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Illusions versus Reality Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Allison, United States Jul 18, 2005
Citizen Journalism   Opinions
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In a White society, Black personalities are more than often stunted for the benefit of a hegemonic environment. Black children are alienated because they have ‘cootees,’ and Black adults are oppressed in labor because they are either seen as not smart enough, good enough or White enough. For so long these issues have yet to be dealt with in a public setting. In Western culture, films teach the audience what to think and feel. In Julie Dash’s ‘Illusions’ and Ngozi Onwurah’s ‘Coffee Colored Children,’ one deals with Black women presented as taking back their shamefulness in their race and moving towards empowerment, while the other addresses the issues of race (wanting to survive by being White), gender (sexuality in being female, oppression faced in labor, the childhood wish of being a princess) and feminism (empowerment through voice) in White culture.

‘Illusions’ (1982), directed and written by Julie Dash, is set in the early 1940’s and portrays the relationship between three main characters: Lieutenant Bedsworth (Ned Bellamy), a White, male military officer stationed at National Studios by the Office of War Information as a consultant; Ester Jester, (Rosanne Katon), a young, Black female who finds occasional employment by doing vocal voiceovers for White film actresses; and Mignon Dupree (Lonette McKee), a middle-aged Black female who passes as White and is employed at National Studios as a producer. This film follows a day in these three individuals’ lives in the Hollywood film industry and demonstrates how race and gender, no matter what the era, play a major role in representation in the media. It is a film that represents the little to no credit given to Blacks and women in the United States, specifically those that do behind the scenes work in their daily lives and in their labor, in and out of cinema.

The film opens to the audience with the narrator quietly reading the lines of Ralph Ellison’s “The Shadow and the Act”: To direct an attack upon Hollywood would indeed be to confuse portrayal with action, image with reality. In the beginning was not the shadow, but the act, and the province of Hollywood is not action but illusion.

In this essay, Ellison is observing the powerful influence that popular culture can have on society. "In the struggle against Negro freedom," he argued, "motion pictures have been one of the strongest instruments for justifying some white Americans' anti-Negro attitudes and practices." 1. During the narration, the audience sees snapshots of white men at war--- loading guns, driving tanks--- basic shots of your everyday man-next-door becoming America’s hero. The camera then takes a bird’s eye view of Hollywood and you’re zoomed into 1942.

The narration continues:
As a grim and determined nation marshaled its manpower and vast material resources to meet the totalitarian challenge to the democratic way of life, the motion picture industry is privileged to stand in the very forefront of the united American endeavor… No other media has so adapted to building national morale…

Films have always been used as propaganda in the United States. For instance, during periods of war in the past, films have distracted Americans, similar to escapism, from the war, the reality, while still providing plenty of propaganda. Dash places Ms. Dupree in the film as the assistant to the head of National Studios in Hollywood and Ms. Dupree envisions a more real approach to cinema than the fantasy juxtaposed to illusion in Hollywood.

Thus, Lt. Bedsworth is introduced to the audience with his evanescent, American pride. During this time, pride was rampant, as can be seen on the sticker behind Ms. Dupree as she sits in the private telephone booth that reads: “I am so American… You better be sonny, no matter what your race or religion.” Perhaps this is one of Dash’s main reason’s for choosing the 1940s as a time to place this film. It was before any major civil rights movements, and the attack is less direct than if she were to place the film in modern times. It also happens that ‘classic’ films are almost never criticized. In addition it reigns true that women did take the places of men in times of war. This gave women and Blacks the chance to work in jobs they desired that they may have never had the chance to work in before. The 1940s was a time of hope for change. Unfortunately, the war did not spread equality; especially for Blacks, who didn’t have a chance in cinema until the 1980s.

Throughout the film, Lt. Bedsworth continues to talk with Ms. Dupree and eventually figures out that she is not White but Black. Throughout the film, Ms. Dupree fights to come to terms with her Blackness and confronts many dilemmas in which she is witness to discrimination in her professional life. Ms. Dupree is also seen as very solemn and unsure of her happiness in passing. In contrast, although Ester, the vocal voiceover for the White film actresses, faces much discrimination, including no credit for her talent; her beautiful voice; her professionalism; no film appearance (even though she is even more beautiful than the White film actress for whom she is dubbing); and receives little compensation, she is a young woman who is happy with her position in life, and proud of herself.

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