Cotton Goes to Harlem (1970)

Movie Poster

Black Cinematography AAAD330 course; Film Review

In the film Cotton Goes to Harlem Ossie Davis professionally delivered for a diverse crowd a new detective ‘race’ film drama.

Black exploitation films were still among the popular trend during the  early seventies which gave emphasis to movies like Shaft and Sweetback.

Davis explored a detective genre that placed two dominant black actors as the leading protagonist characters. Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson were two black cops that defy authority and do business their way.

Cops with attitude and convincing arguments to steer their Captain off their defiant trail.

In social context 1960’s and early 1970’s thrust forward the black power movement that invoked deep African nationalism among African Americans. Black power stemmed from a long movement, the civil rights movement that could be dated back to Rosa Parks in the early 1920’s.

Cotton Goes to Harlem is a result of such a social movement fighting for social issues and concerns. Now in the 1970’s film can push forward with similar struggles in and outside of the film. Positive representation of the ‘negro’ benefited African American advancement on a similar accord.

Language in the film stayed consistent to the times, so to speak.  Gravedigger and Coffin Ed often refered in  the film by ‘nigga’ or ‘negro’ by black and white characters.

Easily resounding from the captain’s Caucasian mouth in the privacy of a white male companion. Audiences never hear white’s slur alongside his two leading black detectives.

It worked because this film helped establish how ‘race’ is still as much a factor for two detectives and for movie goers alike.

Films do speak to the realities of the time more so in the historical context and not simply present period.

For instance race films were always heavily concentrated  on ‘race’ neither the embracing of it or the secrecy of its oppressors. One dominant group and one subordinate group joined together to create a picture of representations to promote common interest and appeasement of a people heavily oppressed.

Yes, by this time in the 1970’s the majority of Civil Rights law had passed in Congress and the reconstruction of the New Negro began.

Cotton Goes to Harlem is just an example of the transformation of African American might & ability continuing to blast to the forefront in America. Not only can African Americans receive equal rights and be freely protected under the US Constitution, they could be anything they aspired to be.

Davis does a great job conveying a message to that generation  of African Americans. When compared to today, what Gravedigger and Coffin Ed established in genre, President Barack Obama created in real history making. Establishing a higher feasible option for black Americans alike.

Race films trajectory sometimes complicates black intention dialogue however succeeds at creating black representations, different representations that could unite a community.  Identity can be established through both literary, scholarly, and through expressive, vivid cinematography.

Davis did a variety of film montags that included action gun fighting drama.  People physically engaged in combat, suspense, and romantic calibers at times.

Comedic relief was stern and repugnant with catchy one liners similar to, “you jive turkey” and “ya’ll den up and dune it.” Black slang throughout the 60’s and 70’s.

Overall Cotton Goes to Harlem more importantly asserted their presence within the North Harlem one of the fundamentally and economically first places to capitalize on black representation early on was not mistakenly chosen.

Looking further into the title Davis does another great job combining the south agricultural African American community with by the 70’s the popular, more jazzy urban life in New York.

Cotton in many ways possess layers of a history for African Americans that were used as laborers on the cotton plantations of the south.

This film again did a nice job of linking or finding a common ground for southern farmer blacks and the more urban, spirited black.

More identities than the decade before helping create dialogue both  in the black community and in a racially subjugated world.

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