“Harlem Nights” and Other Negro Viewing Requirements

Paramount Pictures

I watched Harlem Nights for the first time last weekend. It was outlandishly Blackety Black Black. Just how I like my men. I loved it.

But that didn’t matter. Apparently, making it to 29 without having seen Redd Foxx’s last big screen appearance was a crime against Blackness, because far too many people responded to this admission with “YOU MEAN, LIKE FOR THE FIRST TIME?”


I haven’t had my Blackness questioned this much since admitting that I don’t care for Jennifer Holliday’s “And I’m Telling You (I’m Not Going To Ever Stop Singing This Song)” or JHud’s version or any version.

Yes, bammas. This was my first time seeing Vera Walker instruct everyone to kiss her ENTIRE ass. Before this weekend, I had seen brief clips and knew that Diddy’s “Pass The Courvoisier, Part II” video was inspired in part by the film. I knew that at some point, Arsenio Hall would cry for a long time. I knew the film involved Eddie Murphy, a mean conk, and a handful of old timey Black comics. I knew the film was important, necessary even.


But Charlie Murphy was there. You had Touched By An Angel in there cussing like a motherfucker. You had Jasmine Guy playing a vampy Creole Lady Marmalade. What more could you ask for in a Black film?

I inspired similar disappointment when I watched Black America’s Oldest Teenager star opposite the impossibly fine Billy Dee Williams in Lady Sings The Blues this spring, for the first time. People couldn’t understand how nobody ever put me on. I also watched Claudine because I felt obligated by Blackness to peep it. Great film, greater soundtrack.


This got me to wondering about the other flicks we side eye our adult homies for not having seen.

When I encounter someone old enough to understand the case against colored contacts who doesn’t know about Miss Celie’s Folkspants, I make a mental note of the exits. This is not a motherfucker I need to be in an elevator with. He or she will never meet my children. What series of unfortunate events led to them reaching Grown and Sexy Party age without being exposed to this body of Black excellence?


“The fuck has your life been about until now?” ponder I.

You would be surprised how discouraging it is to have to explain a Friday reference to a thirty-something person who isn’t from elsewhere in the diaspora. I feel the same about Coming To America; What’s Love Got to Do With It?; The Last Dragon; The Jacksons: An American Dream; and Bebe’s Kids. I like to think most decent people I think highly of know who LeRoy and Sexual Chocolate are. Anything less would render one unsavory. I once met a girl who prided herself on never having seen The Cosby Show. We all fall short, I suppose.


I am attempting to cultivate a viewing list for my two nieces, who are 16 and 17. While I’m here in 1998, I would love to watch films like American History X and Fruitvale Station (which had me verklempt as shit) with them, and challenge them in ways I know they’re not being challenged at school. I want to do my part as an uncle before they venture out into this cruel, Chelsea Handler-loving world. I can’t have them out here interviewing for important jobs not knowing who Shonuff is, disadvantaged and shit.

I know that what matters to me, culturally, as a man nearing thirty (whew) isn’t necessarily the case for two teenage girls in a post-Teen Summit society. But, how do we avoid future Blackness deficiencies and keep our chirren from busting one another in the heads with champagne bottles on Bravo shows? How the fuck do we ‘posed to keep peace? What is Required Negro Viewing for the likkle yute dem in the 2000 and the 14?

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About the author

Alexander Hardy

Alexander Hardy is a wordsmith, mental health advocate, dancer, lupus survivor, and co-host of The Extraordinary Negroes podcast. Alexander does not believe in snow or Delaware.