Afro Promo: Black Cinema Trailers 1946-76 (DVD)

Afro Promo” is a textured and rich compendium of Black Cinema trailers that speaks more of the depictions of African Americans on film than any documentary can really try to. There are no real interviews here, just a collection of trailers involving black actors, or starring an all African American cast. And as you’d expect we see the progression from blacks with white lips and bulging eyes, to lecherous and despicable heathens, to blaxploitation films where they were more empowered and able to decide how they wanted to be seen (they settled on “Boss Nigger”?). And every now and then we see the great Sidney Poitier, and Richard Pryor, James Earl Jones, and Pam Grier respectively.

There’s a message here that the producers want to express to us, and it’s that Hollywood was either behind the times, or simply helped to breed the stigma towards minorities. In one trailer, Poitier is described as a negro man, and in many adventure trailers the blacks are shown as villainous villagers while the heroes are valiant, idyllic, and noble, which, again, either added towards our stigma toward the black culture, or created it. And in many of the epic dramas starring both black and white actors, black men and women are fetishized, and the white women are again chaste. “Afro Promo” does reveal the truly incredible power of film and how it can implant ideologies in our minds without our own knowledge. And further in the compilation reveals a more dominant but equally degrading depiction of the African culture, and the blaxploitation trailers are laugh out loud funny, in one film the narrator declares “He wanted to hit the man… where it hurts…!”, and a true stitch popper “Blacula! Dracula’s—soul brother!”

“Afro Promo” is a fun, and insightful look at the progression of African Americans in pop culture.  It’s hard to figure out where the compilation was going. The older films featured almost nothing but Poitier, the dignified actor, and when progressing further in to the modern era, we see much more ridiculous blaxploitation films, so I was never truly sure what they were getting at exactly. Though, it’s not possible, I would have loved to see the trailer for “Birth of a Nation” to cap it all off, and even more films that depicted the black culture in a negative image, and I would have loved to see the trailer to “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”, an exploration in to race relations, but “Afro Promo” seems to want to go for the more lighthearted camp, than actual gritty messages on pop culture. Being offensive can also make a statement as well. It’s clear the curators did their work, and they certainly left no stone unturned with utterly hilarious and kitschy trailers that can’t really be taken too seriously. And we view a progression of black cinema from degradation, to exploitation.