This week’s question: African-American cinema before Spike Lee. Although African-Americans have been making films since the early silent era, it was really the success and impact of Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It in 1986 that announced the arrival of an African American cinema that has increasingly become a major part of our mediascape. What’s your favorite pre-1986 African American film?
Directed by the lead of Nothing But a Man, Ivan Dixon’s political satire The Spook Who Sat by the Door was seen as radical at the time, if one could even see it at all. The film, about the first African-American in the C.I.A. leaving the agency and starting a guerilla warfare cell against the Chicago police, was pulled from theaters by the distributor United Artists shortly after its release, long believed due to F.B.I. pressure.
And what does our host Richard Peña think? “Of course, there’s the long history of films made by and for African Americans, works by artists such as Oscar Micheaux and Spencer Williams, which have recently come out in a wonderful boxed DVD set. There’s also Charles Burnett’s wonderful Killer of Sheep, made in 1977 and simply a milestone of American independent cinema.”