Black films show racism througout history

Meredith Buse

While making a movie dealing with racial profiling since the Sept. 11 attacks, director Cal Ward Jr. said the FBI and NYPD interrogated him for 7 hours because he was black and had a beard.

Themes of racial discrimination weaved through two short movies by Ward and Melvin Van Peebles shown Wednesday night at the Block Museum.

Ward discussed his detainment with about 30 Evanston residents after the screenings as part of Evanston Public Library’s Reeltime series. Because he was carrying news clippings and photographs of the Sept. 11 attacks, and he had dark skin and a curly beard, Ward said the authorities subjected him to racial profiling.

Throughout his career, Ward has tried to comment on the issue of racism and other controversial social issues.

In the first film shown Wednesday, 1994’s “The Rally,” a black preacher mistakenly interrupts a Ku Klux Klan rally because he has an incorrect address. The 20 minute spoof of early silent film chases has flickering images of the klansmen running after the preacher.

The film, which won an award from the Black Filmmaker’s Hall of Fame, captures elements of Ward’s own life through a blend of social commentary and humor, he said.

“The feeling of pursuit, the feeling of oppression, that Chaplin-esque feeling of running for your life,” Ward said.

The second film, a 50-minute documentary also from 1994 called “Classified X,” examines the stereotypes of black actors throughout Hollywood’s film history. While narrating the film, director Melvin Van Peebles demanded viewers “take the rose-colored glasses off” and replace them with the “shoes of a colored person.”

Clips from films including “Gone with the Wing,” “King Kong,” and the Shaft movies showed how Hollywood has portrayed blacks as servants, savages and violence-obsessed. While many movies, such as those of Shirley Temple, stereotyped blacks as song-and-dance men, Peebles pointed out in the documentary how the character of Sam in “Casablanca” was an unusually real persona.

“He didn’t kiss ass,” Peebles said.

After the films, the audience discussed their impressions with Ward and screenwriter Delle Chatman, writer of the film “Free of Eden,” which covers themes similar to the two films shown.

“There’s a lot of power in independent film and they’re willing to embrace controversial issues,” Chatman said.

Independent films allow for more freedom of expression in the current climate of political correctness.

“Hard hitting social satire makes people nervous now,” Ward said.

But one aspiring filmmaker in the audience enjoyed the confirmation of his own impressions of racial stereotyping.

“I came to reinforce images I know to be true and to fuel my own writing,” said writer Stephan Young, 43, of the west Loop.

The library’s Reeltime Independent Film and Video Forum screens films every month. Next month they plan to feature works by graduate and undergraduate film students from Northwestern, Columbia College and The School of The Art Institute.