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Black History Month

By Stella Schwartz

The month of February is celebrated as an annual observance towards black achievement, known formally as Black History Month. During this time, Americans recognize the central role of blacks in U.S. history and their progression throughout the years.

As an individual who is involved and shares a passion for the arts, I was curious to research the portrayal of minorities in the film, media, and entertainment industries, as well as the evolution of race that we see sometimes unnoticeably on our television screens, or jamming throughout our earbuds.

Blacks have been treated as second-class citizens since the inception of this country, forcibly being brought into the U.S. as slaves to the average white man and lacking basic human rights until the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964.

Sam Lucas was the first black actor to have a lead role in a movie, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The movement continued once Hearts in Dixie was released, the first Hollywood film to feature an all-black cast.

On the down side, negative stereotypes of minorities in film can be found in Hollywood as recently as in May, 1999, with the release of “Star Wars: Episode I” Many of the creatures have ethnically placed characteristics.

The recent progress with the inclusion of race has been based off of factors that most children gain an understanding of the world through their television experience. Television, in the past two decades, has made major gains in terms of casting diversity and the portrayal of minorities in differing roles.

During the early years of film and television, blacks have struggled to be able to tell their own stories throughout art because whites controlled the entertainment industry and were able to determine what images of blacks to portray. Blacks finally gained a voice in the industry with the advent of the blaxploitation films of the 1970s. This genre was one of the first instances in which black actors and communities were the heroes and focuses of cinema and/or television, rather than being portrayed as sidekicks or as victims of brutality.

Typecasting has made profound improvements over the past few years, with world astonishing actors, musicians, and creators stepping foot into a new perspective of black artists transforming the industry.

Lin-Manuel Miranda completely rewrote the standards of Broadway with his latest show-stopping hit, Hamilton, that completely broke the charts not only in popularity, but rearranged stereotypes for an unpredictable production. People of color were cast in roles ironic to their race, such as Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson. The show not only opened up an opportunity for all races, but proved that typecasting is in the past, and is no longer needed in today’s society.

The music industry would not be where it is today without the brains, verses, and influence from musical artists who tackle social issues within their lyrics. Popular voices such as Michael Jackson, Prince, TUPAC, and NWA from earlier decades helped to inspire my personal favorite, Kendrick Lamar, along with the knowledge and personal values of other artists on our radios today.

Racism is still alive today, but it is important to recognize the accomplishments and progress throughout generations, as well as thinking ahead to our future as a country. This universal language called art can sometimes be distracted by outer world insanity, but is the central core to equality within all humans. Make a difference, OCHS.

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