I heart movies! Unfortunately, I can’t recall the first film I saw in a movie theater, but I can recall the first film I saw at a drive-in – Gremlins – when I was just a wee thing. Films have been a staple in my life for as long as I can remember.
I dreamed of being a filmmaker one day – so much so that I took as many film adjacent courses during my early college years as I could (as an unfulfilled theater major), I have boxes upon boxes of books on the filmmaking process, and I have put in numerous hours of film watching during my lifetime (I saw the movie Set It Off 7x at the movie theater – don’t judge me). Black cinema has evolved tremendously throughout the years since The Railroad Porter in 1912 by William D. Foster.
Here are my picks for a well-rounded vision of the black experience via black cinema thus far:
01. Roots || Dir. Marvin J. Chomsky, et. al || 1977
Those who have not seen this movie have obviously been under a rock for several decades or was absent during the subject of slavery that one week in your American History class. First of all, I must point out that this has to be one of the most awkward and/or uncomfortable movies to sit through if you’re the only person of color in your all white classroom. The Roots miniseries is history in motion and in living color as the viewer gets to witness firsthand the birth of slavery.
02. The Wiz || Dir. Sidney Lumet || 1978
In this present day, reboots and remakes are all the rage. Surprisingly, the original The Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland filmed back in 1939 has only been remade twice along with a short-lived television series. One of the remakes being an all-black cast version called The Wiz, which is a classic throughout many black households. This version of The Wiz is given an urban (for lack of a better word) makeover of sorts with an array of well-known black actors and actresses. The Scarecrow was tailor-made for Michael Jackson and Richard Pryor as The Wizard was spot on casting if you’re familiar with the type of characters he tends to portray. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” is a beautiful song but hearing Diana Ross sing “Home” gets you right in your soul.
03. The Color Purple || Dir. Steven Spielberg || 1985
This film is probably the most quoted film amongst my family since the moment we saw it together as a family. A prominent white director, known mainly at the time for his sci-fi and adventurous fare in film, adapted a coming-of-age, period drama novel by a prominent black author (Alice Walker) and gave it life at a time when no one seemed to care – as evidenced through its 11 Oscar nominations and 0 win snub. The Color Purple is a powerful, emotional and raw piece of cinematic storytelling.
04. Hollywood Schuffle || Dir. Robert Townsend || 1987
A satirical comedy about a struggling actor trying to navigate his way around jive talkers, pimps, thugs and slave roles through auditions and some good old-fashioned Hollywood daydreaming. Writer/Director, Robert Townsend, took the experiences that many (if not all) black people face in the film industry and magnified them times 10. The viewer is forced to see how the casting couch is not the only problematic setup in Hollywood.
05. Do The Right Thing || Dir. Spike Lee || 1989
Spike Lee is a pioneer. He has a unique way of visually telling a story. His stamp is original and you can easily recognize a Spike Lee Joint from anywhere. Everything from the dialogue to the frame of a scene to the music and there is always a message of some sort for the viewer to take away from it. Do the Right Thing is no different as it explores the racial tension brewing in a neighborhood that is ready to boil over on one hot summer day in Brooklyn.
06. Boyz N The Hood || Dir. John Singleton || 1991
If you thought Brooklyn’s racial tension was heavy wait until you witness the inner-city bleakness of South Central LA. John Singleton took a page from Spike Lee’s book of storytelling to go on and craft his own version of life growing up on the westcoast. Boys N The Hood
07. Love & Basketball || Dir. Gina Prince-Blythewood || 2000
The only black female director to have a spot on this list (and yes, there are plenty of other worthy black female directors…do some reasearch). This is my go-to movie on black culture, black family, black friendship and black love that has nothing to do with slavery, racial division, gang culture or inner-city turmoil. Love and Basketball takes you on a journey between two people from childhood to adults who experience life, love and loss at various points in their lives.
08. Moonlight || Dir. Barry Jenkins || 2016
Homophobia within the black community is well-documented in song, in print and on screen. Who knew a film about a young boy and his frustrations with his masculinity and sexual identity growing up would result in a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Picture in 2016.
09. Get Out || Dir. Jordan Peele || 2017
Good black horror films have been sorely lacking within the horror genre (imo). A comedian, Jordan Peele, found a way to invigorate an often gory genre of film with new life by making the big bad monster your everyday neighbor next door without the mask and chainsaw. He was able to take something that the black community often feels leery of or threatened by and clearly vocalizes why those feelings are felt with images and three-dimensional characters. A modern day film about a primitive practice with a twist.
10. Black Panther || Dir. Ryan Coogler || 2018
Sometimes posts like this write themselves. Who knew a black superhero like the Black Panther (not to be confused with the other superheroes by the same name who originated in the 60s) could captivate the world and quiet all the Hollywood higher-ups and quash the noise from the naysayers that said for years that often stated that black films about black people, with an all-black cast and a black director based on Afrofuturism and not slavery could not be globally successful. A movie of this magnitude was a long time coming and it created a buzz so massive it had both blacks and non-blacks wanting to visit Wakanda (forever).
With each film a door opened for more black stories to be told and more greatness to be explored. This selection of black cinematic masterpieces are only a sliver of what black movers and shakers in the film industry have contributed to the landscape of film.