The distinction between the Hollywood and independent film is important, though by the late 1990s, a clear and consistent definition of the latter became problematic. Traditionally, an independent film was a project that was financed, developed, and completed without involvement from any major Hollywood studio. However, by the year 2000, as one critic notes, "[tjhe corporate complexity of the contemporary entertainment industry is such that many independent companies are, in fact, owned by the majors. For example, Miramax is part of the Disney empire; Fine Line and New Line are owned by Time-Warner; October Films has been absorbed by Universal/MCA.'' 2
The independent film—whether a short film, feature, or documentary— has always been an avenue where black directors could find expression and gain experience. With its own history, which had a parallel development to the Hollywood industry, independent filmmaking provided black directors a viable storytelling medium, but to a smaller audience.
From approximately 1918 to 1948, black writers, producers, and directors created movies that targeted all-black audiences. Utilizing a cast of allblack performers, these movies sought to compete with Hollywood films, sometimes using similar stereotypes for characterization, but consistently presenting blacks in more varied images than seen in the Hollywood film. Through their very existence, these independent black filmmakers made a cultural and political statement that countered the messages presented by mainstream movies. The Lincoln Motion Picture Company, the Gate City Film Corporation, and Million Dollar Pictures were just three of the dozens of film businesses formed to make black independent movies. Some of those companies were black owned, while others had financial backing from white entrepreneurs. Outstanding among the black independents was filmmaker, novelist, and businessman Oscar Micheaux, a conspicuous success and survivor until the post-World War II period, when ethnicity became a marketable theme in Hollywood productions.
By the late 1960s and into the following decades, a new group of black independent filmmakers garnered critical attention for their short films, documentaries, and features. Offering alternative black images, they struggled to create "art" outside the Hollywood system with its formulaic predictability. Filmmakers such as William Greaves, Bill Gunn, and Ethiopian-born Haile Gerima have been lionized by critics and dedicated audiences, while directors Alile Sharon Larkin and Kathleen Collins have been revered as outstanding and influential independent voices. Other filmmakers with independent roots, such as Julie Dash, Charles Burnett, and Spike Lee, have been able to gain access to mainstream audiences, though their creative styles are evidence of their anti-Hollywood approaches.
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