November 5, 2013
African Americans in the Movies!
I love history, especially African American history. I search for history. I read historical books and novels. I attend lectures about history. I visit historical sites. But I have discovered a new medium for history: historical movies. Recently, there has been a tidal wave of movies about African American history. They discuss topics such as slavery, civil rights, military service, police brutality, marriage, and law. I have been watching with awe as these films provide truthful and sensitive glimpses into the African American experience.
What films did I love?
- The Butler. An incredible epic and true story of the son of a sharecropper who became a butler to five U.S. presidents. In the background, the civil rights movement is raging forward, showing cafeteria sit-ins to fight segregation, freedom fighters working to register Black voters, and the political and personal effects of the Vietnam War. Amazing performances, a well-paced script, and excellent research make this film an excellent piece of Americana.
- Fruitvale Station. I was not the only one to love this movie. The critical and demanding film buffs at the Cannes Film Festival voted it as one of the best movies of the year! I was also amazed that a first-time young director with a limited budget made this movie. Fruitvale is the true story of the last day in the life of Oscar Grant who was killed by a Bart policeman on New Year’s Day. Fruitvale Station shows Oscar as a father, boyfriend, son, and friend. It does not ignore his previously troubled past, but looks beyond it to present a young man rebuilding his life and relationships when his life is cut tragically short.
- Twelve Years a Slave. I love movies based on great books! Of course, the books are always better but this movie does an excellent job telling the story of Solomon Northrup who, in 1841, was a free Black man living in Washington, D.C. He is tricked into a business deal in Virginia and sold into slavery. Worst nightmare, right?! Well, this movie brings this worst nightmare to life (as did the book) and shows the real life of slaves in the antebellum south. It’s brutal, violent, and cruel. If you want to see an accurate portrayal of slavery in the United States, this movie is highly recommended. But be warned: some audience members left the theatre because of the intense cruelty. (I would also recommend reading the slave narratives that I discuss in the following blog.)
Hollywood should be commended for finally telling the stories of African Americans and their struggles and triumphs. Keep them coming!