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σ Honestly, I mean I didn't know that there was such a great difference between the singing and the rule The best part is tongue-to- Yes, indeed I am I just plan to talk with you in check Doing that is clean PEACE Now Evacuate Yes,선 Ohh In Black America In Black America, reflections of the Black experience in American society Gordon Parks Senior is an author, film director and composer He is also a self-taught photographer who joined Life Magazine's staff in 1949 Gordon Parks became well known for his profound life photo essays The story of Flavio and the world of Perry Thomas Gordon Parks was also the first black to produce a large budget film for a major motion picture studio The film was an autobiographical novel, The Learning Tree
I'm John Hansen and this week I focus on Gordon Parks Senior in Black America As I go around the country, speaking to a lot of young people, universities and so forth An inevitable question is, how did you do it back in 1940 or late 30s? How did you walk into Vogue Magazine or Life Magazine and they accepted you? Well, some people thought I was passing for white However, I think possibly it was because I had a very strong will mother It was born in Nashville, Tennessee And 15 of us children, I was the youngest, the 15 And she never allowed any of us to hide behind our blackness As she said, if a white boy can do it, you can do it
So I don't want to hear any excuses, get out there and do it So I suppose that's why I walked into Vogue in 1945 I had some refusals, I walked into Harvest Bizarre And they told me very frankly, we don't use Negroes And I said, okay, and I went to Vogue And I actually even said, we're going to try And they tried it And I did the same thing at Life Magazine later in 1948 And we made it all right, as you well know Gordon Parks Senior was born November 30th, 1912 in Fort Scott, Kansas Among his other accomplishments, Parks wrote the screenplay And produced, directed, and scored the film The Learning Tree in 1969 His subsequent films were Shaft in 1971, Shaft's Big Score in 1972 The Supercop in 1973, and Led Belly in 1976 Mr. Parks, TV critics, include directing the world of Piri Thomas And the diary of a Harlem family
Gordon has composed, symphonic set, The Learning Tree Symphony, and five piano sonatas He also holds membership in the director's Guild of America, National Board ASMP Pass Director, author's Guild, Pass Director, and the NAACP He has also served as editorial director of Essence Magazine Gordon Parks is a self-taught photographer, joining Life Magazine in 1949 I asked Mr. Parks why he decided on journalism Well, I think journalism shows me I didn't set out for it particularly Things have sort of come accidentally to me I like photography, like music, poetry, films, everything I didn't necessarily set out to do them I realized that, you know, with a very meager education And I had to do something with myself And so, whatever came along, I grabbed a hold of it How did you get into film, becoming a film director?
Well, I wrote the first novel called The Learning Tree Which is not a geographical novel And several people started to do a film of it And John Cassavetis advised me to hold on to it If I wanted to become a director And I went out to Hollywood with it After he made arrangements for me to see Kenneth Hyman Who was father-owned Warner Brothers, seven-arts And in less than ten minutes, the prejudice and discrimination was broken down I became the first black director in Hollywood Simply because Hyman had the power And he said, you will direct the film You will write the screenplay, you will write the music And you will co-produce it That was it But if we had more Kenny Hyman, there wouldn't be such a big problem But he didn't care There were objections that came up from say, for instance, the director's guild I wasn't the director's guild He said, how much does it take for him to be the director's guild They told him he wrote out a check
How about the musician's guild? He wrote out a check He said, doesn't it going to stop this? And he did it I didn't have to worry about a thing He just put up the money, I went And the first thing I had for was Some black people to work with me behind the camera They didn't think they could find them But I found a third cameraman, at least he was trained for that Joe Wilcox was now a cameraman in Hollywood And found about ten other people And we went from there Then on we've been training them With the time I did shaft There was about 20 black people on there The time I did a lead belly half a crew was black Well, they're being trained now Different places, princess director's guild Which I'm a member of Now, after some prodding Are accepting black and minority groups into the programs So if I do a film A black kid can apply to become my assistant on the film
That is, you know, not as an assistant director But he can watch me work And he can ask me questions And he can carry a lot of Coca-Cola bottles But he's going to learn what it is to be a director And there are different categories Like it's going to be a screenwriter That you work with a screenwriter Those things are happening So there are now a lot of black kids being trained Mr. Parks, in the late six-year-oldy 17s There were quite a number of black films being made 20 years later, 10 years later that is There are very few black films If any, being made Is a problem for blacks in the motion picture industry Well, there were a lot of bad films made I have to shaft And some of the other films And I think couldn't shaft Made so much money And became so popular around the world They began to hustle out a lot of inferior products out And sort of plugged the market with them And even blacks became tired of them And they just became a new demand for them anymore And I think that it was Hollywood's fault
More so than anyone else is because They didn't give people a chance to prepare them films adequately And we didn't as black Give a lot of young black filmmakers who were promising a chance to do their best Because they were just getting their foot in the door And suddenly we were heaping criticism on them And because they couldn't do anything If they go into studio, a white studio director gives them the money And says make this film Here's a screenplay Make it the way we want it He didn't have the power I had more power because of my book And I had a man like him And knew that if I was to succeed That I must have my way And do it slowly, do it well And I got the best people I could find around me And that's where it happened Are you working on any projects at the present time? I'm working on 78 projects I'm doing a book of poetry I'm doing a book on James W. Turner, the English painter
I'm doing ballet music I'm doing a piano concerto I'm doing the music for this film Solve and offer And some other things I've probably forgotten about I did it Well, they can't be asked me if I would direct it I read the screenplay, I liked it I thought it was an important film And here is a film that if black people Really want a good black film Here's one they can back Here's one they can get on the bandwagon I kept as much violence out of it as I possibly could All the sexual scenes were played way down And this film could play in a high school It could play in a kindergarten And it's an important message to blacks and whites And every black child to see it To know what where they came from The intensity of one man having experience Slavery is very significant here
We know we talk about slavery And the millions of suffered slavery But here's one black man who was getting up Went to slavery wrote a book about it Tells about it And that's why it's so sharply defined in the film What is your definition of a black film What is your definition of a black film I have no definition for a black film Myself, everybody talks about black exploitation films Like this, the film is a film You know And say in Shaft for instance They call it a black film Well half the people actors in this film White And super cops I did I got some call super cops a black film But the stars were white Ron Lieberman and David Selby were white stars And there was a film was about them But I suppose some people think Because a black director's direct film is a black film I don't know When I see When you see a film And in theater you don't call it a white film You don't call it a Puerto Rican film
Because a Puerto Rican is in it Directed and so forth But I don't understand really That's somebody better ask that public out That Why they consider it a black film Has there been any actors or actresses That you had difficulty working with Oh yes, yes, yes But I have a way of getting around them You asked me a while ago Why I chose these actors that are relatively unknown Because I felt that they were best suited for the roles I don't care about a star necessarily I feel that If they can, if it's not known No one's ever heard of them before If you can care that role Well as I think Avery Brooks did in this film And that's the guy I'm going to go with It could be I would choose him over Anyone else, I don't care how big a name they got Of course Hollywood It feels differently by it They want the biggest stars they can get Because it's a box office In a particular care
Sometimes whether a guy is a good enough actor He's going to pull a lot of bucks into it It has to deal that Richard Prior May will help more blacks Get involved in the entertainment And film industry I hope so And I don't know what Richard's doing And I know Jim Brown's working with him And I think Sheila Frazier was in one of my films And I know Jim Brown's working with him And I think Sheila Frazier was in one of my films And I know that Brown is a very good businessman And They've been around enough I hope that they're successful Anything I can do for them I'll be happy to I haven't been approached on anything There were telegrams beating good luck And congratulations And a lot of back padding and a lot of hand slapping But the pressure was there at every turn And to the whites I was definitely on trial A Negro who had slipped through the front gate To many of the blacks I was a brother who had slipped through Who might louse up things for everybody else
So at times I felt That with each achievement I was being pushed further and further On to some lonely island Where alone I would have to suffer until I proved myself And at such times I turned to those who had faith in me Long before I got started Mostly they were simple people Honest of little means And unselfish hearts People secure enough Of their own right To lend themselves to me But why In the century in which we exist Should there have been room For so many firsts in the talent and ranks of black America Why? Because America is still a racist nation And we blacks remain perplexed But the leftovers despite the blood we must shed And the deaths we must die as Americans Some of us are born to be leaders Some of us to be followers
Some of us are born with great talent Some would not at all But what seems to matter far more Is that we are born black And that single fact Would control our destiny above all others Now I would never suggest that black Americans are rewarded equally For the efforts they put forth Far too many of us exist in a chasm of hopelessness Far too many of us Have perished under the very weight of our efforts to succeed And far too many of us Have surrendered to the anger and frustration that overtakes us So many times quite have said to me Well if you made it Why can't that other black boy in the ghetto make it? And there is a reason Although I was born poor and suffered mountains of prejudice and discrimination I was born of a good mother and a good father In a real place with overflowing amounts of love
And that black boy suffered the ghettos of Harlem Wapsed in other big cities Was more than likely born to a broken home Where cocaine is sniffed And poisonous needles are used to spawn a dream each day And I would not say that such conditions should cause us to give up on such a boy We, you and I, must attempt to lift him To replace his anger and frustration with understanding and love Help route his fear with encouragement A decent home and education The black revolution has not failed It is ground to a halt momentarily because those who would oppress us have either murdered our generals Jail them, chase them underground or out of the country Martin Luther, Medgar, Malcolm and all the others Will always remain more than just a memory Time and circumstance will decide upon other black leaders who will recall us to arms
And all during the 1960s that terrible time I was a journalist for Life Magazine They forced me into writing more or less because the Panthers, the Muslims and the other organizations That trust them to report upon them Life Magazine needed them And in a way, they needed Life Magazine to get their stories across Life Magazine tried to do the Muslims for three years before they asked me Although I was sitting right there on the 28th floor Finally one day they came to me and said Gordon Do you think that you could do the black Muslims with a white reporter? I said no Do you think you could do the black Muslims with a black reporter? I said no. Do you think you can do the black Muslims at all? I said no, I don't
I said because you set up a great screen of distrust there However, I will try I saw Malcolm X And we journeyed back and forth to see Elijah Muhammad at least four times By playing out in the far west where he was suffering from bronchial asthma, I think Each time I spoke to him, he said, son, why are you working for the devils? And I said, well, you know, the children are harsh, you have to get inside He said, yes, I know But no, you know, so back Malcolm and I go again three more times Finally, he said to me, I kind of liked you young man He said, how would you like to do a story on the Muslims? A picture on us, and I will give you half a million dollars I said, I'm very honored, sir, but I have to refuse you
I can't do it He said, why? I said because I'm a reporter And you would expect me to listen to what you have to say about this situation And more so possibly than I would like for it to have you say He said, you can bet your life if I gave you half a million dollars, I would expect to say something And so I said, well, that's exactly why I can't do your picture So as I started out for about the fifth time, he said just a moment He said, I'm going to allow you to do a story on the Black Muslims And brother Malcolm will be your guide through the nation He said, if we like the story, we'll send you a box of cigars If we don't like the story, we'll be out to visit you And they did come to visit me at one time I had to do my own writing then And I had to watch a copy as it went through each night So it was at the four o'clock in the morning when we closed the story
I had to watch each line because some researcher, our checker, might change a word from protest meeting to riot Or something that started You're all journalists, you know what I'm talking about So each word has its definite meaning I walked the tight rope I knew I was a reporter, put it in a very responsible position I went with the Panthers They would say to me, well, what are you going to write? I said, whatever, what I find out And that's what I did And I would not let life magazine tell me what the right They had to write what I wanted Otherwise, it didn't go down I was in a very inviable position But a very terrible one in a way And I had to be very cautious about what I said At any time But I had to be honest Because that is the true mark of a journalist To be objective
It's very difficult to be objective If you're black and you're out on a story like that And you see people being murdered and shot and so forth As I did with the Panthers and with the Muslims I remember flying out of Atlanta With Stokeley Carmichael late one night Stokeley was weary and tired I suspect very nervous because of a lot of death threats He leaned over on me, he was tired And he said, all this hatred that surrounds us Has taught me that one's life Isn't too much to help To give, to help rid a nation of fascists Camus says, in a revolutionary period It is always the best to die The law of sacrifice leaves the last word to the cowards To the timorous And since your others have lost it By giving the best of themselves He then put his hand on my hand And his head on my shoulder And it went to sleep
Is there any special expertise That you have to have to be a director? Well, a lot of things You have to be very considerate And understanding of the people that you're working with They're actors They're different temperaments The crew is very specialized talent You have to protect them from The onslaught of Hierarchy and The producers and so forth and so on So that they can work creatively I think of All people and all the categories of making a film Must be respected for their particular Contribution to the film You must feel the director must feel it Not one of those people he could either without And he must depend upon them So in being a director Director must know They film
Frontwards and backwards He must be able to answer all the thousands of questions that are asked him All day long by all the people And that's that he must never deter He must never show weakness Otherwise, he lost them He must protect your crew, you must protect your actors Away from people Like the producers and things who Come in and want to annoy them And you must go with them Because they are your lifeline After the producer does his job He's finished. He can go back home and sit down Because he's what he's supposed to have done If he is a good producer Is to set things up for the director So that he can then operate in a very creative way So that he's not annoyed Above it by anyone. A lot of producers What is producers? Well, that's the thing You don't have very many producers nowadays People do they really don't know what producing is A guy can now walk out and buy a book From somebody for five dollars
And suddenly he's a producer But they don't know anything about producing a film Producer Makes the connections he for you He gets all the money and stuff together You say I want Roger Mosley So go get Roger Mosley for me Make your deal with him Your financial situation deal with him That's his job When Roger comes to me Roger is supposed to be happy financially So that I will have no more problems with him I know he's getting what he is Agent wanted for him and that's it Now I can work with Roger I don't want anybody to bother him now but me You understand? But a lot of producers feel So I have to keep on producing And suddenly they start bugging the actors And bugging the people on the set And then you have your big problems And you have to really put your foot down That's why you hear a lot of times You hear a lot of times that a director Demands that a producer doesn't come on the set And he can do that
Because if a film company is invested Say 2 or 3 million dollars in a director And his cast and his crew They are that point And not going to Side particularly with the producer Whose work is finished more or less It's a director out there now Who has to bring this thing So to the public But it's a tremendous responsibility It's the hardest thing I've ever done in my life Gordon Parks Senior Photographer, author, film director, composer, and journalist Mr. Parks is the 1983 recipient Of the National Association of Black Journalists Frederick Douglass Award For Lifetime Contribution To Journalism If you have a comment, I would like to purchase a cassette Copy of this program, write us The address is in Black America Longhorn Radio Network 7-8-7-1-2 For In Black America's Technical Producer Walter Morgan, I'm John Hanson John is next week You've been listening to In Black America Reflections of the Black Experience in American Society
In Black America Is produced and distributed By the Center for Telecommunication Services At UT Austin And does not necessarily reflect the views Of the University of Texas at Austin Or this station This is The Longhorn Radio Network
In Black America
Gordon Parks Sr.
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KUT Radio
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KUT Radio (Austin, Texas)
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Episode Description
Gordon Parks Sr. on his career in journalism and motion pictures.
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This record is part of the Film and Television section of the Soul of Black Identity special collection.
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Copyright Holder: KUT
Guest: Gordon Parks, Sr.
Host: John L. Hanson
Producing Organization: KUT Radio
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KUT Radio
Identifier: IBA45-83 (KUT Radio)
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Duration: 0:29:00
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Chicago: “In Black America; Gordon Parks Sr.,” 1984-09-01, KUT Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 13, 2024,
MLA: “In Black America; Gordon Parks Sr..” 1984-09-01. KUT Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. July 13, 2024. <>.
APA: In Black America; Gordon Parks Sr.. Boston, MA: KUT Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from