From Blackface to Blaxploitation: Representations of African Americans in Film

1950s

Carmen Jones, 1954

Carmen Jones, 1954

The growing momentum of the Civil Rights Movement brought more changes in Hollywood. The 1950s saw the advent of large productions featuring all-Black casts and the beginnings of a shift in the ways in which Black and White actors shared screen time. Beginning in the 1950s, the roles for Black actors would become more diverse with complex character development and would complement those of their White counterparts. This shift is evident in films such as Edge of the City (1957), The Defiant Ones (1958), The Decks Ran Red (1958), and The World, The Flesh and the Devil (1959), with stars Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte receiving main billing.

Alongside the pleas and demands from the African American community for greater socioeconomic inclusion and equality in the U.S. after the dedicated service of Blacks in World War II, subsections of Hollywood worked to reduce stereotypical representations of Blacks in film. Large productions featuring all-Black casts (such as Carmen Jones, 1954; St. Louis Blues, 1958; and Porgy and Bess, 1959) continued, and in step with the Civil Rights Movement, there was an increasing tendency to push against and challenge social segregation norms and racial views (as seen in The Defiant Ones, 1958).