Tag Archives: Cadillac Records

Moving Beyond the Niche

by Guest Contributor Melissa Silverstein, originally published at Women and Hollywood

A couple of weeks ago the NY Times ran a piece about the lack of progress of African American directors over the last decade. It seems that African American filmmakers suffer the same issues as women filmmakers — being stuck in a niche and unable to get out. Whether it’s right or not, or desired or not, most African American directors get pigeon holed into creating stories for African American audiences which are still not seen as “mainstream.” Personally, I would rather see a film like The Secret Life of Bees directed by an African American woman like it was, because I would venture to say that Gina Prince-Bythewood (pictured top right) would do a better job than a white woman or white man. I don’t see anything wrong with that. But because women and people of color are seen as “niche audiences” anyone who is in those groups gets stuck. I don’t think the problem is with the audiences. The Secret Life of Bees was a steady earner all through the fall with black and white women. I think the word niche is evil and should be banished. Why aren’t stories like Cadillac Records which boasts an amazing performance from Beyonce (tell me why they couldn’t sell her?) seen as American stories? Once the movie business figures out that they can make money by getting people beyond the “niche” maybe we will see more opportunities for African American directors and women directors.

Some points from the article:

You could now literally count on one hand (using two fingers) the number of black directors who can get their projects made and distributed at a steady rate. One is (Spike) Lee…while the other is Tyler Perry.

Momentum for African-American cinema, it would seem, has been curtailed or at least stalled in part by studio executives’ preconceptions that black films are “niche product” with limited appeal. Yet at the same time black directors and producers still express optimism that they not only can continue to cultivate their black audiences but also can reach out further and wider to the mainstream…

Darnell Martin, the director of Cadillac Record is a cautionary, yet surprisingly typical tale of what happens to women directors:

Ms. Martin places much of the blame for her sporadic career in the feature-film business on the conflicts she had over the promotion of “I Like It Like That.” “They insisted on making me the poster child for the film, the ‘female Spike Lee,’ and I said, ‘Look, I don’t mind that. I’m proud to be a black woman director, and I want that out there.’ But we’d gotten some great reviews, and I felt that was what they should be leading with. If it had been a white director, they would have emphasized the reviews, but instead they were trying to get people to see it only because I was black.

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Cadillac Records

by Guest Contributor SLB, originally posted at Postbougie

I think if we’re all quite honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that the methods to approaching big-screen biopics are finite—especially biopics about musicians. In order for people’s lives to warrant the silver screen treatment in the first place, those lives have to possess extremes—a series of extenuating events that can be exploited for the highest dramatic impact the actors can generate. And face it: biopics are only as good as their actors. Sure, the writing has to be passable. If you’re lucky, the writing makes the actors’ jobs easy, but to our main point: the lives themselves provide the pathos. The writers need only heighten it. Yes, there are glaring historical omissions. Yes, there are all kinds of melodramatic liberties taken—especially in the film’s second to last scene of this film. But that, too, comes with the predictable territory of biopics, and good actors mine that melodrama for all its worth. That’s what makes a decent biopic so watchable.

Everyone involved in Darnell Martin’s Cadillac Records understands the pecking order of the biopic genre—which is precisely why this one works so well. Fortunately, the casting directors brought their A-game, tapping Adrien Brody as Leonard Chess, the Jewish-Polish immigrant who founded the most successful Blues and R&B label in Chicago history, Chess Records, and the incomparable Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters, Chess’s flagship artist.

With Brody and Wright anchoring the film, the substantial supporting cast had no choice but to tow the Oscar-caliber line and, with very few exceptions, they did. Granted, Cedric the Entertainer was probably miscast as songwriter Willie Dixon. He always sounds like he’s faking an accent, rather than playing a role. It’s as though his acting ability doesn’t extend beyond varying the tenor of his voice. But since he was only in a few scenes, total (even his role as the narrator didn’t yield him that many lines), he wasn’t distracting at all. Continue reading