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Why We Make Movies: Black Filmmakers Talk About the Magic of Cinema Paperback – February 18, 2003

4.4 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This informative collection of interviews with more than 35 African-American filmmakers surveys the current field of mass market director/producers and documentarians working in both Hollywood and the independent arena. Appropriately, the book begins with an interview with Renaissance man Gordon Parks; the actor/director explains his difficulties as a first-time director on The Learning Tree, adding that his training as a top-rated photographer influenced his choices and compositional approach behind the camera. Journalist Alexander's questions invite a torrent of insightful answers from each of his subjects. The multitalented Melvin Van Peebles recounts his piloting Sweet Sweetback, the controversial film that brought him instant fame. His story is one of determination, ingenuity and bravado in overcoming racial barriers. Actor/director/social activist Ossie Davis recalls when movie mogul Sam Goldwyn tapped him to direct Chester Himes's Cotton Comes to Harlem, presenting him with a challenge that stretched his imagination. The taboo on interracial romance in film, with black men and white women, gets a harsh rebuke from former football star and director Fred Williamson. In director Spike Lee's interview, he credits much of his success to perfect timing, and laments the lack of blacks in decision-making posts at the studios. Producer Lee Daniels (Monster's Ball) defends Halle Berry's Oscar win for her performance, despite the furor over her sex scenes. In all, this is a worthy addition to the reference shelf of anyone with an interest in film or African-American culture.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From the Inside Flap

A sparkling collection of interviews with African American directors and producers.

Bringing together more than thirty candid conversations with filmmakers and producers such as Spike Lee, Gordon Parks, Julie Dash, Charles Burnett, and Robert Townsend, Why We Make Movies delivers a cultural celebration with the tips of a film-school master class.

With journalist George Alexander, these revolutionary men and women discuss not only how they got their big breaks, but more importantly, they explore the creative process and what making movies means to them. Why We Make Movies also addresses the business of Hollywood and its turning tide, in a nation where African Americans comprise a sizable portion of the film-going public and go to the movies more frequently than whites. In addition, Alexander?s cast of directors and producers considers the lead roles they now play in everything from documentaries and films for television to broad-based blockbusters (in fact, the highest-grossing film in Miramax history was Scary Movie, directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans). For film buffs and aspiring filmmakers alike, Why We Make Movies puts a long-overdue spotlight on one of the most exciting and cutting-edge segments of today?s silver screen.


Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway; 1 edition (February 18, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767911814
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767911818
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #903,850 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
It is always a treat to read a work by an author who masters his subject and yet is very humble about his achievement. George Alexander's knowledge of movies comes from exposure to the magic of film at a young age, but also through learning the craft of screenwriting, and filmmaking in general, after college. His book is a gold mine as far as learning about black filmmakers and black filmmaking is concerned; it is almost an alternative, outsider's take on the American Film Industry and beyond. What makes it invaluable though is more that the reader is granted access both to the "Usual Suspects" of black filmmaking fame and the talented, less well-known and upcoming black filmmakers. Furthermore, one of Alexander's major achievements is to have managed to create a space where these two categories of black filmmakers could give us "a master class" in filmmaking.
Given the dynamism, diversity, and ever growing number of black filmmakers making movies successfully nowadays, it was always going to be difficult for Alexander to decide who would be featured in "Why We Make Movies": no criticism focused on why he did not include so and so cannot be taken seriously. But how do you conceptualise such a book? Alexander does a brilliant job here because he manages to propose a structure based on chronology, genre, filmmaking potential, filmmaking achievement, and crossing over, to name but a few. Yet Alexander seems to have no other ambition than taking the reader on "an odyssey across the plains of Black America's contributions to the magic of cinema".
The inclusion of Prof. Manthia Diwawara as the exception that confirms the rule in Alexander's book is more than justified. It is beyond the scope of this review to elaborate on Diawara's extraordinary body of work, e.g.
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Format: Paperback
Lovers of film, and especially those individuals who are interested in the behind-the-scenes action of movie making, will be thrilled by George Alexander's Why We Make Movies. Not only does the book get up close and personal with 35 or so of the most notable filmmakers of our time, it also serves as a historical context for black film, and provides information not commonly known about our favorite actors (including how Tupac got his first role in Juice), scripts, budgets, television productions, and the many problems encountered and conquered when it comes to filmmakers such as Spike Lee, George Tillman, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Robert Townsend, John Singleton, and many more.
The book is upfront about the racial and discriminatory issues that plague the industry and how, perhaps, one should approach filmmaking once they are aware of all the long standing issues. You get to read which scene Spike Lee regrets out of the dozens of movies he's made; you get to read what kind of power, if any, do successful black filmmakers have; you get to know their feelings about the current slate of movies that are being released, how directors prepare for shoots, just a wealth of vital information and tidbits that will broaden your knowledge about the industry.
Although the age range, gender, and backgrounds of the interviewees vary, one common bond is their love for film. Why We Make Movies is an important, eye-opening account that will cause your view of the magic of films to be enhanced.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Why we make movies is a question and answer book with the author, and several contemporary black filmmakers. Personally I found it very refreshing that the answers given are straight from the artists themselves. This means that we get to hear "straight from the horse's mouth" how these unique people got started, and why they make films. I ordered this book for two academic presentations, and two papers. One paper and accompanying presentation about a Biography on our choice of Women Director's (Julie Dash for me,) and another paper and accompanying presentation on that director as an auteur. So far, I have referenced more information from this book than all of the information from BOTH of our ASSIGNED textbooks from class. Offering unique, personal confessions from these filmmakers, this author does a nice job of bringing something intimate, fun, and unique in a book that is refreshing to read.
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Format: Paperback
Flashback to 1974. That was the year movie critic Donald Bogle wrote his seminal book, "Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks", and suggested that these five African-American stereotypes were used everyday in the mass media and in particular in the cinema. Bogle's five main stereotypes were based on his research of the images that white Hollywood directors and movie audiences advanced about African-Americans. Now fast forward to 2003. Today many of these same images are still reinforced, reshaped and even rewind by black filmmakers, many of whom were interviewed in George Alexander's fine book, "Why We Make Movies: Black Filmmakers Talk About the Magic of Cinema." Still I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in understanding the philosophies and perseverance strategies of this creative colony of artists, activists and scholars. Lots of war stories. And for the most part, they did not shy away from discussing racism in Hollywood. The book is easy to read, and although not billed as a scholarly treatise, wears very well its key words of film and African American/African studies. In fact media and communication scholars will have little problem finding examples of agenda setting theory, propaganda, social responsibility theory and spiral of silence. But even more important, laypersons, movie goers and aspiring filmmakers will enjoy Alexander's ability to present these filmmakers and artists as approachable and genuinely a part of the larger African world community. I am an "index person" and "summary person," therefore, I think these two elements would have added greatly to this book. But I appreciated the fact that whenever a movie was mentioned, the date was included. Journalist George Alexander likes movies and his book provides us with a nice snapshot of many of the industry's black participants as scholars, mainstream filmmakers, documentarians and just plain old entertainers - flaws and all.
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