Every fall Hollywood releases the important films—that is, the movies they think will garner Oscar attention. There will be the obligatory biopics with actors embodying disability or overcoming adversity. There will the political films that uncover a scandal or tell stories centered in human misery. Then there will be the artistic achievements, you know,films about basically nothing but either took a long time to make or have unconventional direction.
As we move into this season, I thought it wise to look back at films that many black folks love and explain why they either should not be considered a black film or why they ain’t worth a damn.
Look, just because a film is watchable doesn’t mean it’s good and there are a number of beloved black movies that are valorized just because they star black actors. I call these the ‘Halle Berry (HB) Awards’ in honor of the preeminent overrated black actress who won an Oscar for being a mediocre white man’s jump off.
HB #1: The Wiz
This movie is boring and it’s directed by a white dude (more on that later). Yes, there are amazing musical numbers. Yes, Michael Jackson danced and sang his ass off. Still, this hot garbage is hardly watchable. The narrative will put you to sleep faster than a Benadryl downed with a glass of red wine, and the acting is aggressively bad. Like, DMX in Belly kind of bad. Diana Ross killed the singing, though. Too bad they asked her to act.
I would wager that most people fast forward through the story and only watch the musical numbers and if you don’t you’re losing at life.
HB#2: The Color Purple
This movie has great acting, great direction, and brilliant source material. My only beef is that Steven Spielberg is the director. I guess they could not find someone black to put behind the camera.
I don’t care how many times you quote the film or how much your big mama watched it, if someone black ain’t in the directing chair, I’m not considering it a great black film.
HB #3: Coming to America
See HB 2. No black director. I refuse to consider it a great black film.
HB #4: Hidden Colors
This is what you watch at the beginning of Hotep basic training. It purports to give insight about the lost history of black people in America, and even if I were able to turn off my philosophical mind, I’d still find some of the information difficult to believe. Further, the director is a noted misogynist and, just being honest, the film’s production values are laughable. This movie is so laced with Hotepism that I needed a bottle of lotion for my ashy ankles after watching it.
HB#5: She’s Gotta Have It
Spike Lee’s first film is aiight. He tries to elevate the material by shooting it in black and white, but the gender politics are antiquated and the acting is mediocre at best. It’s Spike’s first film, and I can tell.
HB#6: Every single Tyler Perry film (except Daddy’s Little Girls) and ESPECIALLY Temptation.
I’m not even going to dignify these films with a thoughtful analysis.
HB #7: Lean On Me
This film is beloved by black grandfathers everywhere because it is a two-hour meditation on patriarchy and respectability politics. Joe Clark begins the film by expelling 300 students, and then begins to treat educators and students alike in a condescending and infantile manner. Oh yeah, a white dude directed this film as well.
‘Fair Eastside’ was dope, tho.
HB#8: All the sequels to Friday
You know those movies aren’t funny. You ain’t gotta lie to kick it.
HB #9: New Jack City
This film has not aged well. The haircuts are laughably bad, the dialogue is VERY bad (Ice-T actually says, “I want to shoot you so bad my dick is hard”), and the acting is worse.
Nino Brown is a cartoonish villain (Did he really put crack in the Thanksgiving turkey?) and the film does not deal with the way housing discrimination and poverty played a role in the explosion of violence in the 1990s. This film is essentially a commercial for the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. I’m pretty sure Hilary got the idea of Super Predators watching this movie.
HB#10: Baby Boy
With the exception of Four Brothers, John Singleton has been making nonsense since 1997, and that’s too bad—he started with such promise.
Boyz N The Hood is a black coming of age masterpiece; Poetic Justice is a ghettoized take on a road movie, and both Higher Learning and Rosewood are essential, tragic films. It all started going downhill when he made Baby Boy—and I can see why.
This is an indulgent film. It tries to be a coming of age tale for a grown ass man, a comedy, a tense, urban drama, and a love story all at once—while failing on all fronts. The direction is sloppy; the editing haphazard, and the acting is so bad that Gary Coleman would be offended. Snoop Dogg is supposed to be a threatening presence, but his arms look so emaciated in the scene with an undershirt that it made me wonder if he would have the strength necessary to pull a trigger if the narrative called for it.
Singleton thinks he is insightful in the critiques of black men as careless fathers, but he merely showcases respectability politics and patriarchy in how the narrative is resolved. The film lacks the insight of Boyz in explicating how institutional racism plays a role in the failure of some black men to play an active role in the lives of their children, and, ultimately, the film calls for men to grow up and be the heads of their households without showing the barriers that could preclude such a happy ending from taking place. Essentially, according to this movie, black men need to pull up their pants, get a job, and take care of their families. But what happens if race keeps you from making a living, saving wage?
I’m sure folks will be coming for my black card or calling my place of employment demanding that I no longer teach classes on black films. That’s fine. Most of you think Coming to America is funnier than Harlem Nights (Editor Note: It is.), evidence that you don’t know what you’re talking about.