Remembering Roger Ebert

Last week the world — not just the film world — lost an icon in Roger Ebert.

Though Ebert’s official title was that of film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, he was much more than that to the movie going American public. “Two thumbs up” was a phrase that originated with Ebert and his former film critic Gene Siskel, that became synonymous with a positive review of a new film. How esteemed was Roger Ebert in the movie industry? He’s the only film critic with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

When it came to race and the social dynamics of the Hollywood studio system, Ebert didn’t shy away from those subjects either. During the 1990s, two of his choices for movie of the year centered around protagonists of color: “Malcolm X” in 1992 and “Hoop Dreams” in 1994. Lauren Williams of The Root does an excellent job of compiling Ebert’s reviews on some well known black films at the time. Ebert goes beyond the characters and main story of the films and asks larger hard hitting questions about the impact of these films within cinema.

On “Love Jones” Ebert writes:

   “As the characters move from record stores to restaurants to the Sanctuary, we realize how painfully limited the media vision of black life is. Why do the movies give us so many homeboys and gangstas and druggies and so few photographers, poets and teachers? …”

On “Glory” Ebert writes:

   “Watching ‘Glory,’ I had one reoccurring problem. I didn’t understand why it had to be told so often from the point of view of the 54th’s commanding white officer? Why did we see the black troops through his eyes — instead of seeing him through theirs? To put it another way, why does the top billing in this movie go to a white actor? I ask, not to be perverse, but because I consider this primarily a story about the black experience and do not know why it has to be seen largely through white eyes…

‘Glory’ is a strong and valuable film, no matter whose eyes it is seen through. But there is still, I suspect, another and quite different film to be made from this same material.”

Things to think about. Roger Ebert, you will be missed.

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