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East Lansing Public Library examines watershed black films on the eve of ‘Black Panther’

Why representation matters


Jeffrey Wray, an African-American film studies professor at Michigan State University, says the decisions of what movies end up receiving funding and who stars in them are decided by a group of people who are “overwhelmingly white and male.”

“That has to change,” Wray said. Jared Mosley, a member of the Black Media Entertainment student organization at MSU, said he’s been waiting a long time to see a movie he could racially relate to.

“It’s not often that you get to see a superhero that looks like you,” he said. “People are definitely more used to seeing black people in a role where they’re poor or comic relief, and we need to show them that we can do more than that.”

A panel discussion hosted by the East Lansing Public Library, part of its African-American film series event held throughout this month, will tackle these issues.

The library’s been screening black-centric films all February, with two more showings, “Boyz N the Hood,” Feb. 20, and “Pariah,” Feb. 27. “Pariah” will be followed by a panel discussion with Wray involved.

Annie Gordon, the adult services librarian at the East Lansing Public Library, selected the films to be shown for Black History Month. Gordon chose the films to highlight specific social and legal issues, with hope that the ensuing discussion can shed some light on these issues of black representation.

“As a community organization, we think it’s important to recognize and represent all cultural holidays and the people they celebrate,” Gordon said. “We have a diverse community.”

“Black Panther,” a pro Afro-futurism film with a primarily all-black cast that hits theaters Friday, is forging new paths for other media companies to follow.

Mosley believes more diverse representation will only increase a movie’s success.

“If you wanted to make a movie about the Black Panther, and about Africa in a way, representing black people and advancements in technology, you got to get black people to do those things. There’s no better way to do it,” Mosley said. “It’s all about representing the culture.”

These companies are giving a lot of black actors and actresses jobs, but what Wray sees as more important is the fact that they’re finally giving black filmmakers, and others behind the scenes, a chance and a job too.

Wray said we’ll have to wait to see if “Black Panther” will be the big blockbuster film it’s been hyped up to be, but there’s no doubt it’s a step in the right direction for more black representation in Hollywood.


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