Racism in Hollywood discussed by panel at EC for Black History Month

Students gathered to listen to four members of a panel talk about African-Americans in Hollywood in the East Dining Room on Tuesday, Feb. 16 as part of El Camino’s Black History Month celebration.

EC history professor Daniel Walker started the presentation off with a PowerPoint that illustrated the various times African-Americans were involved in Hollywood.

The first movie that Walker showed was “The Birth of a Nation,” a movie that was played by some actors who were white, but were wearing black makeup to appear as black, Walker said.

Walker also talked about the first African-American to produce a film called “Within Our Gate,” which was a response to the film “The Birth of a Nation” due to its racist image of African-Americans, as well as its influence on white people to lynch African-Americans.

“Films and TV are the most powerful communication medias that we’ve ever created,” Walker said. “They have a huge impact on how people see things.”

In 1940, Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American to win an Academy Award with her role as a maid in “Gone With the Wind.” Walker said that at that time, African-Americans were accepted in film to play the roles of the maids.

Walker added that McDaniel once said, “I’d rather play a maid, and get paid $500 a day, then to be one, and get payed $5 a day.”

On the other hand, Dorothy Dandridge became the first African-American woman to be nominated for the Academy Awards for lead actress in “Carmen Jones” in 1954.

Walker said that in the 1970s, many people saw that the film industries were exploiting African-Americans.

“I was growing up at this era, and it didn’t (seem like the films were exploiting),” Walker said. “I could look in the screen and see strong African-American characters.”

In addition to Walker, the senior executive consultant of NAACP Image Awards, Juliana J. Bolden, was there as she talked about her favorite movie.

“My favorite film with an African-American in it to this day is not the second, not the third. ‘Friday’ with Ice Cube,” Bolden said. “I think Smokey is the most perfect character ever created in the history of film that is everybody’s boy, he’s everybody’s best friend.”

BJ Rouse is an independent filmmaker who also was there for the discussion, and she said that this type of event is very important for students.

“It’s a great discussion, (that) I think is needed, especially at community colleges,” Rouse said.