Thomas Allen Harris has my respect, appreciation and deep gratitude for his moving and significant new documentary, Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People.
Harris understands and communicates the power of a single image -- a single black and white image.
I did not expect this documentary to make me cry, but it did. The segment about photographs taken during the funeral service for Emmett Till had tears rolling down my face. There have been documentaries made about Till. One aired on PBS. If you're unfamiliar with that crime and its court case, learn about it.
I think the negative, humiliating racial images projected in mainstream media influenced Hollywood. I feel they had an impact on the restricted film image career of Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel (1939's Gone With The Wind, Best Supporting Actress) and the complicated career of the actor known as Stephin Fetchit, an black actor very popular with white audiences for his shuffling, dim-witted, comical black character. I also believe the history in Harris' documentary makes one realize how bold directors like John M. Stahl and Vincente Minnelli were in presenting more accurate, more respectful images of black people in A-list Hollywood films. Stahl directed the original 1934 Imitation of Life starring Fredi Washington, a light-skinned black actress playing a racially conflicted light-skinned black woman. The very popular Douglas Sirk 1950s remake has Susan Kohner, a non-black actress, playing a light-skinned black woman.