The Academy has chosen its film scholars this year and is not letting the coronavirus pandemic get in the way of one of AMPAS’ most important programs, at least in terms of serious studies relating to the film industry. Fittingly, considering Oscar’s drive toward greater diversity, both projects involve issues revolving around movies and their depictions of the Black community.
Racquel Gates and Rebecca Prime have been chosen as 2020 Academy Film Scholars by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Their respective book projects, Hollywood Style and the Invention of Blackness and Uptight!: Race, Revolution, and the Struggle to Make the Most Dangerous Film of 1968, explore in depth the topic of race in Hollywood. The Academy’s Educational Grants Committee will award Gates and Prime $25,000 each on the basis of their proposals.
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Established in 1999, the Academy Film Scholars program is designed to support significant new works of film scholarship. The Academy’s cultural and educational wing – the Academy Foundation – annually awards grants to film scholars, cultural organizations and film festivals throughout the U.S. and abroad.
“Gates’ and Prime’s unique assessment of film history will shed invaluable insight,” said Marcus Hu, chair of the Academy’s Grants Committee. “The Academy and our committee are incredibly proud to award grants to two deserving female scholars for the second year in a row, both of whose book projects address vital subjects that are more relevant than ever.”
Gates is an associate professor of Cinema and Media Studies at the College of Staten Island, CUNY. She is the author of Double Negative: The Black Image and Popular Culture and has also published essays about Black film and media in Film Quarterly, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Review of Books. Her book project, Hollywood Style and the Invention of Blackness, will argue that the formal conventions of the Classical Hollywood era defined the stylistic terms for blackness on screen and continue to impact how cinematic blackness gets represented, understood and reimagined today.
SHe holds a Ph.D. in Screen Cultures from Northwestern University, an M.A. in Humanities from the University of Chicago, and a B.S. in Foreign Service from Georgetown.
“My project takes a critical look at the relationship between film aesthetics and blackness and also highlights the brilliance and ingenuity of Black creatives who have appropriated these elements of film style to envision new horizons for the Black image in film and television,” said Gates. “I am immensely grateful and honored to receive the support of the Academy to embark on this project, which is especially meaningful in this cultural moment and in light of the Academy’s own diversity initiatives.”
Prime is the associate editor of Film Quarterly, and her film and book reviews have appeared in the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. She holds a Ph.D. in Cinema and Media Studies from UCLA, an M.A. from NYU’s Program in Culture and Media, and a B.A. in English and French from Columbia University. Her book project will reveal the unusually troubled production of Uptight, the Jules Dassin film that was reputedly the first to address the Black Power movement.
The project also serves as an extension of Prime’s previous work on both Dassin (whose other films include classics like Never on Sunday, Topkapi, Night and the City, and Rififi) and Black cinema. She is the author of Hollywood Exiles in Europe: The Blacklist and Cold War Film Culture, which explored the untold story of the community of blacklisted American filmmakers, including Dassin, who restarted their careers in Europe in the 1950s and 1960s. The book received the Best First Book Award from the Society of Cinema and Media Studies in 2015.
“The intense emotions and tensions that drove the production of Uptight resulted in a movie that still has much to tell us about race and representation in Hollywood,” said Prime. “As an independent scholar, I’m especially gratified by the Academy’s recognition and support, which will provide the opportunity to turn this project – long dear to my heart and charged with a new immediacy by current events – into a reality.”
Gates and Prime join 16 Academy Film Scholars who are currently working on projects and 20 other scholars whose works have already been published.
Academy film scholars with projects in progress include Charles Musser, Emily Thompson, Stuart Liebman, John Belton, Cari Beauchamp, Dan Streible, Thomas Schatz, Laurence Kardish, James O. Naremore, Ellen Scott, Donna Kornhaber, Ross Melnick, James Andrew Tweedie, Keri Walsh, Allyson Nadia Field and Melinda “Mindy” Johnson.
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