Inside USD

USD’s Pierson Appears in Documentary Film

Monday, January 24, 2011

Dr. Eric Pierson, USD’s Communication Studies department chair, had the chance to participate in a filmmaking project will be screened at the 2011 San Diego Black Film Festival on Jan. 28. The film-about-a-film, entitled “Infiltrating Hollywood: The Rise and Fall of The Spook Who Sat by the Door,” analyzes the “blaxploitation” film genre of the 1970s through a series of interviews with film scholars, media professionals and other experts.

The blaxploitation genre, instantiated by films like “Shaft” (1971), “The Spook Who Sat by the Door” (1973), and “Mandingo” (1975), was “designed to cater to black, inner-city audiences — primarily young audiences,” Pierson explains. “They presented a different type of hero than black audiences had been accustomed to, particularly coming out of the 1960s.”

Pierson was interviewed for the film because the filmmakers, Christine Acham and Clifford Ward, were familiar with his media studies research, particularly that within the blaxploitation genre.

While this project examines the film “The Spook Who Sat by the Door” as a case study, it also incorporates larger themes of censorship, First Amendment rights, racial tensions in Hollywood and the political economy of the film industry.

Though some contemporary Hollywood films include nods to the blaxploitation genre, Pierson notes that it is officially contained in the 1970s. When Hollywood found that other genres could capture the young black male demographic, the industry largely moved away from blaxploitation films. The other prevailing factor contributing to the downfall of the genre was, ironically, its own commercial success. “It’s one thing to take unknown actors and pay them almost nothing to be in a film,” Pierson says. “But once that film becomes successful and sequels become involved, you start getting people requesting that they be paid like a movie star.”

Pierson teaches Communication Studies courses with an emphasis on film, orchestrates USD’s annual Intersession trip to the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, and serves as a faculty advisor for the student-run USDtv. He is currently writing a chapter on black viewership for a media studies book, using the television miniseries “Roots” (1977) as a case study.

— Jared Ruga ‘11

“Infiltrating Hollywood: The Rise and Fall of The Spook Who Sat by the Door” will be screened at the San Diego Black Film Festival at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Jan. 28 at the Regal United Artists Theatre in Horton Plaza. Click here for more information on the film festival.

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