Swing(1938) film critique

 The film produced by Oscar Micheaux, Swing (1938) is labeled a “race” movie in the likings of Hollywood film. At the turn of the century just 70 years after the American Civil War did genre allow blacks to produce even portray themselves for audiences. Micheaux an established author and up and coming film producer created images that reflected stereotypical analysis of the black community. In my film critique I will analyze 1) the validity of character stereotypes and ambition, 2) the whiteness versus blackness in the film and lastly 3) the restraints Micheaux faced in editing when producing an independent film as Swing.  Main character Mandy Jenkins portrayed the likings of a strong, independent, faithful, loving black woman in the film. In one scene we watch her hand Cornell her husband money, and prepare his clothes.  And yet subtly her character possesses inherent ignorance or lack of self-esteem. In the scene where Mandy and Eloise the mistress confront each other, Mandy resorts to violence. Which at that time offered a stereotypical view of a black woman, violent.  Nonetheless Mandy proved to be the ignorant, selfless, strong black woman as she became recruited for lead star in the musical by the end but reunited with her no good husband!

            In the film you see contrast of ‘whiteness’ and ‘blackness’ throughout the film. For example, Eloise was portrayed as a wealthy gal that inherently was mean and surly. Her whiteness so to speak came from the amount of money she possessed. In one scene you note her driving a luxury vehicle touting Cornell. In contrast Mandy’s ‘blackness’ so to speak needed money for taxi fare. Mandy, a working class gal could not afford a vehicle on her wage. Inherently wealth and money derive from the powerful or dominant group which then and now is of European or ‘white’ ancestry. Uniquely, by the end of the film a white man enters. Which I found rather peculiar because he was the only white person in the film and his appearance wasn’t until the last two or three minutes of its ending. Here comes the white savior in one sense to save the show and steal the glory. Stereotypical or factual based? I find that Micheaux needed to convince his white audience blacks were still the subordinate group that needed white approval through this last scene.

            Lastly, Micheaux produced this film most likely on a tight budget and was able to keep good narrative, create scene dynamics, and use fade in and fade outs as useful transitions. If we look to the fighting scene again, Micheaux cuts to one women’s facial expression, then cuts directly to the other, then back out wide to capture the full elements. His editing techniques allowed us to feel each woman’s scorn or feeling at that moment. More elaborately Micheaux did have some tracking as he followed the moving vehicle with Cornell and Eloise. This made the viewer believe, “oh, we’re moving now.” This creates mise-en-scene layers and adds glam to a movie of this caliber.

As a whole entity I think Micheaux did a good job of portraying plot, narrative, conflict, and room for interpretation, even criticism. All great works leave audiences questioning they’re understanding or challenging the notions or images they just viewed. If I had to apply the values of Mandy to myself (An African American women) I would say Micheaux nailed the stereotypical animations of me. My only critique would be concerning the white man towards the end of the film. It felt forced. Like an unnatural progression of the film. The audience was headed in one direction and then, bam! The director inserts the oppressor (in a way).  I would keep everything the same and cut that last scene out.          

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