The Harlem Renaissance was time of change and progress for the African American community. Harlem Renaissance was the name given to the era where a cultural, social, and artistic mind set exploded because Harlem, New York is where it took place. It lasted between the end of World War 1 and the 1930’s. During this time, racism was still very prevalent in society, and there were still very drastic lifestyles lived between white and black people. The Harlem Renaissance allowed for the African American community to grow and publish the pride that they have as a culture. It was a positive movement for not only African American, but for all Americans. Although the Harlem Renaissance took a downward turn during the time of the great depression, as did the rest of the country, the effects of the Harlem Renaissance are still felt on Americans to this day. The following five movies were all based on the time period of the Harlem Renaissance, and are important for different reasons. They are listed in order of highest rated to lowest rated.
#1 To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
“Atticus Finch, a lawyer in the Depression-era South, defends a black man against an undeserved rape charge, and his kids against prejudice.” The movie was rated as an 8.4 out 10. It came out in the 1960’s, and won many different awards, but was nominated for even more. The movie is based off a book under the same title by Lee Harper, which was a best seller and also won many different awards. This movie highly correlates with the Harlem Renaissance era, as it deals heavily with racism issues and unfairness within the justice system.
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#2 Imitation of Life (1934 )
“Bea Pullman and her daughter Jessie have had a hard time making ends meet since Bea’s husband died. Help comes in the form of Delilah Johnson, who agrees to work as Bea’s housekeeper in exchange for a room for herself and her daughter Peola. Bea comes up with a plan to market Delilah’s pancake recipe. The two soon become wealthy and as the years go on, their friendship deepens. Their relationships with their daughters, however, become strained. Ashamed of her mother, Peola seeks a new life by passing for white. Bea’s love for her daughter is tested when she and Jessie fall for the same man.” This movie was rated as a 7.6 out of 10. Although there was another adaptation of this film that came out in the 1950’s, the 1930’s version was the original film. The film is highly important to this time as it shows the different lifestyles that white and black people lived during this time. It also brings the issue of racial passing into the media, which was a commonality for light skinned African Americans during this time period. This film received high ratings and reviews, however there were a few flaws found in the film by critics. For one, the movie does not focus enough on the issues of race. Another criticism from many people who watched the film was that it was too much like a soap opera.
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#3 The Great Debaters (2007)
“Marshall, Texas, described by James Farmer, Jr. as “the last city to surrender after the Civil War,” is home to Wiley College, where, in 1935-36, inspired by the Harlem Renaissance and his clandestine work as a union organizer, Professor Melvin Tolson coaches the debate team to a nearly-undefeated season that sees the first debate between U.S. students from white and Negro colleges and ends with an invitation to face Harvard University’s national champions. The team of four, which includes a female student and a very young James Farmer, is tested in a crucible heated by Jim Crow, sexism, a lynch mob, an arrest and near riot, a love affair, jealousy, and a national radio audience.” The Great Debaters is probably best known because of the fact that Denzel Washington stared in it. It was given a 7.6 out of 10 for ranking. The Great Debaters got overwhelmingly positive reviews for the most part, however some critics did feel that the movie played the situation too safe, and that in real life, people actually faced a harder reality.
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#4 Brother to Brother (2006)
“A drama that looks back on the Harlem Renaissance from the perspective of an elderly, black writer who meets a gay teenager in a New York homeless shelter.” This film was released in 2004. It was rated as a 7 out of 10. This film is a great representative of the Harlem Renaissance as it gives the viewers ideas of what it was like to live in and during the Harlem Renaissance from a character who lived through it himself. Comparing the struggles of today to the struggles that were faced then provides viewers with a sense of understanding that many other films do not bring. Although this film got overall good reviews, many critics felt that the producer of the film tried to bring attention to too many big topics, as it deals with things such as race and LGBT issues. Many critics felt that the film bit off more than it could chew.
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#5 Harlem Nights (1989)
“”Sugar” Ray is the owner of an illegal casino, who contend with the pressures of vicious gangster and corrupt policemen who want to see him go out of business. In the world of organized crime and police corruption in the 1920s, any dastardly trick is fair!” Although Harlem nights was an interesting look into the Harlem Renaissance, it received relatively low ratings. It was rated as a 5.9 out of 10. Harlem Nights was released in 1989. Many of the viewers felt that it was too cliche and underdeveloped as a whole. The overall feeling from critics was that this film was too pushy, but many of the critics did mention that there were a lot of laughs in the film. Harlem Nights is important however, because it shows some of the ugly side that existed in the Harlem Renaissance.
Suggestion for Further Reading (links provide view of abstract):
Leavy, W. “Three Generations Of Black Comedy. (Cover Story).” Ebony 45.3 (1990): 102-106. Academic Search Premier.
Hodges, Amanda L. “A Critical Close-Up: Three Films And Their Lessons, In Critical Literacy.” English Journal 99.3 (2010): 70-75. Academic Search Premier.
Moe, Jeffry, et al. “Teaching Group Work With The Great Debaters.” Counselor Education & Supervision 53.3 (2014): 204-218. Academic Search Premier.
Perez, Hiram. “Two Or Three Spectacular Mulatas And The Queer Pleasures Of Overidentification.” Camera Obscura 23.67 (2008): 112-144. Academic Search Premier.