There’s a long list of black movies that have wonderful performances, great production value and that are pleasurable to watch. Here’s a list of the narrative (fictional) African-American films featuring black actors and directors (“black films”) that we feel are essential viewing.
What’s the criteria for being an essential black narrative film? The movie must include one or more of the following characteristics:
1) The movie must have or have had a historical or cultural impact in the field of cinema.
2) The film must exhibit above average quality in story, performance, and/or direction.
3) The movie must represent people of African descent in a positive light.
EARLIEST MEMORIES OF AFRICAN AMERICAN MOVIES – AN EDITORIAL
What African American films mean to me…. — The earliest movies starring black people I can remember were TV movies on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the epic mini-series “ROOTS.” Think about that. Okay, I’m a mid-70s baby, so I don’t really remember Blaxploitation movies. It’s kind of sad that I can’t think of any movies I watched as a child that were written by and featured black actors. Maybe I need to think a little harder.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that I began to see films such as “Hollywood Shuffle”. Actually, that film changed my life – it made me want to make films. It was funny and I could only look at the film in awe. Here was a smart black film that featured people like me and was funny. Then, of course I saw “Breakin’” and “Purple Rain.” All of these movies seemed to be a part of a wave of black films in the mid-80s.
So, how far have we come? With films like “Think Like a Man”, although entertaining, it seems that black filmmakers still have a little bit of ground to cover. But then again, we’re making films about our experience, so who cares if our films aren’t like “Argo”.
AND NOW… AWESOME BLACK MOVIES
Eddie Murphy became a household name after his debut in this film. Although not directed by a black director, it is a black film. However the film was important for another reason: it help usher in the “buddy comedy” that still endures today. Murphy’s combination of wit and sincerity is exceptional. Here’s a note on the film from film critic Tom Keogh:
“Before the action-oriented “buddy movie” formula settled into place in the 1980s and 1990s with the Lethal Weapon films, Walter Hill’s 48 HRS. presented a much more irreverent and politically incorrect version of the genre. Eddie Murphy made an auspicious film debut alongside veteran Nick Nolte’s consummate performance as a worn cop. Murphy plays a convict on a two-day furlough from prison to help capture his former partner (James Remar). The intense animosity between his character and Nolte’s impatient detective is rude and violent–albeit in a comic way–and the film’s racist and sexist banter is so ubiquitous that some viewers might be turned off. (This early, raw Murphy is not the Murphy of The Nutty Professor.) Then again, sometimes deliberate overkill is funny in itself, which is certainly closer to Hill’s intention. There are a couple of scenes for the ages in this film, especially Murphy’s single-handed shutdown of the action in a redneck bar.” –Tom Keogh
Antwone Fisher is a small film with a big heart. When it debuted in 2003, audiences were immediately attracted to the tough but fair Denzel Washington and closed but charming Derek Luke. The story is well constructed based on the life of security guard-turned-screenwriter Antwone Fisher. A great film that is not pretentious; its story is a universal one.
“Autobiographical movies rarely get more truthfully moving than Antwone Fisher. The title is also the name of this fine drama’s first-time screenwriter, a former Navy seaman who was working as a film-studio security guard when his life-inspired script was developed as Denzel Washington’s directorial debut. This Hollywood dream gets better: unbeknownst to the filmmakers, Derek Luke–a newcomer who won the title role over a throng of famous contenders–was also a friend of Fisher’s, and the whole film seems blessed by this fortunate coincidence. Washington’s sharp instincts as an actor serve him well, as both a subtle-handed director and Luke’s costar playing Jerome Davenport, a Navy psychologist assigned to assess Fisher’s chronic violent temper. Their therapy sessions prove mutually beneficial, as this touching true story addresses painful memories, broken desires, and heartfelt reunions without resorting to a contrived happy ending. Fisher’s good life is worth celebrating, and Washington brings a delicate touch to the party.” –Jeff Shannon
Beverly Hills Cop vaulted Eddie Murphy into superstardom as the wise-cracking, crafty, but charming cop from Detroit trying to solve his buddy’s murder in Beverly Hills, CA. It’s rumored that Sly Stallone was slated to play the role but turned it down. Eddie Murphy took a rather formulaic storyline and made it his own, creating a lasting mystique that still endears him to audience members to this day.
“This is one of those simple movies that is so deceptively good, you don’t realize how good it is. I have probably unintentionally seen this movie 30 times. Every single time it is on TV, I end up stopping whatever it is I was doing and end up watching it to the end, even though I know who the bad guys are and how it ends.
Murphy is Axel Foley, a Detroit police detective. His boss, Inspector Todd, is portrayed by real life Gilbert Hill, a semi-famous police detective in his own right. “Mad About You” creator and star Paul Riser has a small role as Foley’s fellow detective. Todd is always threatening Foley with termination due to his costly methods of crime busting.
When his friend Mikey Tandino (James Russo) arrives from Beverly Hills to Detroit to visit with his childhood friend, Foley, Mikey gets murdered. Foley is hit on the head during the hit on his friend, but is otherwise unscathed.
Because of his relationship with Mikey, a guy with a lengthy record of minor petty thefts, Todd assigns another detective to the murder and orders Foley to stay away. Lacking confidence in the skills of the assigned detective, and determined to get justice for his friend, Foley takes a “vacation” and goes to Beverly Hills to see if there is a connection.
The plot is more than just some laughs and gun fire – you truly feel like you are part of Team Foley, investigating the case. Does the murder involve the German Bearer Bonds that Tandino had on him when he was murdered? Is it about U.S. Customs? Is it about cocaine? Is it about expensive art? There are so many different aspects interwoven, a first time viewer is really taken for a ride.
From the get-go, you know who the bad guys are – but will they be caught, and why did they kill Mikey? This film, released in 1984, seemed to recognize the unique nature of the 80s and rather than some dated film with neon socks and big hair, it seems to make itself into a time capsule. Foley’s hair and clothing are timeless for any decade from the 70s to today, so it’s almost like he’s a time traveller, laughing at some of the styles, cars, & habits of the rich & famous in the 1980s in California.
The music is also excellent and fits the mood for each scene. The main theme, “Axel F,” a techno-type of instrumental, was on Billboard’s top 10 for weeks on end and is often heard as a polyphonic ring tone on today’s phones. One of Murphy’s all-time best – second only to his role as “Donkey” in the “Shrek” franchise.” –From the review on the DVD
This list is not exclusive to American films. Black Orpheus is a film that is inspirational and infectious. The film moves so fast, it feels like a half hour. And it ends abruptly, leaving the audience wanting more. Has the been any more beautiful black lead characters in a film? We doubt it. They are not pretentious though. This film makes you want to travel to Rio De Janeiro during Carnival as its scenery is breath-taking. A touching story of unrequited love.
“Marcel Camus’s 1959 update of the Greek myth features an all-black cast and a story set in the frenetic energy of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Orpheus, a trolley car conductor and superb samba dancer, is engaged to Mira but in love with Eurydice. For his change of heart, Orpheus and his new doomed lover are pursued by a vengeful Mira and a determined Death through the feverish Carnival night. Camus at once demystifies and remystifies the old story, shifting not only its location but its tone and context, forcing a reevaluation of the legend as a more passionate, pulsing, sensual experience. The film is really one-of-a-kind, an absolute whirl that barely needs words.” –Tom Keogh
Winner of both the Academy Award for best foreign-language film and the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or, Marcel Camus’ Black Orpheus (Orfeu negro) brings the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice to the twentieth-century madness of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. With its eye-popping photography and ravishing, epochal soundtrack, Black Orpheus was a cultural event, kicking off the bossa nova craze that set hi-fis across America spinning.
Talk about a surprise hit. Blade burst into theaters in 1998 and was a mega hit. It was cook, hip, action-packed and had a black super hero. Based on this alone,
it makes our essentials list. Wesley Snipes is superb as a vampire-like hero who cuts down the bad guys. This film will end up pretty high on are Essential Black Action Movies list…
“The recipe for Blade is quite simple; you take one part Batman, one part horror flick, and two parts kung fu and frost it all over with some truly campy acting. What do you get? An action flick that will reaffirm your belief that the superhero action genre did not die in the fluorescent hands of Joel Schumacher. Blade is the story of a ruthless and supreme vampire slayer (Wesley Snipes) who makes other contemporary slayers (Buffy et al.) look like amateurs. Armed with a samurai sword made of silver and guns that shoot silver bullets, he lives to hunt and kill “Sucker Heads.” Pitted against our hero is a cast of villains led by Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff), a crafty and charismatic vampire who believes that his people should be ruling the world, and that the human race is merely the food source they prey on. Born half-human and half-vampire after his mother had been attacked by a blood-sucker, Blade is brought to life by a very buff-looking Snipes in his best action performance to date. Apparent throughout the film is the fluid grace and admirable skill that Snipes brings to the many breathtaking action sequences that lift this movie into a league of its own. The influence of Hong Kong action cinema is clear, and you may even notice vague impressions of Japanese anime sprinkled innovatively throughout. Dorff holds his own against Snipes as the menacing nemesis Frost, and the grizzly Kris Kristofferson brings a tough, cynical edge to his role as Whistler, Blade’s mentor and friend. Ample credit should also go to director Stephen Norrington and screenwriter David S. Goyer, who prove it is possible to adapt comic book characters to the big screen without making them look absurd. Indeed, quite the reverse happens here: Blade comes vividly to life from the moment you first see him, in an outstanding opening sequence that sets the tone for the action-packed film that follows. From that moment onward you are pulled into the world of Blade and his perpetual battle against the vampire race.” –Jeremy Storey
Boyz in the Hood is a rare film that despite it’s obvious reference to a specific culture, transcends localized understanding. What results is a powerful film that includes all of the goodies audiences look for: humor, action, drama, revenge, catharsis… Director John Singleton was the first African-American to be nominated for a “Best Director” Oscar. A great film.
“John Singleton, at the age of 23, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for his debut film, Boyz N the Hood. The film stars Laurence Fishburne, Angela Basset, Ice Cube, and Academy Award-winning actor Cuba Gooding Jr. in his first starring role in a feature film. Gooding plays Tre Styles, a teenager growing up in South Central Los Angeles. His father, Furious (Fishburne), is divorced and living away from Tre and his mother (Basset), but he’s still involved in Tre’s upbringing, teaching him the values of right and wrong and responsibility. Meanwhile, Tre’s childhood buddies Ricky (Morris Chestnut) and Doughboy (Ice Cube) are living their lives in terms of the epidemic of violence and poverty that has plagued their neighborhood. Ricky, a talented football player, strives to get a full athletic scholarship to college. If only his SAT scores were higher. Doughboy lives a life full of crime but still remains true to his friends. The obstacles that these three young men come across result in dire consequences, devastatingly avoidable and inevitable at the same time. Boyz N the Hood is a landmark film beyond its commercial success, presenting a portrait of South Central in the late ’80s and early ’90s as painted by Singleton (who grew up in that neighborhood), achieving accuracy and dramatic resonance in this story of at-risk youth.” –Shannon Gee
Dorothy Dandridge is equally stunning and bewitching in this epic tragedy. The chemistry between Dandridge and Harry Belafonte is mesmerizing. It’s easy to see why Ms. Dandridge was the first African-American to be nominated for a “Best Actress” Oscar. Here’s the press note on the film:
“Few actresses have captivated the camera as powerfully as Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones. Her polished beauty plays in irresistible contrast to her title character’s leonine sexuality and fluid emotions; a man can’t decide from moment to moment if he wants to save her from doom, build her a castle, or never let her out of bed. Of course, that’s the problem with the boys in this semi-experimental adaptation of Bizet’s opera, Carmen. Straight-arrow Joe (a strapping Harry Belafonte), an obedient corporal on a Southern military base during World War II, is all set to go to flight school and marry his hometown sweetie, Cindy Lou (Olga James), when his troublemaking sergeant orders him to accompany Carmen to a civilian court. In short order, Joe is swept up in Carmen’s carnal anarchy and her craving for release from lousy options in life. An impulsive act of violence ensures that Joe’s future is gone forever, putting Carmen in the difficult position of destroying their relationship to save him.”
Celebrated with worldwide acclaim, this powerful true story of crime and redemption has won numerous prestigious awards around the globe! The streets of the world’s most notorious slum, Rio de Janeiro’s “City of God,” are a place where combat photographers fear to tread, police rarely go, and residents are lucky if they live to the age of 20. In the midst of the oppressive crime and violence, a frail and scared young boy will grow up to discover that he can view the harsh realities of his surroundings with a different eye: the eye of an artist. In the face of impossible odds, his brave ambition to become a professional photographer becomes a window into his world … and ultimately his way out!
Actress Diahann Carroll received a “Best Actress” Oscar nomination for her pertrayal of a mother of six who falls for a garbage man (James Earl Jones) in this film. What’s especially good about her performance is the range of emotions she emits throughout the film. She’s one who realizes that a simple look can say a lot. She plays obvious emotional cues with great subtlty. Good film.
“It’s easy to get hooked by Claudine, a lean, funny, Nixon-era movie about a romance nearly undone by a patronizing welfare system. Diahann Carroll stars as Claudine, single mother of six children in Harlem and a maid working for under-the-table wages. Forever worried that her white caseworker will discover her meager, outside income (thus eliminating meager government benefits), Claudine further complicates her domestic situation by falling in love with Roop (James Earl Jones). An affable Romeo and absent but financially supportive father of several kids, Roop by his presence jeopardizes Claudine’s official status as a mom without means. The couple’s decision to go forward results in welfare backlash, personal humiliation, family strain, and corrosive behavior. A sharp script layers the personal story within a socially conscious treatment, while Jones and Carroll’s special chemistry turns the characters into fully rounded people. John Berry (From This Day Forward), an interesting if forgotten director, brings a clipped vitality to this urban affair.” –Tom Keogh
When The Color Purple came out in 1985, it was received with excitement by film critics, but decidedly mixed reviews by the African American community. However, make no doubt about it, the acting by Oprah Winfrey, Margaret Avery, and Whoopi Goldberg was outstanding. The film is well made despite its polarity. Watch the film and judge for yourself.
“You can argue with the appropriateness of Spielberg’s decision, but his astonishing facility with images is undeniable–from the exhilarating and eye-popping opening shots of children playing in paradisiacal purple fields to the way he conveys the brutality of a rape by showing hanging leather belts banging against the head of the shaking bed. In a way it’s a shame that Whoopi Goldberg, a stage monologist who made her screen debut in this movie, went on to become so famous, because it was, in part, her unfamiliarity that made her understated performance as Celie so effective.” — Jim Emerson
Cooley High is two hours of fun. It explores the life of a few high school students in Chicago in the 60s. Countless pop culture references have been made to the film and the film still inspires artists today. In fact, one of our other essential films Boyz ‘N the Hood pays homage to the film in several ways. Although dated and a little “corny” to those who don’t “get it,” the film is essential viewing.
“Cooley High has frequently been compared to American Graffiti, and for good reason. Like that classic, Cooley High has a loose, multicharacter structure, autobiographical origins, and the rich texture of its time. Set in Chicago in 1964, the movie follows aspiring writer Preach (Glynn Turman) and local basketball star Cochise (Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs, who went on to star in Welcome Back, Kotter) as they wander their neighborhood, drifting in and out of their classes at Cooley Vocational High School. The two friends pull pranks, crash parties, commit petty crimes, and generally try to enjoy their lives in an impoverished urban environment. Preach falls in love with a smart girl named Brenda (Cynthia Davis), whom he wins over by reciting poetry–leading to one of the silliest and sweetest love scenes you’ll ever see. When Preach and Cochise go on a joy ride with a pair of young hoods, they end up arrested. Their history teacher, Mr. Mason (a superb Garrett Morris), gets them off, but the hoods think the boys sold them out and come seeking revenge. Cooley High depicts the rough life of African Americans in the 1960s with honesty and humor, offering no easy solutions or pat lessons. It’s a roughly made movie, but Turman and Jacobs are both excellent, and there’s an attention to reality that makes it engaging, refreshing, and ultimately moving. The soundtrack is a great compilation of 1960s soul, including the Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, Stevie Wonder, the Four Tops, and Smokey Robinson. An unjustly neglected film that deserves rediscovery.” –Bret Fetzer
Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing is such a simple movie that it’s scary how thought provoking and entertaining it is. Nominated for the 1989 “Best Original Screenplay” Oscar, the film looks at race from differing perspectives through a symbolic Italian pizza shop and Bed Stuy Brooklyn neighborhood. This film is required viewing and in our opinion should be dissected in a college course in our opinion.
“Spike Lee’s incendiary look at race relations in America, circa 1989, is so colorful and exuberant for its first three-quarters that you can almost forget the terrible confrontation that the movie inexorably builds toward. Do the Right Thing is a joyful, tumultuous masterpiece–maybe the best film ever made about race in America, revealing racial prejudices and stereotypes in all their guises and demonstrating how a deadly riot can erupt out of a series of small misunderstandings. Set on one block in Bedford-Stuyvesant on the hottest day of the summer, the movie shows the whole spectrum of life in this neighborhood and then leaves it up to us to decide if, in the end, anybody actually does the “right thing.” Featuring Danny Aiello as Sal, the pizza parlor owner; Lee himself as Mookie, the lazy pizza-delivery guy; John Turturro and Richard Edson as Sal’s sons; Lee’s sister Joie as Mookie’s sister Jade; Rosie Perez as Mookie’s girlfriend Tina; Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee as the block elders, Da Mayor and Mother Sister; Giancarlo Esposito as Mookie’s hot-headed friend Buggin’ Out; Bill Nunn as the boom-box toting Radio Raheem; and Samuel L. Jackson as deejay Mister Señor Love Daddy. A rich and nuanced film to watch, treasure, and learn from–over and over again.” –Jim Emerson
Denzel Washington received an Oscar for his role in this film. He was excellent as a defiant soldier in this film chronicling a black regiment during the Civil War. Great acting all around.
“One of the very best films about the Civil War, this instant classic from 1989 is also one of the few films to depict the participation of African American soldiers in Civil War combat. Based in part on the books Lay This Laurel by Lincoln Kirstein and One Gallant Rush by Peter Burchard, the film also draws from the letters of Robert Gould Shaw (played by Matthew Broderick), the 25-year-old son of Boston abolitionists who volunteered to command the all-black 54th Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Their training and battle experience leads them to their final assault on Fort Wagner in South Carolina, where their heroic bravery turned bitter defeat into a symbolic victory that brought recognition to black soldiers and turned the tide of the war. With painstaking attention to historical detail and richness of character, the film boasts superior performances by Denzel Washington (who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor), Morgan Freeman, Cary Elwes, and Andre Braugher. Directed by Edward Zwick (cocreator of the TV series thirtysomething), this unforgettable drama is as important as Schindler’s List in its treatment of a noble yet little-known episode of history.” –Jeff Shannon
Hollywood Shuffle is a funny film. Fun-ny. Robert Townsend and Keenan Ivory Wayans wrote this hilarious comedy about a wannabe actor who quits his hot dog restaurant job to pursue acting full time. There are several funny vignettes in the film. Also, a whole host of future stars appeared in the film: Townsend, Wayans, John Witherspoon, Franklin Ajaye, Paul Mooney, Ann-Marie Johnson. Check it out….especially the “activator scene” with Wayans in a dance studio.
“The best example of urban guerilla filmmaking is ironicallyand happilyalso one of Hollywood’smost triumphant success stories. Actor Robert Townsend (I’m Gonna Git You Sucka!), decrying the lack of good roles for black actors, puts his money where his mouth is and co-scripts (with Keenen Ivory Wayans), directs and stars in this “exuberant, tirelessly energetic, funny, appealingly mean-spirited and easy-to-like” comedy (Janet Maslin, The New York Times) that took Tinseltown by storm! Actor wannabe Bobby Taylor (Townsend) dreams of landing a role any role. But in a town where the best black roles are usually jive-talkin’ gangsta stereotypes, Bobby learns that you have to make your own partseven if they’re just in your head. Spoofing everything from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Eddie Murphy to Siskel & Ebert, Bobby’s vivid imaginationand Hollywood Shuffleare “an exhilarating blast” (New York)!”
Sidney Poitier in In the Heat of the Night is superb as a take-no-mess investigator from “up north” assisting a southern police cheif. One of the most famous scenes of all time in the film is when Poitier’s character confronts a wealthy businessman in his garden. It’s a scene that shocked movie goers, especially in the South. That’s all the information we’ll give, but great movie. And a great look at character foil for Carroll O’Connor’s character who changes from near-bigot to a bit of a teddy bear by the end of the film.
“Both riveting murder mystery and classic fish-out-of-water yarn, Norman Jewison’s Oscar-winning In the Heat of the Night represents Hollywood at its wiliest, cloaking exposé in the most entertaining trappings. Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger prove the decade’s most formidable antagonists. Poitier plays Virgil Tibbs, an arrogant homicide detective waylaid in Sparta, Mississippi; Steiger, in his bravura Oscar-winning turn, is Bill Gillespie, the town’s hardheaded, bigoted sheriff who first arrests Tibbs for murder and then begs for his expertise. As the clues and suspects mount, Gillespie and his deputies develop begrudging respect for the black officer. The first-rate supporting cast includes Lee Grant as the victim’s angry widow, Warren Oates as a voyeuristic deputy, William Schallert as the pragmatic mayor, and, in his screen debut, Scott Wilson (In Cold Blood) as an unlucky fugitive. The brilliant widescreen cinematography is by Haskell Wexler, and the scat-music score is by Quincy Jones. Ray Charles wails the blues theme song.” –Glenn Lovell
Tupac who played “Bishop” in the film, accompanied someone to the audition and ended up getting the part himself. Good fortune because Tupac is charismatic and chilling in Juice, a film about four young Harlem friends spend their time hanging out and looking for power and respect, called juice. It all goes wrong when they pull an armed robbery.. Pretty good acting by all of the main characters. Great direction by Ernest Dickerson, Spike Lee’s longtime cinematographer.
WARNING, this indie classic form 1977 is not for everyone. It gained critical acclaim as a great film about African-American life, directed by Charles Burnett. It should be noted that the production value is really rough and because he used real folks from LA, some of the acting is considered bad. HOWEVER, the sheer spirit of independence and the importance of the film from an African-American film historical perspective is what makes it essential.
“An American masterpiece, independent to the bone.” –Manohla Dargis, New York Times
The finest film yet about African American life. –National Public Radio Way ahead of its time 30 years ago, and just as stunning today, KILLER OF SHEEP is one of those marvels of original moviemaking that keeps hope of artistic independence alive… Here’s to the miracle of a buried classic granted the opposite of a killing – here’s to life. Grade: A.” — Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly –Acclaimed Reviews
Lady Sings the Blues is a pleasant surprise and it’s not a surprise that Diana Ross was nominated for an Oscar for “Best Actress” and Richard Pryor should have been also nominated for their performances as legendary blues singer Billie Holiday and her piano man. It’s a fairly haunting tale of success fleeting due to drug abuse. Ross and Pryor have great chemistry and Billy Dee Williams is smooth as Ross’s love interest.
“The essence of Billie Holiday, one of America’s most loved and memorable blues singers, is captured brilliantly in a tour-de-force debut performance by singer Diana Ross. Filled with the greatest songs of the incomparable ‘Lady Day,’ this stunning film biography received five Academy Award. nominations, including Diana Ross for ‘Best Actress.’ Costarring Billy Dee Williams and Richard Pryor.”
Sidney Poitier is mesmerizing in Lilies in the Field. Although he should have been nominated for a few more Oscars, this is the film in which he won Best Actor. If you’re an aspiring actor, watch this film. The approach to acting is different these days, however Poitier’s subtlety and range do not go unnoticed.
“Sidney Poitier won an Oscar for this endearing movie about a handyman who thinks he’s just passing through a little town in New Mexico, and ends up staying awhile to build a chapel for a cluster of German-speaking nuns. The renowned actor is highly entertaining in his combative exchanges with Lilia Skala, playing a Mother Superior who survived Hitler and makes no bones about bullying the goodhearted, itinerant worker into doing more and more for her. The film has an ambling, easygoing style with several memorable moments, not least of all is Poitier leading his holy hostesses through verses of the gospel song ‘Amen.’” — Tom Keogh
Nothing But A Man is a superbly acted drama about a handyman and his struggle to maintain sanity in the segragist south in the 60s. Ivan Dixon, Abbey Lincoln, and Gloria Foster are sublimely understated as they try to figure out life outside of the racial tension that was prevalent in the south. The movie is full drama, slow-paced and a thoughtful film. So, definitely be wide awake while watching. A superb little film. Definitely one of the top 10 black films of all time.
“From the era when American films almost never put black characters at the center of a movie, Nothing but a Man stands like a beacon of intelligence and sympathy. It was shot in 1964 at the height of the Civil Rights movement by two Jewish white men, director Michael Roemer and cinematographer Robert M. Young, who wrote the script after traveling through the South and immersing themselves in African American life. Ivan Dixon (later of Hogan’s Heroes) plays a railroad worker who settles down to marry a preacher’s daughter (jazz singer Abbey Lincoln), only to find that the system is rigged against him. The film is not condescending or idealizing in its approach; some of the problems of the characters are outside the reality of racism. Aside from its status as a landmark social-issue film, it is good to recognize, 40 years on, what a terrific piece of filmmaking this is, with fine acting (Yaphet Kotto and Gloria Foster are in the cast), lucid dialogue, and a fresh feeling for everyday domestic life.” –Robert Horton
Acclaimed director John Singleton feels that Purple Rain has an exceptional opening sequence, one that should be studied by filmmakers. I agree. The high energy opening sequence sets the tone for this fun movie. Some of the dialogue and acting is a bit cheesy, however this film helped Prince become a pop Icon.
“When Prince’s dazzling and dynamic Purple Rain (movie and soundtrack album) and the hypnotic hit single “When Doves Cry” exploded onto the pop-culture scene in 1984, it seemed there was nothing the purple one couldn’t do. The film is basically a feature-length music video, but no musician has ever had a better big-screen showcase for his many talents. The plot is really just a theme (about the son of an abusive father struggling not to continue the pattern) upon which to hang some of Prince’s most dazzling songs (including “Let’s Go Crazy” and the title tune), and some sizzling live-concert numbers. Apollonia Kotero is ravishing as the romantic interest, and Morris Day and the Time provide some terrific musical competition. Purple Rain is an essential artifact of the mid-’80s pop Zeitgeist. Prince took home an Oscar for the song score.” –Jim Emerson
“Director Norman Jewison’s (In the Heat of the Night) 1984 adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play explores the ramifications of racism and loyalty through the prism of blacks in the military, revealed through a murder mystery set in the 1940s deep South. Howard E. Rollins (Ragtime) plays a military investigator assigned to the murder of a drill instructor (Adolph Caesar) in charge of a black platoon. Under pressure from his superiors to wrap his investigation up quickly, Rollins instead delves deeply into the relationships between the despised drill instructor and his men, uncovering lies and animosity, and confronting the question of what it means to be black in a white man’s world. Rollins is a riveting, stoic, and emotional lead, and Denzel Washington makes an early appearance as a soldier with a deep grudge against the drill instructor and a deep mistrust of Rollins’ investigator. A powerfully written story that makes the most of its large and impressive ensemble cast, A Soldier’s Story is a deeply affecting and worthwhile film.” –Robert Lane
“Directed by Andrew Stone, this 1943 musical is one of the few musicals by a major studio to feature an all-black cast. The storyline is merely an excuse for all the musical numbers (and there are a LOT of them). Bill “Bojangles” Robinson plays Bill Williamson who meets lovely Selina Rogers, played by Lena Horne, just after he gets back from the First World War. Unfortunately their careers get in the way of their ever settling down together. “Stormy Weather” ends with a big all-star show hosted by Cab Calloway. Along the way Bill Robinson dances to “Rang Tang Tang” and several other songs, while Lena Horne sings “There’s No Two Ways About Love,” “Diga Diga Do” and the show piece title song, “Stormy Weather.” Bill and Lena also do “I Can’t Give you Anything But Love, Baby.” Fats Waller does “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and sings “That Ain’t Right” (a Nat “King” Cole song) with Ada Brown. Cab Colloway conducts his “Rhythm Cocktail” and “Geechy Joe” and there is also the incredible Nichols Brothers (Fayard and Harold) dancing to “The Jumpin’ Jive.” “Stormy Weather” is a wonderful compilation of song and dance.” — Lawrence M. Bernabo, Amazon.com