According to James Snead, marking, mythification and omission happens to be the three common devices which get applied by filmmakers to consign blacks to obscurity on screen. Snead postulates that, when these three devices get employed on screen, they succeed in showing the little significance of blacks (Snead 4). Therefore, this paper shall examine four films, which tend to support Snead’s ramifications; these four films are; “cabin in the sky”, “a raisin in the sun”, “nothing but a man” and a “killer of sheep”. Taking a closer look at these films will end u revealing the use of the three devices mentioned by Snead. As a result, this paper shall get developed on Snead’s postulations that the device affects not only the perception, but also the significance of blacks on screen.
Mythification according to Snead takes place in the majority of black American cinema. It gets portrayed in a manner, which tends to debase black characters in movies, while, on the other hand, it is ironical how white characters get glorified in the same movies (Snead 25). A good example of this fact gets revealed in the film “nothing but a man” whereby this device gets employed. In the film, Duff, who happens to be a black worker, crosses paths with white bosses and ends up paying a large price for this mistake. In the same film, the white bosses make it their mission to debase him while showing him the social place that black males hold in society. As that is not enough, the film goes ahead to detail the dilapidated state of Duff’s father who is a drunkard. On the other hand, the location of the film “killer sheep” gets shot in a poor area of Los Angeles. This goes on to show the living conditions of blacks as mired by extreme poverty. In “killer of sheep”, the film depicts the daily struggles of a black family. This mythifies that black families are in constant tribulation (Lott 65). The same myth gets portrayed in “a raisin in the sun”. The film revolves on the daily struggles of an African American family. In “a raisin in the sun”, he black characters get portrayed as having poor jobs. Lena Younger raises her family in a crowded house. His son works as a chauffer, and her daughter in-law does laundry to make a living. Her young daughter struggles with her college fees. The “cabin in the sky” also depicts the romantic struggles between black lovers in a shanty town. All these films depict the mythification of blacks or black communities on screen. All blacks get portrayed as struggling financially, and this is a common myth used to generalize on all blacks.
Marking, according to Snead, refers to the constant over determining of the black skin color of black characters. Snead is of the implication that the skin tone of blacks gets portrayed as unrefined and rough (Snead 47). This, he believes confines blacks to minimal importance on screens. The skin tones of black characters get darkened to show its minimal aesthetic value and inferiority when compared to white skin. The use of black and white contrasts in films appears to code the different roles played by black or white characters on screen. The use of contrasts in lighting in films may speak volumes on political purposes (Lott 36). In “killer of sheep”, there is the use of gritty white and back cinematography to depict the squalid living and hard conditions blacks faced. This rough portrayal of the black neighborhood gets marked throughout the film. In the “killer of sheep”, the contrast is as deep as the white in the film is brightest and the black is deep. In the film, “nothing but a man”, the director employs a gritty feel to the film marking it as black. In order to show the living conditions among the blacks during the civil right movements, the director provides a rough feel of the movies locations. In the film, there is a scene where Duff and Josie get shone on with a flashlight by white boy. This marks them as being extremely dark that they are invisible. The contrast created for this scene depicts the great disparity of skin tone between the white boys and that of Duff. In a “raisin in the sun”, Lena aspires to spend the money she receives for her husband’s death by moving her family to a lovely white neighborhood. This shows a sign of marking. The idea that the white neighborhood gets shown as ideal while the black neighborhood as rough. Marking takes the form of neighborhoods in the film (Lott 88). The white neighborhood has a bright contrast compared to the dark contrast employed for the black neighborhood.
Snead mentions omission as a device that also gets used to underscore the importance of blacks on screens. Omission can get termed as exclusion (Snead 78). The omission of black characters from certain roles or positions in films represents a tactic for racial stereotyping. This tactic showcases the idea that blacks are obscure or minimal in certain positions of the social ladder. Locating this tactic gets relatively hard compared to the first two devices discussed. Omission gets used to create amass image of blacks on screens. Omission may also reference a minimal number of black characters in such movies. In “cabin in the sky”, the director employs an all black cast. This appears to refute Snead’s postulation on omission. The cast present in the film are all black and the roles get evenly spread out among the black cast. The same applies for the other three films analyzed. The cast in each film are mostly of the black race, and there is considerable representation of the black population I the character lists. Of note, in all the films presented in this paper, there lacks senior black characters that represent positions of authority or respect. This indirectly points to omission as mentioned by Snead. All the black characters including the main characters in all four films presented in this paper have negligible titles. These characters and films can become easily overlooked as they are not attractive to certain social classes (Lott 128).
The significance of blacks on screen gets considerably reduced by application of the three devices namely; omission, marking and mythification in films. This paper has supported this claim forwarded by James Snead by analyzing four films that provide examples which showcase existence of the devices in their contexts. Relevant examples or each of the devices in each film gets provided showing their effect on perception of blacks in cinema circles.
Lott, Tommy. The Invention of Race:Black Culture and the Politics of Representation. New
York: Wiley, 1999.
Snead, James. White Screens/Black Images:. New York: Taylor & Francis, 1994.