So What Does “Shadow and Act” Mean Anyway? Where Does the Blog’s Name Come From? Find Out Here...
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Film , Television , Web Series

So What Does “Shadow and Act” Mean Anyway? Where Does the Blog’s Name Come From? Find Out Here...

MELISSA BENOIST, KHANDI ALEXANDER AND JAKE PICKING ROUND OUT PATRIOTS DAY CAST (PRNewsFoto/CBS Films) Click to read full PDF document

Given what has effectively been a relaunch of this blog (although there's still much work to be done, and announcements forthcoming), I thought this might be a good time to address its name.

For the 7 years that I've been running Shadow and Act, a question that I'm asked often is, "How did you come up with the name?" - or some variation of that.

Well, in short, the story goes... I didn't want to go with anything too obvious, like "Black Cinema," or "The Black Cinema Blog," or "The Black Film Blog," or even just "Black Film" (which does exist, run by my friend Mr. Wilson Morales). I didn't want anything that had the word "Black" or "Noir" in it; not because I have any problems with either term. I just wanted to get creative with the name, and not be too obvious; but also, as someone who routinely emphasizes the importance of acknowledging those who came before us, who essentially laid the groundwork for what we do here on S&A (and black cinema in general), I wanted a name that was a recognition and celebration of some of the previous work in terms of black film criticism, done by black writers who came long before any of us were born.  I also wanted something that could get attention, if only because it was somewhat cryptic, but had meaning.

So I did some research (this was in 2009), looking for a name that met my above criteria, but I didn't immediately find anything I liked. In fact, "Shadow And Act" was an unintentional discovery, thanks to a former girlfriend, an academic who wasn't aware of my film blog plans, and just happened to introduce me to a book of essays by Ralph Ellison titled "Shadow and Act" published in 1964. She owned a copy of it - in short, post-war essays on black cultural contributions (music, film, literature, etc) - and insisted that I read it, which I did.



But it was the title of the book that immediately had my attention. It could mean a handful of things, I remember thinking; most specifically, I was romanced by the idea of black people working collectively, in the "Shadows," so to speak, quietly plotting revolution, followed by the "Act" of the insurrection itself. And even though that wasn't necessarily Ellison's meaning, it was the one I chose to run with.

Over the years, it's evolved and taken other interpretations, but each one has been a close sibling to my original inference.

So I dug a little deeper to find out that the title of the collection of essays actually came from Ellison's 1948 critical essay on "four films about Negroes," which was part of the subtitle of the piece ("A Critic Comments on Four Films About Negroes...").

The title, as you can see in the image above, was "The Shadow and the Act;" the book of essays was called just "Shadow and Act."

"Perfect!" - I remember thinking when I discovered this 4-part film review of "films about Negroes" titled "The Shadow and the Act." It fit what I was building when this blog was first launched, and we were looking for a name to call it. A black film blog where we write about, review and critic "films about Negroes" (obviously swap "Negroes" with "Blacks" or "Black People").

I didn't like the "The" in front of it, in part because the title was already long enough, and I was worried that it would be hard for readers to remember the website address (www.theshadowandact.com), so I ran with the book title instead, without the "The" in front of it.

It met my key criteria as listed above - it wasn't such an obvious name; it's a good conversation starter ("What's the name of your blog?" - "Shadow and Act" - "Oh, interesting; What does that mean, or where did you get it from?" etc, etc, etc); it actually does have meaning; and it's a nod to those who were doing this work during the early days of cinema, long before I even existed.

And that was it! The blog was born with that name, and it's been that way since the start.

So there you have it; the shortened version of the story.

Of course you're strongly encouraged to read both Ellison's "Shadow and Act" and "The Shadow and the Act" if you're not familiar. The book you'll have to buy (Amazon has it - click the ad above); the critique I've embedded right here. Just click on the image at the top of this post and you'll be taken to the PDF file to read the piece.

Now you know! Spread the word.

Shadow and Act is a website dedicated to cinema, television and web content of Africa and its global Diaspora. With daily news, interviews, in-depth investigations into the audiovisual industry, and more, Shadow and Act promotes content created by and about people of African descent throughout the world.

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