While movies are most commonly associated with the entertainment industry, the medium of films has proven time and time again that it is uncontested in inspiring and influencing the world when it is telling a story about people. When culture, personality, emotions and relationships are truthfully captured in 24 frames a second, movies have the potential of not only telling a story but bringing real change within our modern society.
Within recent years, the film industry has slowly but surely begun to shift their focus from telling the stories of an over-represented majority to the history of African Americans, who have undergone generations of persecution and underrepresentation in American culture. In commemoration of Black History Month, I have teamed up with fellow movie connoisseur Christian Valdez to talk about four movies inspired by true events and stories that represent the culture and history of African Americans.
Malcolm X was released in 1992, an epic biographical film directed by the legendary Spike Lee, starring Denzel Washington. It tells the life story of Malcolm “X” Little, an African-American activist who was persecuted for his skin color and for his faith in Islam during the heights of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s before his assassination in 1965. Known as one of the best films of the 1990s for its impactful, emotionally gripping narrative and message, as well as one of Denzel Washington’s best performances, this tribute to a legendary civil rights activist is available right now on HBOMax and is a must watch, a solid 9/10.
2020 saw the release of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, a drama/musical based on the play of the same name. Directed by George C. Wolfe and produced by Denzel Washington, it stars Viola Davis as Ma Rainey, a prominent blues singer in 1920s Chicago, having to deal with recording songs after overzealous trumpeter, Levee Green, played by the late Chadwick Boseman, joins her band. Named one of the top films of 2020 by the American Film Institute Awards, this tribute to a blue’s legend and blue’s culture is full of the passion and liveliness of the genre of music these brilliant actors play in a harrowing, emotionally resonating story. I would give it a 9.5 out of 10 and it is currently available to watch on Netflix.
And now I am handing it over to Christian for his favorite movies.
Spike Lee made his return last June with Da 5 Bloods. This two hour and thirty six minute Vietnam epic debuted on Netflix and can be watched there right now. This Spike Lee Joint stars a largely African American cast, which includes Chadwick Boseman, Delroy Lindo and Isiah Whitlock Jr. The basic premise is that four African American veterans travel back to Vietnam to return the remains of a fallen comrade back to the states along with gold they had buried there. Chadwick Boseman stole the show in arguably one of his finest performances as Stormin Norman even though he had limited screen time. Boseman starred as their squad leader and held a commanding presence throughout. Lee weaves his political and social commentaries into his characters as per usual, which really emphasizes the unfair treatment that African American enlistees dealt with during the war. The film tackles the subjects of racism and brotherhood while facing adversity. This film sheds light on a section of African American history that is often overlooked and this makes it a great movie to watch during Black History Month. Do not be fooled by the 6.5 IMDb rating, it is a great film that is still worth the watch. I give this film a 8.1/10.
Jamie Foxx is no stranger to being a leading man in Hollywood, but this role contrasts his previous characters he played in movies like Django Unchained and Baby Driver. Foxx takes up the role as an African American school teacher, Joe, who dreams of being a jazz musician in Disney’s Soul that came out last December. Joe goes on a journey to a place in between space and time and he discovers a lot about himself and the world around him. The cast is really diverse in its inclusion of Foxx, Tina Fey and even a cameo from Daveed Diggs for all the Hamilton faithful out there. Jamie Foxx is splendid as Joe and his character’s realization that the world is bigger than him is nicely communicated through his hesitant vocalizations. This was not a career defining role for Foxx, but it was a nice change of pace for him and really shows his versatility as an actor. Tina Fey is pretty good in the film, but her delivery of comedic lines was a bit off in my opinion. The comedy was a bit off for me in general, but keep in mind that this film was for a very young audience. Although I think the 8.1/10 on IMDb should be a 7/10, it is still a very enjoyable movie that dives into African American family life and this makes it a must watch for this month. In fact you can watch the hour and forty seven minute feature on Disney plus right now.