You’ve seen Roots, and you’ve quoted the Color Purple. These iconic novel-based films are not to be missed—and they most likely haven’t been. During what’s left of Black History Month, put that Netflix subscription to good use and throw yourself into these oft-missed films that make powerful statements and testaments to black history and the black experience.
1) Carmen Jones
Dorothy Dandridge’s beauty and charm matched with Harry Belafonte’s strong theatrical presence made this 1954 musical a critical and commercial success. What makes this film a sacred piece of black history is the all-black cast playing some of the best roles in Hollywood at a time when most of America was practicing segregation.
2) Medicine for Melancholy
Boy-with-a-chip-on-his-shoulder meets girl-with-rose-colored glasses. The setting is San Francisco, but for many black, twentysomething urbanites, the location is interchangeable with any metropolitan area. The city is changing, and gentrification, displacement, and race and class issues take a passenger seat to the driving force of this independent drama, which is a subtle yet intimate look at two strangers discovering each other.
3) Women of Brewster Place
This miniseries tackles poverty, racism, and man troubles in an engaging portrait of seven diverse women living in the same housing project. The issues are grand and, at times, heavy with no real relief. The ensemble cast of amazing black actresses—Oprah Winfrey, Lynn, Whitfield, Jackee, Cicely Tyson, Lonette McKee, and Robin Givens—parlays this film into must-watch-this-February status.
4) Just Another Girl On the I.R.T.
The ultimate cautionary tale—the one almost every black mother hopes to ingrain into her daughter’s prepubescent brain: One mistake in the name of love can change your entire life, no matter how promising. Yes, it happens to the smart ones too. The power in this film is not in its afterschool-special-type message but in the raw and relatable way in which that message is delivered.
5) Our Song
In the same vein as Just Another Girl on the I.R.T., Our Song speaks to the issues facing young, black teenaged girls in the hood. The focus here is not to so much on the plot—which walks viewers almost aimlessly through the Brooklyn housing project that the three main girls call home—but on their lives, relationships, and familial issues. The girls handle crisis like it’s a trip to the grocery store—an occurrence that eerily brings to light the reality that is being a black teenager in the hood. As an added bonus, catch Scandal’s Kerry Washington in her first film role.
If brick-and-mortar movie stores exist within a reasonable number of
miles from you, pick up these DVDs this month as well:
6) Remember the Titans
Football players at a recently integrated high school learn to trust each other and ultimately build friendships that break the color barrier.
7) Higher Learning
John Singleton directs this intense, thought-provoking drama set on a diverse college campus, where several students from different ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds succumb to or fight their individual prejudices.
8) Antwone Fisher
In Denzel Washington’s directorial debut, he and the titular character—who also wrote this autobiographical film—open up a world where a black man can discover his past hurt in order to confront it and end a cycle of anger.
9) The Express
The story of Ernie Davis, the first black man to win the Heisman trophy. The touching story line is enhanced by the subsequent momentum of the Civil Rights Movement.
10) Do the Right Thing
Spike Lee’s penchant for approaching racial and social issues with a welcome, unflinching lack of tact is never more prevalent than in this blistering and tense drama set appropriately on the hottest day in Brooklyn.
-Kelly Taylor, Guest Contributor