The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain symbolically represented the consciousness of the Negro artist in America struggling for an identity. Like the new emerging black middle class, the ‘black’ artist faced a splintering of their own culture. The black middle class, with its Anglo indulgences and assimilation created confusion for the Negro artist caught between two cultures, uncertain whether to create art for the mass culture dominated by whites or stick to their roots, trapped on the lower side of town. Basquiat directed by the great Julian Schnabel is a film portraying this problem. Regarded as the ‘first famous black painter’ Basquiat was faced with the questions Hughes demanded the Negro artist be asked. His rise to fame leaves him vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation at the hands of the whites who hold the real power in the art world. These problems are surfaced in Hughes essay, as he writes: “The Negro works against an undertow of sharp criticism and misunderstanding from his own group and unintentional bribes from the whites” (1195). Unlike Hughes desire for a strictly black artist separate from the white, Basquiat wished to transcend that realm. But as the film progresses and Basquiat’s fame escalates, the racial mountain Hughes depicted emerges as the whites try desperately to make Basquiat their own creation.
Leitch, Vincent B. Ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York:
W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.