The eagerness of urban black audiences for movies with black casts, stories, and themes, and particularly for black heroes, exemplars of racial pride, has created the first situation of guaranteed profit for commercial film makers since the 1940s. Recent genres like the youth film, the drug-addict cycle, and the revisionist Western have failed after a few box-office successes, or failed altogether, but at the moment, any film which shows blacks facing down whites in violent confrontations (the more corpses the better) is going to do quick and heavy business in the big cities. From large studios like MGM to fly-by-night outfits that barely exist on paper, everyone is struggling to get a few black movies into the theaters before the bottom falls out of the market; within the next year as many as two dozen features for the black audience should be released—some directed by whites, but most of them made by young blacks experienced in stage and television directing, still photography, film acting, and documentary.
Some of these films will be better than the slam-bang, blood-and-guts entertainment that is jamming the market now. The guaranteed audience has been a big incentive to shoddiness and exploitation, and with the exception of Ossie Davis's Cotton Comes to Harlem, there hasn't been a recent black movie with more than a few good moments. So far the hustlers have been in the saddle; perhaps the artists and decent entertainers will emerge when the audience gets over its first excitement at seeing blacks playing gangsters, cowboys, and private detectives. There's no doubt that by producing violent genre films the hustlers have been correct about what the majority of the black audience wants. (Malcolm X, a documentary compilation of Malcolm's speeches and interviews from his last years, captures enough of his lucidity and wit and fervor to convince one that he was the greatest public speaker of our time, but hardly anybody has been going to see it.)