about Melvin B. Tolson, who, while at Wiley College (a Texas Historically Black College) formed the debate team that challenged and defeated the University of Southern California in 1935 during the national championships. In the film, the role of USC is played by Harvard University. Co-starring Forrest Whittaker, this film takes an alternate approach of Black male representation in the mainstream. This goes back to my interview with Director, John Singleton: are representations of Black people improving? There was a time when the majority of the images of people of African descent in the media were overwhelmingly hyper-sexualized, violent and stereotypical. While this is still the case, are we beginning to move towards a more holistic image of Blackness (at least in film)? Furthermore, how do we feel about Denzel paying his bills by selling American Gangster, then dropping an inspirational gem like The Great Debaters, on his own time? Is there a conflict of interest here? This is actually a critique that Oprah has of rappers such as Ludacris. Do artists who glorify negative images take away from the positive work that they do?

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Published on December 7, 2007 at 12:46 pm. 7 Comments.
Filed under black image,entertainment,film.