The African-American community has endless stories to tell and the month of February is one month where we look back at the historical record of what has happened to them so that we never forget it. Truthfully, we should always reflect on the sins of the past so that our future doesn’t repeat what has already occurred. The scars are there, the pain is never forgotten and the quest for freedom and equal acceptance under the law is still being pursued. There are many movies to choose from to reflect on the sufferings and uplifting stories from the African-American community and here are five such films that everyone should view. While some are fictitious in their own right, the stories themselves feel almost too real.
The Color Purple
Steven Spielberg’s beautiful and heartbreaking film that was based on the 1982 novel of the same name, The Color Purple is a gritty look at the life of one woman named Celie (played by the Whoopie Goldberg in her debut performance) over forty years. The movie itself takes place in the early 20th century and the conditions of Celie’s life are one of torture, suffering, and the will to break the chains that have held her down for so long. Some viewers may be turned off by the level of domestic violence and cruelty in the film and even though Spielberg did admit he toned down the film to secure a PG-13 rating, the effect of this movie is simply unforgettable. The 1982 novel that was written by Alice Walker was the inspiration for this movie and her book captures an authentic feel of the period and ways of how women were treated by their husbands. With stunning debut performances by Whoopie Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey, Spielberg was brave enough to tackle the intense subject matter and does it in such a way that The Color Purple will live on for many future generations of movie watchers. It’s a shame that this movie didn’t win one single Oscar that following year because The Color Purple is a magnificent piece of work.
12 Years A Slave
While The Color Purple was toned down, 12 Years a Slave puts the violence and cruelty in our face. Based on the memoirs by the man himself, Soloman Northup, the movie tells the story of a free black man who was tricked and sold into slavery and suffered the brutal conditions of the South. Director Steve McQueen brings us the sheer brutality of the slave owners in which we witness scenes of beatings, whippings, degradation of human beings who are seen as less than their white owners, and even a sexual assault. A movie that brings us on a journey of one man’s quest to survive his ordeal and find a way to return to his family, 12 Years a Slave is a film that will certainly impact you the same way that Schinder’s List impacted the world. Soloman Northup’s story is one that we won’t forget and the incredible cast makes sure to instill the impacts, the sounds, and the terrifying reality that this man faced for twelve years. Winner of three Academy Awards including Best Picture, 12 Years a Slave is a movie that should be shown to students all across the world to understand one-man journey into hell itself. It’s a moving experience that leaves you feeling deeply emotional and hopeful that this historical record will never be repeated.
Boyz n the Hood
The late John Singleton gave us a precious gift when he made Boyz n the Hood, a fascinating look at the life of young kids growing up in Compton, California. It’s easy to say that the choices in our life are simple, but this movie examines the world that these young kids witness every day. With stellar performances by Cuba Gooding Jr., Ice Cube, and Laurence Fishburne, this movie gives a voice to the stories that are often not talked about enough. The kids want nothing more than to leave the hood and be able to spread their wings and seek their potential, but life on the street isn’t always forgiving. Director John Singleton based this movie on his younger years and his father was a major inspiration for Fishburne’s character. Deeply moving, perfectly acted, and emotional at its core, Boyz n the Hood is a true urban story that tugs at your heart and raises awareness of what life is like in the places that you would rather pass by without giving a second glance. We thank John Singleton for giving us this story and a glimpse into the lives of people who are often overlooked.
Menace II Society
If Boyz n the Hood was a story of inspiration and hope for a better life, then this movie shows us the brutal truth of it all. Gritty, violent, and unforgiving in its message, Menace II Society is a film that pulls no punches and gives us the hard truth of life in the hood. With a powerful script, heartfelt underlying messages, and great acting by its principal cast, this movie doesn’t exactly pinpoint who the good guys are and who the villains could be. It’s a dark journey that showcases violence, heavy drug content, and the reality of life on the street. There are consequences for every action we take and sometimes those results could end up costing young people their lives. Both Boyz n the Hood and Menace II Society deserved to be paired together and studied for the contributions of their stories, characters, and views of a neighborhood that is left to their devices. Forget calling the police as they are part of the problem. The only way to survive this neighborhood falls on you and your actions.
Straight Outta Compton
Art is a reflection of reality and when the N.W.A. was formed, their songs had a profound impact on the industry and certainly with the local LAPD. Inspired by the story of the N.W.A., this movie showcases the realities of what these young men faced which included police harassment, unlawful searches, and intimidation by either the police or already established rappers in the music industry. Overall, the film does a great job of getting the story mostly right, even if there are plenty of inaccuracies present. The casting is pure perfection and with notable performances by O’Shea Jackson and Jason Mitchell. Director F. Gary brought the story to life and whether we are still singing the songs, we shall not forget what these kids brought to the table in terms of songwriting, original content, and the gangsta rap that took the world by storm. Straight Outta Compton is perhaps one of the best musical biopics of the last twenty or so years and it’s a wild ride.