The Current Era: The Last 25 Years

 Introduction:

         To record the most popular African American films of the current era (the last 25 years), is literally recording history as it moves. It is hard to know what parts will form the histories we remember and their adaptations such as those of  Slavery, the Civil War, and Civil Rights. At best, we can predict the valuable, popular films about the current times that have served as basis for other adaptions of the same time period. These are popular movies featuring African Americans, about African American lives. They feature values and concerns of the lives lived in the current era. Values and concerns such as female empowerment, diversity, family ties, social change and condition, and violence. In efforts to record the best example of each sub-genre, we have chosen the most popular films and attempted to classify each as an example from and for films of the same kind both previous and after their production.

#1 Boyz N the Hood (1991)

John Singleton’s 1991 Boyz N the Hood is a story about a group of young boys growing up in the gang and violence infested area of South Central Los Angeles. After the appearance of the young boys and introduction to their surroundings, the film flash-forwards 7 years, depicting the boys as different men. The group, consisting of Tre (Cuba Gooding Jr),  Darin “Doughboy” (Ice Cube), and Ricky (Morris Chestnut) form and maintain bonds of friendships despite the hardships of life. It was well received at the time of production; nominated for several awards including Best Director and Best Screenplay at the academy awards, winning two awards for Best New Filmmaker and Best New Director from MTV awards and New York Film Critic Circle Awards. It’s current ratings include 73 on Metacritic, 7.8 on IMBD, and a whopping 96% on Rotten Tomatoes.

The story revolves around their friendship and efforts to make or break it in a society full of violence and struggle. Boyz N The Hood became the most popular example of this style of film, forming a bases for many others to follow that explore inner city problems of violence, gang, family, the everyday struggle and efforts to escape. By highlighting some of our country’s most violent areas and their social condition, audiences are given a view of just how hard it is to escape our social influences. Over 20 years later, Boyz N the Hood still discovers old and new fans, becoming a must see for every movie buff.

#2 Akeelah and the Bee (2006)

Produced in 2006 and written and directed by Doug Atchison, Akeelah and the Bee tells the story of Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer) and her fight in South Central Lost Angeles to compete in the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee. Throughout a series of obstacles, Akeelah enlists the help of dozens of family members, teachers, and neighbors to help her prepare for the spelling bee. Upon arrival, she becomes a favorite of the competition. After seeing her last competitor deflated by a winning-obsessed father, Akeelah attempts to lose the spelling bee purposefully. However, her competitor and new friend knows what she is up to, and the two provide an end that tells the importance of friendship, sympathy, and doing the right thing in the face of adversity. In 2006 Akeelah and the Bee won Black Movie Award’s Best Picture of the Year and was nominated for many others. The film was promoted by Starbucks chain using various methods such as trivia games and spelling questions on cup sleeves. Despite the film’s favorable ratings ( 72 on Metacritic, 7.5 on IMBD, and 84% on Rotten Tomatoes), Akeelah and the Bee was not financially successful for the producers who had spent nearly $50million on production and marketing. Still, it manages to be a base for many highly inspirational films that tell the story of success in the face of various social obstacles and the importance of doing the right thing in a society so driven by winning and achieving.

#3 Love and Basketball (2000)

Love and Basketball is a 2000 coming-of-age romance about two star basketball players. Growing up side by side throughout their childhood, Monica (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy (Omar Epps) both have dreams of becoming professional basketball players. During college, they give in briefly to their affections before a heart-breaking split for several years. By the end of the tale- Monica challenges Quincy to one last game for his heart. Love and Basketball was well received during its time of release in 2000. It received 12 out of 15 awards including Best Film and Best Actor at the Black Reel Awards. It grossed approximately $3.2 million its first weekend and has since earned its place as the 9th highest grossing sports drama. it is currently rated at 82% on Rotten Tomatoes, 7.2 on IMBD , and 70 on Metacritic. Appealing to the empowerment of women and their portrayal, basketball and sports fans, romance, and drama fans, the movie has received a good reception with film critics.

One of the most popular films of its kind, Love and Basketball shows the inside tale of a relationship haunted by individual dreams, adolescent fears, and adult problems of failure, achievement, loneliness, and regret. Other than films about strictly black relationships, are films about interracial relationships that are notable and fit into the popular category of African American romance films such as Save the Last Dance, Monster’s Ball, Made in America though they are not widely noted within a genre search of “best African American romance”, still, the abundance of these films exist and seek to display the certain struggle of African American relationships in the current , passing period.

#4 Soul Food (1997)

Soul Food is a comedy-drama romance produced in 1997. Telling the story through the eyes of 11 year old Ahmad (Brandon Hammond) about family life, food, and loss become center stage of the film. When the matriarch, Big Mama (Irma P. Hall), becomes ill and dies, the family begins to lose its close-knit ties, inspiring a myriad a familial problems. Ahmad contrives to repair his broken family by telling them that Big Mama left a lot of money hidden in the house and he will reveal where it is when the family returns for their once-usual Sunday dinner. The family soon discovers that Ahmad was lying; however Ahmad’s tearful confession sets the path of family back on the right track at which time the Uncle, brings in a television and smashes it, revealing Big Mama’s stash. It was received well, grossing $45 million at the box office and has since become a staple in any search for best African American films. Today is rates with a 68, 6.9, and 80% on Metacritic, IMBD, and Rotten Tomatoes respectively.

Soul Food is a film about family and everyday struggles with a powerful matriarchal presence. It was chosen because it shows the ability both in the past and present of powerful women and family in the current world. Given through the eyes of an untainted, innocent young man, we begin to see the importance and need of family for survival through three generations. The concept of the film is a basis for many other works, which seek to provide strong matriarchs and their ability to keep family together through her experience, love, and loyalty.

#5 Friday (1995)

Friday is an example of a popular vein of African American films that are considered stoner buddy comedy films and provides parody’s to the everyday struggle of African Americans in poorer conditions. It tells the story of Craig (Ice Cube) and Smokey (Chris Tucker) as they get high and seek to correct the wrongs caused by getting high. Craig, who has just lost his job, spends his day with Smokey on the porch, smoking their own stash. Throughout the day, Craig and Smokey have several encounters with neighbors and customers within the neighborhood. When Smokey’s boss, Big Worm, arrives to get his cut the story evolves into a tale of desperate attempts to come up with the money that Craig and Smokey have effectively…well, smoked. One of the most quotable movies of its kind and of the period, Friday has received mostly positive reviews from viewers with scores of 54, 7.3, and 77% on Metacritic, IMBD, and Rotten Tomatoes respectively.

Friday was chosen because of its appearance in every major search and its viewer ratings. It has the ability to lighten the mood about an area- South Central Los Angeles- that is often viewed for social and dramatic impact. Almost as if a parody of such films, Friday seeks to entertain the audience through the comedic struggle of the small things in hood life.

Suggestions for Further Reading (link provides view of abstract):

McCarthy, Cameron, et al. “Danger In The Safety Zone. Notes On Race, Resentment, And The Discourse Of Crime, Violence And Suburban Security.” Cultural Studies 11.2 (1997): 274-295. SocINDEX with Full Text.

McCarthy, Cameron, et al. “Danger In The Safety Zone. Notes On Race, Resentment, And The Discourse Of Crime, Violence And Suburban Security.” Cultural Studies 11.2 (1997): 274-295. SocINDEX with Full Text.

Toppin, Shirlyn. ““Soul Food” Theology: Pastoral Care And Practice Through The Sharing Of Meals: A Womanist Reflection.” Black Theology: An International Journal 4.1 (2006): 44-69. Academic Search Premier.

Welsch, Janice R., and J. Q. Adams. Multicultural Films : A Reference Guide. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2005. eBook Academic Collection (EBSCOhost).

Egerton, John. “As God Is My Witness, I’ll Never Go Hungry Again.” Southern Quarterly 44.2 (2007): 16-18. Academic Search Premier.

Pimentel, Charise, and Cathleen Sawyer. “Akeelah And The Bee: Inspirational Story Of African-American Intellect And Triumph Or Racist Rhetoric Served Up On Another Platter?.” Multicultural Perspectives 13.2 (2011): 100-104. Academic Search Premier.

Smilanich, Brad, and Nicole Lafreniere. “Reel Teaching = Real Learning: Motivating Reluctant Students Through Film Studies.” Journal Of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 53.7 (2010): 604-606. MLA International Bibliography.

Linder, Kathryn. “Spelling Out Racial Difference: Moving Beyond The Inspirational Discourses.” Red Feather Journal 2.2 (2011): 18-33. MLA International Bibliography.

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