The Hays Code seems to have stifled Hollywood when it was introduced in the 1930s. It also was a burden on black actors. They could not be seen to be appearing romantic with white stars.
Harry Belafonte tells the story how he used a freshly cut coconut to show a romance with his white co-star. Black actors whether in Britain or America could not show their sexual side. Romance especially with white characters had to be chaste.
Hattie McDaniel was the first black performer to win an Oscar, but she was playing a maid even if it was an independently minded one.
It was Belafonte and Sidney Poitier who blazed a trail for black actors in films like Carmen Jones and Lilies of the field.
Filmmaker and actor Robert Townsend poked fun on black stereotypes in his film Hollywood Shuffle. He mentions the broad performances of early black actors like Willie Best and he only later gathered that it was the directors making them act that way just as he was was told by white directors how to behave like a pimp from the hood.
Townsend talks about how there would be only one serious black film a year, Once he did The Soldier's Story that was it for that year. When he did not get a role for The Color Purple the following year, that was it.
The rest of the episode is devoted to the early work of Spike Lee and his interest in MGM musicals. Lee with his independently made films lit a fire in the 1980s.
It is a fascinating episode even if I was familiar with some of the issues. Townsend has mentioned for over 30 years the stereotyping that goes on in casting black actors.
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