Photography Book Recasts Black Actors in Iconic Movie Scenes: NPR

Vanessa Williams recreates a scene from the 1963 historical drama Cleopatraone of many such redesigns in the new photography book Black Hollywood: Reinventing Iconic Movie Moments.

Carell Augustus / Sourcebooks


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Vanessa Williams recreates a scene from the 1963 historical drama Cleopatraone of many such redesigns in the new photography book Black Hollywood: Reinventing Iconic Movie Moments.

Carell Augustus / Sourcebooks

In the new book by photographer Carell Augustus Black Hollywood: Reinventing Iconic Movie Momentshe takes some of the most memorable images in cinema — think of Gene Kelly in Sing in the rain or Janet Leigh’s fateful shower in psychology — and casts them with black actors and actresses, placing them in spaces that have long been denied them.

Augustus saw the project as a chance to remedy an omission that lingered well into the 1980s, when he grew up watching mainstream hits like Back to the future and say anything.

Actress Amber Stevens West recreates the iconic Audrey Hepburn Breakfast at Tiffany’srole on the cover of the book.

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Actress Amber Stevens West recreates the iconic Audrey Hepburn Breakfast at Tiffany’srole on the cover of the book.

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“We were left out of these stories,” he said. “And a lot of times when we saw each other in those stories, we were, you know, arrested or in a prison scene or in a gang scene. And I just wanted to do whatever I could to change the narrative, visually and artistically .”

Augustus took his first photo for the book in 2010, before Black Lives Matter and #OscarsSoWhite. He knew that people might see his project as a reaction to these movements.

“At times, I found myself in tandem with these movements, and just embraced it,” he said.

Surprisingly, you won’t find too many A-listers on these pages. Not Denzel or Halle Berry, not that Augustus didn’t go.

Here’s Johnny, also known as Blair Underwood, recreating this memorable scene from the 1980s the brilliant.

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Here’s Johnny, also known as Blair Underwood, recreating this memorable scene from the 1980s the brilliant.

Carell Augustus / Sourcebooks

“When I started this book, my fantasy was to have all the Black A-listers in Hollywood, right? And then I realized that if I did that, I’d probably have 11 people” , did he declare.

He’s expanded his network, finding artists who may not be household names but have built up a healthy portfolio of credits. Instead of Gene Kelly hanging from this lamppost, it’s Dulé Hill (The west wing, Psych). Janet Leigh is replaced by veteran actress Simbi Khali (3rd Rock of the Sun).

One of Augustus’ favorites was Amber Stevens West taking on the iconic role of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. She graces the cover of the book in this sultry black satin dress. A supporting actor in entertainment like 22 jump street and new girlWest said a central film role like that of Hepburn eluded her when she started her career.

“It’s really the story of a lot of black people in Hollywood, where they’re typecast as, like, the friend and they sort of fill a role like, like, the diversity piece in the project,” he said. -she says.

Aisha Hinds makes patriotism sexy as General George S. Patton, the lead role in the 1970 classic.

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Aisha Hinds makes patriotism sexy as General George S. Patton, the lead role in the 1970 classic.

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In some cases, Augustus even reverses the genders. The first photo he took and also the first in the book sees Aisha Hinds ( true blood, Shots fired) as General George S. Patton, saluting an unseen audience in front of a giant American flag. Here, Hinds substitutes the withered gaze and granite stance of George C. Scott for a knowing smile and a sinuous curvature of the hips. She brings a bit of swagger and a bit of sexiness to the role. Hinds said it was no accident.

“I think the superpower of a black woman is to occupy the space and the fullness of who she is. And, you know, we don’t have to deny our sex appeal to operate that strong,” she said.

Hinds’ Patton pairs well with arguably her best role yet as great abolitionist Harriet Tubman in WGN’s clandestinely. Hinds says both interpretations can remind people that black women have always been leaders in the fight for this country.

“We’re constantly at war with so many things, and we’re constantly taking on the scars and wounds of battle, you know, and people are constantly looking to black women to lead armies of change,” she said. declared.

Unlike movements like #OscarsSoWhite, Augustus doesn’t see his book as a force for change, but he hopes it will subvert people’s expectations. And by placing these actors in images that are central to Hollywood’s idea of ​​itself, it implies that these images also belong to black people.

“What I want from this book is for people to finally see and realize that we should also be seen as a standard.”

The audio for this story was edited by Reena Advani.

Andrea G. Henderson