During my Tribune days, I used to be known for giving out Black History month assignments every February.
Old habits die hard, so get ready for a healthy heaping of homework.
I know very few folks are going to get a stack of historic flash cards or hole themselves up at Carter G. Woodson library doing research on black contributions to the U.S.A.
But is it too much to ask to take part in a little pop culture exchange?
I’ve written a list of 14 movies that explore the black experience and, more importantly, avoid some of the stereotyping and marginalization that tend to make it mainstream. I also tossed some docs in there for good measure.
Check it out and kick some of these into your queue…
1. “A Soldier’s Story”– A murder mystery on a military base exposes the black-on-black hostility caused by racism and segregation. This film features thrilling performances by Adolph Caesar, aka “Mister’s” father from “The Color Purple.” Remember these words: The day of the geechee is gone.
2. “Imitation of Life”– This tearjerker about a young girl so fair-skinned she passes for white truly exposes how colorism takes root in American society. Sarah Jane’s behavior gives new life to the “Menace II Society” line: “I feel sorry for your mother.”
3. “Rosewood”– This inspired-by-true-events story of a racist assault on an all-black community had me gripping the armrest in the movie theater.
4. “Glory”– Denzel Washington REPRESENTS in this story of the Civil War, as told from the vantage point of black soldiers who were literally fighting for their freedom. Watch, and remember this the next time you see a Confederate flag flapping around. I guarantee you won’t buy that old blarney about it being historic and a symbol of Southern pride.
5. “Boyz n the Hood”-- Enthralling look at life in a violent Los Angeles neighborhood, courtesy o’ John Singleton. Laurence Fishburne is arresting, as Cuba Gooding Jr.’s father and if you don’t cry over “Ricky,” you need to see if your tear ducts are functional.
6. “Bastards of the Party”– Stirring insight into the role that the American government might have played in the rise of gang violence and the destruction of conscious grassroots organizations, including the Black Panthers.
7. “The Learning Tree”-- A black teenager struggles whether or not to share all he knows about a murder amid a backdrop of racial tension in a Kansas town.
8. “Women of Brewster Place”– Stop watching “Real Housewives,” “Love & Hip Hop,” or “Basketball Wives to get a glimpse of black women’s relationships. Spend a little time with the ladies of Brewster Place and, oddly enough, you’ll get a bigger dose of reality.
9. “The Corner”– Before “The Wire,” there was “The Corner,” a painful, but necessary glimpse into the human casualties in America’s ongoing drug war.
10. “Malcolm X”– This may be one of Spike Lee’s best movies yet, and that’s huge. Denzel Washington (second time he is mentioned, I know) captures the leader that, for many Americans, is the antithesis of
11. “Love Jones”-- This is a beautiful romantic story that, sadly, has not been replicated at the box office. Nia Long and Larenz Tate are the most adorable couple ever, and their skin shade is not the plot point. Love that.
12. “Cooley High”–A coming-of-age story centered on a group of high school students on the North Side of Chicago. The tragic ending will have you crying harder than Kim Kardashian when she realized she really didn’t love Kris Humphries.
13. “School Daze”– Spike Lee weaves a tale of the college experience while weaving in some (formerly) insider African American experience of light skin vs dark skin and good vs bad hair. Since Chris Rock and Bill Duke are both exploring these topics, which clearly resonate beyond the black American experience, this fictional look only enhances the education. (Plus, there are some amazing musical numbers.)
14. “Unforgivable Blackness”-- Jack Johnson, one of the first superstar athletes, battled against white competitors and racism in sports to be the best. His fall from grace, due in part to personal demons, is worth the watch.
15. “The Tuskegee Airmen“-- This 90s-era film explores the same valiant subjects of the current George Lucas-produced “Red Tails,” with an absolutely impeccable cast, including Laurence Fishburne. Support both, and in so doing, the stories of the airmen who defied bigotry and revolutionized the way America saw black men in uniform.
Do you have a movie you want to add to the list? Let me know. I’d also love it if you would let me know if you did end up checking out one of the above. Share your “review” with the rest of us.
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