For those of you keeping up, I've been a journey through the following list:
With that being said, I've had an amazing time watching all of these films and gaining pieces of Black culture I never knew (remember my dad is 40 years/2 generations older than me so this would've been completely skipped). Not only have I been learning about Black culture in more recent terms, but I have learned that some of my film ideas have been done, a ton of music and actors I missed out on, and there's a whole lot of pop culture every other black person knows but me (though apparently now I can make jokes like "I'm going to cut you like Vanessa Williams in Soul Food" and everyone will get it).
It has been a learning experience in both terms of what is black film and what is quality film and how do we compare or judge them? School Daze is so accurate about differences within black culture, but how is it in terms of filmic technique et al? Those questions racked my brain as I learned and became educated about all the films I had missed in the past years.
Here's an analysis of each (may need a part 2) - Note I'm only doing the films I hadn't seen before.
The Five Heartbeats: A brilliant and honest portrayal of the Motown sound with not only specifically black male singing groups, but Motown as a whole from corrupt execs, performance racism (white people dancing around black performers), rise and fall of success and the flirtations of performers. Why this works is that is a fairly accurate portrayal of Motown, which if we know on the history of the 50s and 60s practically defined the next era of music black music in the 20th century after jazz (Jazz, Motown, Funk, Hip-hop are the phases imo with intervals of Rock throughout). As such, it is a part of our culture and does a great job of showing the truth of that world while having a lot of fun with music, nothing special filmwise outside of Michael Wright's brilliant acting as Eddie, but it's good.
Pariah: I get chills every time I even think of the name which means "outsider". If there ever was one it's a black female lesbian - all the three traits are explored in one of the most honest portrayals of the subculture I've ever seen. Adepero Oduye turns in one of the strongest performances on this list or really in film history as she embodies her struggle authentically. Every moment in the film makes sense and if you have ever felt ostracized this is your pain on full display. Of course, the nuance is that Adepero plays a black butch lesbian and a world that many of us don't know, but it is a black film through and through in terms of acceptance and how at times we are harsher to ourselves than our oppressors.
Dead Presidents: As with all of these films, each one hits a part of black culture particularly in the 20th century. A couple are prevalent in the 21st, but most have to do with 20th black America. With that being said, Dead Presidents hits the world of Vietnam and the life of veterans, particularly black veterans. There are some great moments throughout with a soundtrack mixed in Motown and Funk as it transitions from Vietnam to the hard knocks of the veterans life along with the Black Panther movement. Larenz Tate goes through the wringer of emotions with some great support from Keith David and a distinct Chris Tucker performance. More than anything this film highlights the 20th century war struggle of being black and fighting for America while returning to squalid conditions and no money because Vietnam was seen as a lesser war and black veterans seen as lesser people. There's a lot of subtext and even larger arguments to be made here as the film hits on struggles that made it hard for us to rise up even as we tried to come out of the civil rights stronger people. Filmic, context and acting wise it is one of the top contenders for transcending more than just the black film audience.
Brown Sugar: Hitting on another realm of black culture - Hip-hop. Brown Sugar is a love story told in the form of hip-hop from the highs and lows, along with jump cuts, long takes, split screens and more to give the appearance of a hip-hop video or scratching/mixing and more. There is a ton of discussion of hip-hop and Queen Latifah & Mos Def are along for the ride. This is not the strongest film on the list, but I like it because it is hip-hop and my favorite genre of music is hip-hop especially that of which is highlighted here. The performances are simple (Sanaa Lathan's first of many appearances on this list), but the editing and music make up for it. Also, because the music works so well the film has longevity.
Boomerang: This film is a lot of fun and has plenty of quote worthy lines. It is also stars a plethora of black film stars. Furthermore, it has a banging 90s soundtrack that works for its plot very well. Beyond that, it's best aspect that the film is basically a black world. What I mean by that is that nearly every person in the film (including the extras) is black and professional and nothing is said by it at all. There is almost no attention drawn to blackness, instead it's drawn to the skills of both female and male players and the strange world of advertising. Overall, it has nothing to do with the black struggle as every person is a successful black person and there's almost no film that simply is black people living in America that has nothing to do with blackness.
School Daze: Where to begin. This is certainly about the black college experience and in particular that of HBCUs. First of all there are the musical moments, auteur Spike Lee film choices, and fun performances from Laurence Fishburne, Lee, Bill Duke, Giancarlo Esposito and her second appearance on this list Tisha Campbell. Beyond that, the discussion of skin tone, good hair, frats and black pride v. back to Africa conscious mentality is a glorious dissection of what does it mean to be black? What is a black film? Who is right/wrong? Are black colleges really helping or hurting us? It's a great discussion that has no right answer. However, if anything this film makes sure that all blacks need to WAKE UP and begin the discussion about their place in history.
Soul Food: Last one I'll discuss for part 1 because I don't have too much to say on it. While the concept is huge for black America - family, it's really not as amazing a film as one would think. While we have appearances of some regulars Mehki Phife, Vanessa Williams, Vivica Fox (who is still my crush), and Nia Long I don't think anyone really trumped anyone else in acting minus Phife or Williams going haywire. Also the music isn't too much of a highlight here. More than anything is the element and importance of family as the main character ( a boy) really relays the importance of family and food (the food filming is a highlight!) in how it shapes everything in black culture. Finally, I think this film wasn't as important to me because I don't know what this family is like.
Love and Basketball: So begins my approval of Omar Epps and his consistent acting throughout several of these films. Anyways we have Sanaa Lathan again even though I prefer her younger self with Kyla Pratt along with some solid performance from the ever lovely Audre Woodard and Dennis Haysbert. This film has some great basketball skills, runs like a basketball game in quarters and highlights a love story with one of the most respected aspects of our culture - sports and in particular basketball. This another one of those ? films for me since I have one season of basketball under my belt ever and I'm terrible at the sport. Hell I may be the worse black person at basketball I know. However, I do like how the films plays like basketball and in particular Haysbert's analysis of fame in basketball. Plus big-ups to the USC love!!!!!