Coming off of the blaxploitation film era of the 70’s and entering the new wave of black film in the 80’s and 90’s many black actors and directors found themselves limited in the types of roles and films offered. Large conglomerates such as ABC-Disney, Time Warner-AOL, Warner Brothers, etc. began to purchase smaller independent studios which resulted in the smaller unconventional films which would usually be picked up by these independent studios losing to conventional films that showcased Blacks as the “buddy”, “buppie”, or stereotypical “ghetto” character. Films such as New Jack City(1991), Boyz N The Hood(1991), and Do The Right Thing(1989) brought in major profits despite their relatively low production budgets. These films ability to attract both white and black audiences gained the attention of major film production studios, who in turn released a string of films following the traditional formulas for black film: the funny sidekick, the single black mother, the hopeless gang member, the star athlete, the independent black woman who can’t find a man, lazy black man living of his mother, etc.
The “buddy” character is most commonly seen in film as a black man paired with a white man. This combination was seen as early as 1958 with Sidney Potier and Tony Current in the The Defiant Ones and in current film in movies such as Get Hard (2015) with Will Ferrell & Kevin Hart. “The interracial buddy film formula was a hit, and Hollywood found more pairings of black men and white men, usually with the white stars in superior roles playing the “straight man” while the black role provided the jokes”(Squires).
The “buppie” character told the story of middle to upperclass blacks, and were usually set in the working world rather than the hood or ghetto. Movies such as Waiting to Exhale, Soul Food, and The Best Man which showcased black actors in roles that could be more widely related to. Despite the commercial success of films such as these, “hood films” still continued to be made and were associated with the black community as a whole.
The “ghetto” character was seen in movies such as Boyz N The Hood, Friday, Poetic Justice, Baby Boy, Juice, New Jack City, Set it Off, The Player’s Club etc. and featured black actors in traditional “ghetto” roles. Black women were usually cast as single mothers, crackheads, prostitutes, and bad mothers all while being categorized as either a “bitch” or a “hoe”.
Black men on the other hand were usually given three options: the gang member, the athlete, or the reluctant scholar. These three roles are put on direct display in John Singleton’s Boyz N The Hood with Ricky as the star football player, Tre as the scholar, and Doughboy as a member of the LA Crips. These films often included rappers as way to capitalize on the Hip Hop movement of the time, and mc’s such as Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Ice T, and Queen Latifah were able to make nearly seamless transitions from behind the mic to behind the screen. A major theme in these “hood films” is entrapment. The idea that the only way out of the hood is through the entertainment industry be it sports or music. These films also highlight police brutality in its rawest forms, often including covert references to the beating of unarmed Rodney King in Los Angeles, Ca and the riots that followed. These films while problematic in the sense that they were the most prevalent role available to black actors at the time; however they were needed in order to publicize what was going on in impoverished black communities and add to the popularity of black film.
- Imani Parker