Positive Black representation in film was not a feat easily achieved. While the number and quality of Black films have grown substantially in the last 40 years, not every film bears artistic, historical, or cultural significance. But the following films certainly do. Though we couldn’t possibly name them all, we’d be remiss not to name a few.
In honor of Black History Month, check out our list of 15 of the most iconic Black films ever made.
Boyz in the Hood is a sobering look into the harsh realities faced by young men in South Central Los Angeles, where gangs, guns, drugs, money, and death are a daily impediment to achieving any betterment. The 1991 film had such an impact that director John Singleton received an Oscar nomination for best director, making him the youngest person and the first Black person to be nominated for this award. The film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
Roots gave viewers a look at slavery in America through the firsthand perspective of its characters from colonial times to the post-Civil War era. The eight-part miniseries was, at the time, the highest rated entertainment program in TV history. Today it holds the spot at No. 3. Roots earned 9 Emmy Awards as well as the Golden Globe for best TV series-drama.
New Jack City (1991)
Actor Mario Van Peebles’ directorial debut in 1991 doesn’t miss a beat in its gritty depiction of the mean streets of New York flooded with crack cocaine. The film offers intelligent characters and dialogue as we get to see the war on drugs unfold up close between Nino Brown, a rising drug dealer and crime lord, and the narcotics unit hellbent on bringing him down. Films such as New Jack City and Boyz in the Hood paralleled the rise of a new gangsta rap culture and informed many viewers on the invisible war on drugs.
Love & Basketball (2000)
A favorite in the African-American community, Love & Basketball gave viewers genuine multidimensional characters. Sanaa Lathan’s portrayal of Monica Wright, a female basketball player who loves the game and falls for her best friend Quincy (Omar Epps) offered a representation of black women both feminine and independent as she dealt with the pressures of being an athlete.
Love Jones (1997)
The Black romantic comedy, about a young poet and a young photographer who fall for each other but have to figure out their feelings, set a standard for Black romance films. It approaches love in an intelligent and passionate manner with smart and stimulating dialogue. All of the characters in the ensemble cast feel real, and their interactions ring true among viewers. Atypical of most Black films, Love Jones explores the lives of urban, artistic, literate, middle-class African-Americans, showing the positive aspects of the Black community. The film provided viewers the type of love they could aspire to, and it became a cult classic.
Waiting to Exhale (1995)
The film made by actor Forrest Whitaker in his directorial debut is significant to cinema in that it represented the plight of Black women in romance and depicted the solidarity of sisterhood among women. Four friends support each other as they faced abandonment, infidelity, unrequited love, and motherhood. Starring Angela Bassett, the late Whitney Houston, Lela Rochon, and Loretta Devine, Waiting to Exhale is based on the book of the same title by popular African-American female writer Terry McMillan…
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