Am I the only one that remembers it’s Black History Month? I we finally have a black president, but does that mean we don’t have black history month anymore? Last I checked, it’s still on the calendar. If you do want to celebrate black history month, you may enjoy watching a few great films regarding race and our society. I know everyone thinks of Malcolm X, Amistad and The Color Purple when they think of African American films, but here are five great movies that tend to get overlooked.
The Basic Plot: A white senator [Warren Beatty], sick of politics and life in general, takes out a life insurance policy on himself and hires a hit man to whack him. Since he doesn’t care what happens to him, he starts speaking to people about the truth of politics, for example, if you don’t donate money to your representative’s campaigns, they won’t represent you. In the process of exposing Washington corruption, he finds a new interest in life when he falls for a beautiful black woman from Compton [Halle Berry]. Now he needs to avoid the hit man, win his lady and deal with the media frenzy his new “campaign tactic” has created.
Why Was It Underrated: People either thought it was going to be a stupid movie about a white senator pretending to rap, or they heard about the politics of the movie and were turned off. Either way, this movie is constantly listed as one of the top underrated films of the 90’s.
Why You Should See It: It is damn funny to see someone tell movie executives they wouldn’t be criticized about decency standards if they just made better movies. Aside from the humor though, there are some great political points about what happened to the leaders of the black community, why so many black youths enter gangs and more.
The Basic Plot: An African American television writer [Damon Wayans] is criticized one too many times by his white “not racist” boss [Michael Rapaport] for not being street enough. As a way to get back at his condescending boss, he proposes a modern day minstrel show, complete with black actors in black face. Amazingly, the show not only is approved by the executives, but becomes a nation-wide success leading to legions of fans running around the streets in black face. As you could guess, things could only go downhill from there…
Why Was It Underrated: Some people found the whole concept rather offensive, completely ignoring the fact that it was a satire created by a black man. Other people simply don’t look to Spike Lee for humor, though if they did, they may be pleasantly surprised.
Why You Should See It: It’s a funny movie filled with some of the best, biting satire of the last century. You’ll find yourself laughing awkwardly and not believing your eyes at points of the show. At the same time, you’ll realize that the show isn’t much of a stretch for modern television.
Men of Honor
The Basic Plot: The true story of the first African American U.S. Navy diver. Carl Brashear [Cuba Gooding Jr.] must not only struggle to become a diver, but to live through the harassment and racism of his fellow trainees and the trainer [Robert DeNiro] determined to see him fail. In the end, he not only wins the respect of other soldiers, but manages to become the first black diver and the first amputee diver.
Why Was It Underrated: Maybe it was Cuba Gooding Jr. - after all, a lot of people consider him to be about as “black” as Colin Powell. Maybe it’s diver-discrimination and people would much rather see a movie about black fighter pilots than a black diver. Whatever the reason, this moving film received little attention, especially when compared to the George Lucas Tuskegee Airmen film, Red Tails, expected to come out sometime this year.
Why You Should See It: This is a touching story showing the ugliness of racism and the strength of the human spirit. I know it sounds kind of cliché, but it is a good movie depicting how many obstacles we can pass when we set our hearts to doing something.
The Basic Plot: Three young black men are recruited to join the Vietnam War. After serving duty, the three friends all end up back home in New York. After finding it difficult to adjust to modern society outside the army, the group sets up an armored car heist. The ensuing action is not to be missed.
Why Was It Underrated: Between Menace II Society and their later works like American Pimp and From Hell, this fantastic film directed by the Hughes brothers seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle. Additionally, many people didn’t know how if this movie was a heist movie, a Vietnam flick or a statement about racism in America. Since people often like their movies to be easily classified, this may have been the film’s downfall.
Why You Should See It: Although on the surface, it appears to be a heist movie, this film highlights important issues facing black veterans of the Vietnam War and the continuing racism they experienced when they returned home to a country still wrought with civil rights injustices. This early Hughes Brother’s film is a great display of their talent and a promise of the good things to come.
The Basic Plot: When three kids from all walks of life start attending college together, they start encountering racial tension and personal problems like finances and personal insecurities. The main African American character [Omar Epps] is a young African American track star without an exceptional mind. The main female character [Kristy Swanson] is date raped and joins a feminist group to cope with her demons. She begins to become attracted to another woman [Jennifer Connelly] in the group. The main white character [Michael Rapaport] has a hard time fitting in with anyone until a group of white supremacists accept him as one of their own. Rape, racism, sexuality, education and more are all touched upon in this intense film depicting reality on college campuses across the nation.
Why Was It Underrated: Many critics found the characters to be a little stereotypical, but when there are so few movies actually exploring these roles in depth, is that really a problem? Another reason it may be underrated: how many people expect a deep-thinking movie to involve Tyra Banks?
Why You Should See It: There is an all-star cast in this film and it does an excellent job depicting relationships of all types –student/teacher, woman/man, woman/woman, white/black and more. Additionally, it’s one of the few college movies that moves beyond grades, booze and money and depicts a student’s path to self-discovery.