Expanding the Black Film Canon

Race and Genre across Six Decades

Lisa Doris Alexander

If the sheer diversity of recent hits from Twelve Years a Slave and Moonlight to Get Out, Black Panther, and BlackkKlansman tells us anything, it might be that there’s no such thing as “black film” per se. This book is especially timely, then, in expanding our idea of what black films are and, going back to the 1960s, showing us new and interesting ways to understand them.

When critics and scholars write about films from the Blaxploitation movement—such as Cotton Comes to Harlem, Shaft, Superfly, and Cleopatra Jones—they emphasize their importance as films made for black audiences. Consequently, Lisa Doris Alexander points out, a film like the highly popular, Oscar-nominated Blazing Saddles—costarring and co-written by Richard Pryor—is generally left out of the discussion because it doesn’t fit the profile of what a black film of the period should be. This is the kind of categorical thinking that Alexander seeks to broaden, looking at films from the 60s to the present day in the context of their time. Applying insights from black feminist thought and critical race theory to one film per decade, she analyzes what each can tell us about the status of black people and race relations in the United States at the time of its release.

“In Expanding the Black Film Canon Lisa Doris Alexander utilizes historical contextualization and applicable theory to produce a valuable analysis of individual films and genres with African American representation of the past sixty years.”

—Gerald R. Butters Jr., author of Black Manhood on the Silent Screen

Expanding the Black Film Canon: Race and Genre across Six Decades by Lisa Doris Alexander offers a significant contribution to black film studies. This is the first sweeping book to cover a fifty-plus year history of black cinema. Expanding the Black Film Canon provides scholars the opportunity to scrutinize and debate black films that have been oft overlooked. Alexander provides a close textual analysis of films, characters, and genres in each decade. While she does discuss mainstream black films, her book is a significant departure from previous ones because of the scope and attention she gives to the finer points of those films that have been underrepresented in black film scholarship. Expanding the Black Film Canon not only opens the possibilities for future research on the films Alexander carefully explores but also continues a dialogue that challenges the ways scholars and others think about, view, and scrutinize black films. Her analysis is astute and insightful and makes a unique contribution to film studies in general.”

—Yvonne D. Sims, author of Women of Blaxploitation: How the Black Action Film Heroine Changed American Popular Culture

By teasing out the importance of certain films excluded from the black film canon, Alexander hopes to expand that canon to include films typically relegated to the category of popular entertainment—and to show how these offer more nuanced representations of black characters even as they confront, negate, or parody the controlling images that have defined black filmic characters for decades.

About the Author

Lisa Doris Alexander is associate professor of African American studies at Wayne State University. She is the author of When Baseball Isn’t White, Straight, and Male: The Media and Difference in the National Pastime.