Spike Lee (wearing a Dodgers jersey), flanked by Giancarlo Esposito, Rosie Perez, his sister Joie Lee, and Frankie Fasion during a reunion of his classic film “Do The Right Thing”. Photo courtesy of peopleewnetwork.com
FILMS WRITTEN, PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY BLACKS THAT I HAVE ENJOYED THE MOST
Not too long ago I saw a post on Facebook asking people what their favorite Black movies were.
Imagine my “What the F…!!” level shock when I noticed that not one comment in the post’s thread mentioned anything made by two of the best African-American filmmakers in history, Spike Lee and John Singleton.
Being the movie fan that I am, I thought it was high time that I reveal my list of African-American films that I consider my favorites, along with being among the best ever made in my view.
Of these movies – in chronological order – on this list, four of them were made by Spike Lee, who it’s impossible to have any kind of conversation regarding black movies without giving major attention to.
Some people may notice that I didn’t list any of the “Blaxploitation” flicks of the early to mid-1970s, movies like “Shaft” and “Superfly”, because to be honest, I never could get through those films because of their stereotyping and negative characters; whenever Shaft appears on TV, after Issac Hayes’ classic opening song I always turn the channel.
Those movies had their place in black cinema, but I just prefer what I consider the “Golden Age” of that genre, the mid-1980s and 1990s.
Let’s not waste anymore time, shall we?
Here’s my list of favorites…
Tracy Camilla Johns on “She’s Gotta have It”. Photo courtesy of cineentucara.blogspot.com
* SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT (1986)
Spike Lee’s debut film, made for a mere $175,000 – all paid from Spike’s credit cards – which generated over $7,000,000 it was so acclaimed and such a hit.
Like many other guys, I thought that Tracy Camilla Johns was fine, as she played the main protagonist Nola Darling who had, in all essence, three very different boyfriends – one of them a very funny Mars Blackmon who was played by Spike – and ended up having to choose one.
It was such a great first film from a director, that it set up this next one…
“School Daze”‘s official movie poster. Image courtesy of pinterest.com
* SCHOOL DAZE (1988)
The first Spike Lee film that I saw in the theater, based (I’m sure) on his college days as it was set at a Historically Black College/University (HBCU) and looked at the tensions between the so-called “Jigaboos”, first generation college students who aren’t necessary that well-off who were into issues like ending South African apartheid, and the so-called “Wannabes”, who were in the fraternities and sororities and looked down on anyone not like them.
This musical featured future Oscar nominee Lawrence Fishburne as “Dap”, the leader of the so-called “Jigaboos”, squaring off against “Big Brother Almighty”, the fraternity leader played by Giancarlo Esposito.
I particularly enjoyed it because it reminded me of when I matriculated at UCLA soon after School Daze premiered, I found myself in a group similar to Fishburne’s “Fellas”, non-greeks who hung out and were good friends.
And the music was great, too.
Image courtesy of pinerest.com
* DO THE RIGHT THING (1989)
If I were forced to choose one black film as not only my all-time favorite, but the best of all time, it would be this one.
One of two movies that I consider Spike Lee’s masterpieces, it describes racial tensions simmering on a scorching hot day on a block in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy district to the point where after a young African-American man, Radio Raheem (played by Bill Nunn), was killed by the police – VERY poignant considering what’s been happening on that front these days – a riot breaks out in which an Italian-American owned pizza place was burned down.
Along with everything else, the memorable characters such as Dodger jersey-wearing pizza delivery guy Mookie (played by Spike), pizza joint owner Sal (played by Danny Aiello), his bigoted son Pino (played by John Turturro), “Mother Sister”, played by the legendary Ruby Dee, and “Da Mayor”, played by the equally legendary Ossie Davis,
My favorite part of the film is the closing song, “Never Explain Love” by Al Jarreau, simply the perfect ending.
The quotes by Martin Luther King and Malcolm X describing their views on violence just before that song was a classic move as well.
Image courtesy of movieposters.com
* HOUSE PARTY (1990)
One of the funniest movies, if not the funniest, movies I have ever seen as I remember falling from the couch laughing the first time I saw it.
Starring the hip-hop duo Kid N Play, along with the very funny Robin Harris, who played Kid’s father, House Party illustrates, well, a house party thrown by Kid’s friend Play while his parents are out-of-town.
The part of the movie that I found the funniest?
The bullies that go after Kid trying to “Kick his f’n a**!” throughout the film, played by the members of the R & B group Full Force that were essentially the Black version of the Three Stooges, their humor was so pronounced, especially Pee Wee, whose high pitched squeak of a voice had me in stitches.
Photo courtesy of buzzfeed.com
* BOYZ N THE HOOD (1991)
John Singleton’s debut, which also serves as his masterpiece as it was his first film after his days at USC film school.
It not only portrayed African-American life in Los Angeles in the early 1990s so brilliantly, it also did a perfect job in showing how crucially important a father’s role is in a boy and young man’s life.
Those who noticed how Tre, played by Cuba Gooding, Jr. in what I and many others consider his best role (by far), ended up after the influence of his father, played by Lawrence Fishburne, in contrast to his two non-father influenced friends, drug dealing Doughboy (played by Ice Cube in his film debut) and football-playing teen father Ricky (played by Morris Chestnut), will agree that that was the essence of Boyz N The Hood, showing what to do and what not to do in raising young black males.
That was what I got from this film.
Image courtesy of pinterest.com
*MALCOLM X (1992)
A truly great biopic, with Denzel Washington portraying the iconic African-American leader who takes us on his journey from Harlem street hustler to his prison conversion to the Nation of Islam, to his involvement in such, to his second conversion after his pilgrimage to Mecca before his assassination.
For those who had never read Malcolm’s famous autobiography, this is a master lesson of an important American historical figure who provided an alternative to Martin Luther King’s approach to how blacks can overcome the Jim Crow racism and segregation that was rampant in America in those days – and is seemingly making a comeback now considering what’s been going on.
The cameo that South African icon Nelson Mandela at the end provided an excellent touch.
Image courtesy of moviepostershop.com
* SOUL FOOD (1997)
An excellent illustration of African-American families and how the matriarch, in this case “Big Mama” (played by Irma Hall) is so incredibly essential in that culture.
As is her insistence of everyone getting together at her house for Sunday dinner no matter what is going on in their lives, which even after Big Mama’s death from diabetes continues thanks to her grandson Ahmad.
In some ways this reminds me of my beloved grandmother, who had some spaghetti cooking on her stove the day she passed away and, along with my grandfather, provided such a strong presence and influence on my extended family – and especially myself, being that I lived with them for nine years – that I feel obligated and compelled to tell all my young cousins who never knew them all about them.
There you have it – my list of favorite black films.
There’s not much else to say about this, except that anyone who vehemently disagrees with the films listed here, or feel that I omitted some, I’m all ears.
Oh, I absolutely have to give a shout-out to these two recent releases…
Not only that, I have to include these among my favorites in this genre…
Image courtesy of moviepostershop.com
* STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (2015)
The brilliant biopic of “The World’s Most Dangerous Group”, who I consider the Beatles of Gangsta Rap, NWA.
Featuring O’Shea Jackson, Ice Cube’s son, playing his father in what I and millions of others saw as brilliant casting.
* BLACK PANTHER (2018)
So good, I think it will usher another golden age of black cinema.
I wrote some thoughts and a review of sorts about this blockbuster on this blog a few months ago; here’s the link:
Image courtesy of joblo.com