Blacks in Film (10 modern day classics)Nov 15, 2002 Write an essay on this topic.
Popular Products in MoviesThe Bottom Line The films listed give other races insight into the African American culture, and experience in America. Some are just plain great entertainment!
Not very long ago, Blacks in film were relegated to roles in film that portrayed us as either bug-eyed, shuffling bucks, or big breasted sassy mammies and housekeepers. Those who refused to honor those stereotypes had to either dance or sing like their lives depended on it, or limit their careers to the few meaningful roles available in low budget films produced and directed by Blacks, which played exclusively to Black audiences, and enjoyed no crossover appeal.
Thankfully times have changed, though we still have a long way to go to achieve parity. Now, it's us Blacks who seem to be stereotyping ourselves with the rash of bang bang shoot 'em up, gangster youth drug, "it's so tough in the ghetto" movies that seem to be so pervasive these days. But I digress -
Here, I have put together a list of modern day Black movies, which I believe transcend the stereotypes, and either further the development of Black cinema, or give a realistic portrayal of what it is like to be Black and live in America. Some are simply great films which are entertaining. This is not a definitive list. There were so many great films to choose from, for so many different reasons, but I think once you read this review, you will respect my choices.
This list started out as two type written pages, and got so long, I had to edit it not once, but 4 times. (God, I can be so long-winded.) Anyway, here goes.
1. Lady Sings The Blues(1972) - Pop superstar, Diana Ross made her acting debut in this film, which chronicled the life of jazz great, Billie Holiday. While the film is mostly fiction, with a few facts thrown, Diana Ross received The Golden Globe, The Caesar, (French equivalent of the Oscar) and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. Liza Minnelli won that year for Cabaret. This film was released in 1972, at the height of popularity of Blaxplotation films such as Foxy Brown and Cleopatra Jones. Its popularity demonstrated that a serious drama starring Black folk could be commercially successful. While Ross is no Billie Holiday, she does some of the best vocal work of her career in this film.
Director: Sidney J. Furie
Stars: Diana Ross, Billy Dee Williams, and Richard Pryor.
2. Shaft(1971) - Directed by noted writer/director, Gordon Parks, this effort was as popular for the music, as it was for its script, which was considered innovative at the time. Shaft was the first Black Hero of modern day film - A private investigator who dressed well, lived well, was intelligent, yet streetwise and cool at the same time. It was a big risk to take at a time when most were being portrayed as cool pimps, mack daddies, and shady characters whose morals were questionable. It, like Lady Sings The Blues was released during the height of popularity of Blaxplotation films.
Stars: Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn
3. In The Heat of The Night(1967) - A Norman (Fiddler On The Roof, The Thomas Crown Affair, Agnes of God, A Soldiers Story, The Hurricane, Moonstruck, Rollerball, And Justice For All, etc., etc.) Jewison film. My God, what a resume! The story of a Black New York City detective passing through a small southern town, who is held as a suspect in the murder of the towns most prominent citizen. He is later detained to assist in the solving of the crime, which of course he does admirably. The local sheriff is a redneck, and most of the other White citizens, with the exception of Lee Grant, who plays the victim's widow, all seem to be as dumb as stumps. (Somehow, it gives us comfort, to believe all racists have low IQs, which is most often not the case.) Not only is the plot engrossing, but watching the dynamics of the relationship between the sheriff and the detective change, is totally hypnotic. It is evident with each scene that you are watching two terrific actors at the top of their game. Rod won the Oscar; Sidney wasnt even nominated. Quincy Jones did the score.
Director: Norman Jewison
Stars: Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, and Lee Grant.
4. Sparkle(1976) - This is one of those films most often included in the DVD or VHS collections of many African Americans, while most Whites will say, Sparkle? This film chronicles the rise of 3 sisters from ghetto obscurity to superstardom. It examines their relationship, and the pitfalls success inevitably brings. It features a very popular score by Curtis Mayfield actually sung by the 3 actresses who portrayed the sisters. All songs were later re-recorded that year by Aretha Franklin on her album of the same name.
Director: Sam OSteen
Stars: Irene Cara, Lonette Mckee, Dwan Smith, and Phillip Michael Thomas
5. The Color Purple(1985) - Nominated for 11 Academy Award, this is another one of those films that is a must have for collectors of Black film, and one that you will also find in the DVD/VHS collections of many African American. The film is an adaptation of a Pulitzer prize winning novel by Alice Walker. It explores the life of one woman, as played by Whoopi Goldberg, and the trials and tribulation she suffers as she grows into her own, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. It is probably the only role in which Whoopi was not just being Whoopi, and you get to see her really act! This film earned Whoopi her first Oscar nomination. Not just good, but GREAT performances were given by all. Quincy Jones co-produced, as well as composed the score.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, Adolph Caesar, Rae Dawn Chong, and Margaret Avery
6. Glory(1989) - An historical account of the all Black 54th regiment - Comprised of free northern Blacks and runaway slaves who fought and nearly all perished during the Civil War. It was nominated for 5 Academy Awards, winning 3, including 1 for Denzel Washington for Best Supporting Actor. The story and acting are riveting. It is an eye-opening study of the relationship between blacks and whites in the military, and in America as a whole, during that era.
Director: Edward Zwick
Stars: Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman, and Andre Braugher
7. Boyz In The Hood(1991) - A coming of age story of a Black youth growing up in South Central Los Angeles. A realistic portrayal of the gangs, the violence, and the relationships that shape and alter one boy's life. This prompted a whole rash of movies in this genre, which is still to this day being imitated.
Director: John Singleton
Stars: Cuba Gooding jr., Laurence Fishburne, Morris Chestnut, Ice Cube, Regina King and Nia Long
8. Malcolm X(1992)- Based on the novel, The Autobiography of Malcolm X as written by Alex (Roots) Haley, it chronicles the life of Malcolm and his rise from street hustle, drug addict and pimp, to spiritual leader of The Nation of Islam. This film is probably Spike Lees best work to date. He refrained from his usual cute camera tricks, and concentrated on the story. The result is awesome. 'X' earned Denzel Washington another Academy award nomination for Best Actor.
Director: Spike Lee
Stars: Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, Delroy Lindo, Al Freeman jr., and Theresa Randle.
9. Soul Food(1997) - A true and positive depiction of Black middle class family life. It realistically gives an accounting of the relationship between mothers and daughters; sibling rivalry, and the struggle to keep the family intact. The story revolves around a time honored tradition most Blacks are familiar with - Sunday dinner. Great movie, produced by singer/songwriter Kenneth (Babyface) Edmonds and his wife Tracey. Great soundtrack, which spawned hits by Mary J. Blige, Brandy, and others.
Director: George Tillman jr.
Stars: Vanessa L. Williams, Viveca A. Fox, Nia Long, Michael Beach, Mekhi Phifer, and Irma P. Hall
10. Waiting to Exhale(1995) - The Adaptation of Terry McMillans novel of the same name, it was labeled a man-hating film by quite a few brothers, disturbed by the way their images were portrayed. Its the story of 4 middle class Black women, and the trials and tribulations they endure in their quest for meaningful intimate relationships, as well as a true-to-life exploration of their relationships with each other. I personally thought it was pretty balanced, showing both negative and positive images of Black men in a realistic way, and wasnt at all offended.
....and another great soundtrack, which boosted movie ticket sales.
Director: Forest Whitaker
Stars: Whitney Houston, Angela Bassett, Lela Rochon, Gregory Hines, Loretta Devine, Michael Beach, and Wesley Snipes.
Porgy and Bess(1959)
Imitation of Life(1934/1959)
A Raisin In The Sun(1961)
There are many others; too many to list - Pick up one or all of them - I promise you will enjoy them all.
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