A New Era of Black Film: 1990- present

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 80’s and 90’s brought a new wave of black films ranging from comedy to the new genre “hood film”







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).

imageThe “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”.

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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.

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  • Imani Parker

9 thoughts on “A New Era of Black Film: 1990- present”

  1. Great job on the blog! I liked how you listed many examples supporting you argument. You did a really good job at showing that even while the world moved out the blaxploitation film era, stereotypical roles for black actors existed. I think it is really interesting how even thought we as a population have done so much to expose this practice, it still happens currently. While reading through the blog many T.V. shows and films came to mind where the black character is the funny black friend to the white character. I think that when people watch film and T.V. they don’t notice how black actors are given the same type of roles. It’s good to point out that this issue still exists and help audiences to think more critically about why black actors are given specific roles.

  2. It’s surprising to me that black people still are commonly placed into specific roles in films. Just like in past centuries with minstrel shows and the common black characters such as the coon, there are still specific roles today. Not only do you see this just with black people, but other races as well. Reading this post made me think of Gran Torino because that movie has many different stereotypical roles for people of different races. The black men are the gangsters/trouble makers, the white man is the protagonist and hero, and women take a backseat role in the film, listening to the men. I love how the blog incorporated all different genres of movies from different years that incorporate the stereotypical role.

  3. I think you did a really good job with this blog. There are a lot of examples that are current so people can relate to them and really understand what you are trying to convey. Also the use of pictures was good so one can get a sense of the stereotypical characters that are being portrayed. When you talked about how there are only three different roles a black man can play, I can think of many current examples where that is still practiced today. The show Friday Night Lights only has one main black character who is one of the best players on the team and that makes me think of how blacks can play the role of “the jock”. It is also interesting how some people were able to transition from music to the screen and how that music influenced some of the movies. It is like how jazz was added to movies and how in the 1990s, rap was being added. An example you used was Queen Latifah and many people know her for her movies, which started due to her music.

  4. In your post you talk a lot about the stereotypical roles black actors play in films of the 90’s. One can draw a parallel between the stereotypes of today, to the stereotypes used when t.v. had just come about. Instead of pimps and gold diggers you had mammies, shady coons, and sharp tongued sapphires. one can argue the mammy stereotype is still widely used today. In Get Hard with Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart, Kevin Hart acts as the male version of a mammy. He is a black man hired to help a white man, in this case it is to prepare Will Ferrell to get ready to goto prison. I can only assume movies producers have kept this mammy character around for so long because frankly, it has proven to make for good television.

  5. What was the most interesting to me was when you mentioned that Black films of the 80’s and 90’s starred a lot of rappers to “capitalize on the hip hop movement.” I feel like this is still something that occurs today. For example, I know a lot of people that went to see Stomp the Yard just because Chris Brown was in it, not even knowing *spoiler* that he dies within the first 10 minutes. While his casting didn’t put him in a popular stereotypical role, in other movies like Takers, which stars 4 Black actors, two of them being Chris Brown and T.I., their characters are expert bank robbers and murderers. Continuing with this point, I also thought it was interesting how these rappers seemed to have easily transitioned from behind the mic. Rapping and writing your own lyrics about something familiar to you and acting and reading from a script and assuming a role someone else gave you are totally different. When I think of Queen Latifah, I don’t forget that she is a rapper, rather, I think of her as an actor first, even though she came to fame through her rapping.
    In regards to the role of “buddy” which, I know Bloomquist has probably looked at in Disney and cartoon films, I immediately thought of Shrek. Eddie Murphy is playing a donkey, which I believe the U.S already characterizes as a stupid animal in a way, but the Black man is voicing a not too intelligent animal, who is the sidekick to an Ogre, played by a White man, which gives all the orders, while Donkey makes the jokes. Although at the same time, he’s the one to give the lesson.
    In general, what I got from this is that Black films are really important. Not only do they put Black actors and rappers on the map, but they help to highlight issues within the black community. Though it is Hollywood and sometimes these issues are exaggerated or not completely touched on, they shed light on what is going on in working class Black neighborhoods nonetheless. Without these roles, though they are more often than not stereotypical, a lot of Black actors we know today would not be known. For example, Stacey Dash. She made her name by acting in Black films. I don’t understand her remarks about getting rid of BET because that’s where she came from. She got her start because of Black entertainment. But, I digress.
    Imani, I think you did a great job on explaining Black films of the time and your pictures and video were good supplements to the points that were made.

  6. I really enjoyed how you started this blog off by delving into the “off the set” barriers that black people in the 90s had to put up with. The large conglomerates played a huge role in deciding what made it to the theater and what didn’t. With the purchase smaller independent studios it absolutely resulted in the smaller unconventional films which had smaller target audiences being pushed aside by more conventional films that the largely white conglomerates promoted. When you brought up the “buddy” character I feel like I had an epiphany. I had never really noticed this stereotype until just now. I immediately thought of Donkey from Shrek (2o01). Although, he is a cartoon, his voice is played by Eddie Murphy who is black and has a very distinct voice. While Shrek, the main character, was very serious the whole movie, Donkey couldn’t go a minute without providing some comedic relief. This falls right into the “buddy” stereotype you speak about in your blog post. Not only is the black character the “buddy” he is also literally a donkey, which is pretty unpleasant animal. I don’t think anyone really thinks of a donkey and goes “wow what an awesome animal”. I like how your blog forced me to make a connection I had never made before.

  7. I enjoyed the plethora of examples used throughout the blog post. It was particularly enjoyable, because these are a lot of the movies I grew up watching. The shift in era provides interesting commentary on what it meant for Blacks in the entertainment industry, and how it’s evident that the detrimental roles were still being assigned to them. It’s interesting to analyze the push/pull effect these movies have on the Black community. For many the reception is that there’s a desire to pull away and see how it’s problematic, but many still enjoy these films and resonate with them. The video was a good touch to the blog, but I wish more theory would’ve been integrated throughout the post. Regardless, go ahead Imani!

  8. I particularly enjoyed the part of your post when you discussed the entrapment aspect of black actors. This theme was apparent in many of the Black films throughout the 90’s. This idea that the only way black males escaped the realities of the Ghetto was through entertainment outlets such as Music and Athletics. By no means is this a new feature in the exploitation of African Americans. This ideology relates all the way back to slavery, when slaves would attempt to entertain their masters in order to be placed in better graces. Seeing a connection between the realities of slavery and an aspect of Hollywood’s entertainment formula is quite alarming.

  9. I loved this blog because in some ways it made me even more proud to be Black and come from a “ghetto” area. I think it was smart of you to point out that these films were not only made popular by black audiences because it is still true today that most black entertainment is consumed by white audiences. I enjoyed the several examples you offered and your connection of these various Black movies to the Squires piece. I kind of got this nostalgic feeling while reading about these movie characters because I grew up with these films on replay in my home and know people who look up to these images of black males as heroes. I think it’s sad that these images dominate Black films but I also understand the importance of portraying the Black experience in a realistic way and that is exactly what these films do. Don’t get me wrong, I know that the Black experience displayed within these movies is not every Black person’s experience but as the video touches upon these movies continued to push Black narratives into the lime light and gave black actors and entertainers a space of their own. THANKS for this Imani!

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