The Watch List, Part Deux: More Black Joy & Pain in Classic Film
Question: If you removed “struggle films” from the Black movie mainstream — that’s capital “S” struggle: i.e., discrimination, marginalization and the ever-mutating spawn of enslavement — what would be left to represent the culture onscreen?
Answer: Superheroes, Tyler Perryland, the oeuvre of Spike Lee, some indie gems and the evolution of Eddie Murphy.
How is that even acceptable?
On that note:
- Is there an unwritten rule that films with more than one Black lead can only be about true-life adversity, fictional adversity, criminality, buffoonery or fantastical nonsense?
- What’s the reason Black people/families aren’t represented in live-action sci-fi and children’s features?
- How come “Blackenstein” (1973) isn’t a Halloween season staple?
- Why is “Gone With the Wind” (1939) still a thing (Fact: the 2019 domestic re-release made more than double the international box office of a buzzed-about documentary nominated for two Oscars that year) while “Porgy & Bess” (1959) has been missing (and — surprise! — no one appears to be looking for it) since the 1970s?
Let’s use this pivotal moment to keep asking the hard questions, bringing uncomfortable answers to light and demanding much-needed remedies. Just don’t sleep on the wealth of stories that already exist on film and deserve revisiting — Black people of a certain time being audacious, resilient, transcendent, flawed, ridiculous, aggravating, hilarious, beautiful … and real.
Black & White (& Vanished)
Stormy Weather (1943)
St. Louis Blues (1958)
Porgy and Bess (1959)*
A Raisin in the Sun (1961)
*Seriously, this Technicolor joint features a whole Classic Black Hollywood DREAM TEAM: Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, Sammy Davis Jr., Pearl Bailey, Diahann Carroll, plus a cameo by Maya Angelou. James Baldwin was not a fan of the film, but that doesn’t justify it being nearly impossible to screen.
’70s Fun & Foolishness
Buck and the Preacher (1972)
Five on the Black Hand Side (1973)
Let’s Do it Again (1975)
The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976)
That Soundtrack, Tho
Super Fly (1972) ed. note: Curtis Mayfield
The Harder They Come (1972) ed. note: Jimmy Cliff
Car Wash (1976) ed. note: Rose Royce
Girl 6 (1996) ed. note: Prince
Rated “R” for Richard Pryor
Uptown Saturday Night (1974)
Blazing Saddles (1974) ed. note: written by
Greased Lightning (1977)
Which Way Is Up? (1977)
In & Out of the Classroom
Cooley High (1975)
Hoop Dreams (1984)
School Daze (1988)
The Inkwell (1994)
Black Orpheus (Brazil, 1959)
The Brother From Another Planet (1984)
Paris Is Burning (1990)
Beneath Clouds (Australia, 2002)
Norman … Is That You? (1976)
Under the Cherry Moon (1986)
Swing! (1938) director: Oscar Micheaux
Watermelon Man (1970) director: Melvin Van Peebles
Killer of Sheep (1978) director: Charles Burnett
Just Another Girl on the I.R.T (1992) director: Leslie Harris
In addition to availability on the popular subscription services, some of these titles can also be streamed for free via the Kanopy and Hoopla apps.
For expert commentary on Black cinema, follow the work of author Donald Bogle, Turner Classic Movies host (“Silent Sunday Nights”), Jacqueline Stewart and organizations like the African American Film Critics Association (@TheAAFCA).
Did you miss Part 1? Read it here.