Historic Film Photos Capture Hollywood's Legacy of Exploitation
A photo show at MoMA takes a brief historic look at exploitation of gender, race, and 'second-class citizens' in film.
Albert Popewell, Tamara Dobson, and Caro Kenyatta in Cleopatra Jones, 1973. Directed by Jack Starrett (American, 1936–1989). Warner Bros. Film Study Center Special Collections, The Museum of Modern Art. All images courtesy The Museum of Modern Art
American film industry players often revel in differences to make it big, oftentimes allowing certain Hollywood casting trends to leave devastating stains on the visual history books. A new photography exhibit at New York's Museum of Modern Art compiles a brief history of American film’s stereotype driven-but-aspirational progress. The show, titled Making Faces: Images of Exploitation and Empowerment, is organized by Ashley Swinnerton, the Collection Specialist at MoMA, and Dessane Cassell, a curatorial fellow of the museum’s department of film.
In the 1970s, Hollywood stumbled upon the revolutionary discovery that you could use black actors to provide for a growing interest from white audiences, planting but one two-sided seed of exposure and exploitation in American film culture. The Blaxpoitation movement epitomized the film industry's modernist disregard for creating harmful stereotypes. On one hand, the films highlighted new genres of music and art, emphasizing a certain sense of affection and unity within the black community. On the other, the films blatantly portrayed black bodies as objects of sex and violence.
Earlier than that, the roles of women in film suffered a similar stigma. Stars like Greta Garbo and Catherine Hepburn can be credited for the acceptance of things like seeing women wear pants, but it took decades to elevate actresses out of a “second class” status. From photos of German-American film star Marlene Dietrich in the 1932 drama, Blonde Venus, to Sidney Poitier's groundbreaking role in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Making Faces: Images of Exploitation and Empowerment in Cinema presents a fascinating view of cinema's complicated history of representation. Check out a few more images from the show, below:
Making Faces: Images of Exploitation and Empowerment in Cinema is on view now until April 30, 2017 inside the Titus Theaters at the Museum of Modern Art. Click here for more details about the show.
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