Black History Month is upon us again, and it is time to highlight the achievements of African Americans throughout history, and also to shine a light on the problems many still face. I am more than happy to share my list of movies that I think are of upmost importance to watch in the month of February. Whether or not they are historically accurate is beside the point; each highlights the contributions of African Americans and captures certain aspects of their lives in a very honest light.
There have been many complaints about the more recent movies like “Flags Of Our Fathers” that the achievements of blacks are all but ignored. Frankly, it’s all the more reason to go out and rent the 1989 American war drama “Glory.” Directed by the highly underrated Edward Zwick, it tells the story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, one of the first units in United States Army history to be comprised entirely of African American men. It’s an amazing cinematic achievement in terms of direction, cinematography, acting, and music with James Horner’s film score (one of the all time greats in my opinion). It is also filled with great performances from Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, and Andre Braugher before he did “Homicide: Life On The Street.” I couldn’t agree more with Washington when he said during his Oscar speech that it was “at least one of the five best movies of the year.”
“The Tuskegee Airmen“
One of the many great HBO television movies, it is based on the exploits of the first African American combat pilots in the United States Air Force. They fought the good battle during World War II, any they were said to have never lost a single bomber to enemy action. Director Robert Markowitz directs a great cast which includes Laurence Fishburne, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Mekhi Phifer, Courtney B. Vance, and (once again) Andre Braugher.
This 1997 historical drama directed by Steven Spielberg is considered one of his more flawed efforts. Whether or not that is true, it’s still a powerful movie that highlights a piece of history that many of us never knew about. It’s based on the true story of a slave mutiny aboard the ship of the same name, and the legal battle that followed it. The African Americans aboard that ship were wrongfully taken and subjected to harsh conditions, and they soon fought for the freedom they deserved. “Amistad” features an extraordinary performance from Djimon Hounsou as Cinque whose line of “give us free” strikes a huge emotional chord. I also thought the final courtroom scene with Anthony Hopkins playing President John Quincy Adams was one of the most inspired pieces of acting ever.
I always felt that Spike Lee was the best person to helm this biopic of the famous black leader who started life as a good student, became a criminal, and later became one of the most praised African Americans of all time. It is a much more even handed movie than people in general ever give it credit for as it shows the good and bad sides of Malcolm, and how each side informed the person he became. Denzel Washington’s performance as the man himself is one of the all time best in movie history.