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Feel Good Film Club Top 50 Films to See Before You Die

Posted April 5th, 2015

The Definitive Guide to African American Films released in – 70’s, 80’s, 90’s & 00’s

(in no particular order)


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1 Sweet Sweetback Badaass Song 1971

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‘Recommended by the Black Panthers’.

Directed and starring Melvin Van Peebles, this was the first totally independent Black movie. Van Peebles funded the film himself, shooting it independently over a period of 19 days, performing all of his own stunts and appearing in several unsimulated sex scenes.Van Peebles gained additional funds witha $50,000 loan from Bill Cosby to complete the film. Initially, the film was only screened in two theaters in the United States. But even with this limited, the response from the Black cinema going audience was incredible. People queued in their hundreds to see what was essentially the tale of a promiscuous black anti-hero as he makes his way towards Mexico to evade the white racist police. It went on to gross $4,100,000 at the box office. Huey P. Newton celebrated and welcomed the film’s revolutionary implications, and the film became required viewing for members of the Black Panther Party. The film is an important work in the history of American cinema. It paved the way for the success of future independent black films. According to Variety, it demonstrated to Hollywood that films which portrayed “militant” blacks could be highly profitable, leading to the creation of the blaxploitation genre. The musicians on the movie soundtrack were a young group unheard of at the time who went on to global fame as Earth Wind and Fire.

2 Shaft 1971

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Who’s the Black private dick who’s a sex machine to all the chicks?

Following hot on the heels of Sweetback, Metro Goldwyn Mayer produced Shaft.According to Van Peebles the character of Shaft was originally a white detective..“But after the success of Sweetback..they just added some muthafuckas and turned him into a Black one!” The white studios finally realised there was a whole market going uptapped – the Black film going audience who had grown tired of seeing Black actors as happy slaves or loyal side-kicks to the white hero.Directed by Black filmmaker Gordon Parks, andstarring Richard Roundtree in the title role, Shaft tells the story of a black private detective, John Shaft, who travels through Harlem and to the Italian mob in order to find the missing daughter of a black mobster. The classic soundtrack by Issac Hayes won an Oscar!Two sequels were made: Shaft’s Big Score in 1972, and Shaft in Africa in 1973. These were followed by a series of TV movies starring Roundtree as Shaft on CBS during the 1973-1974 TV season.In 2000, a movie sequel was made by John Singleton but don’t bother checking it out.Despite having the coolest man in Hollywood in the starring role, Samuel L. Jackson, it just can’t match the swagger of the original!

3 Superfly 1972

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‘That’s the American dream ni**a!Well ain’t it?

Super Fly helped kick start the wholeblaxploitation era, directed by Gordon Parks, Jr., and starring Ron O’Neal as Youngblood Priest, a black cocaine dealer who is trying to quit the underworld drug business.Super Fly is one of the few films ever to have been outgrossed by its soundtrack, and indeed the classic soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield (who also makes a cameo appearance) has stood the test of time much better than the movie.

I’m your momma, I’m your daddy, I’m that nigga in the alley,

I’m your doctor when you need, have some coke, have some weed,

You know me, I’m your friend, your main boy, thick and thin,

I’m your pusherman

Much loved by the hip-hop generation, dialogue from this movie has been sampled by the likes of Snoop Dogg and Jay Z.

4 Uptown Saturday Night 1974

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This comedy was written by Richard Wesley, and directed by Sidney Poitier. Poitier also stars in this film, along with Bill Cosby and Harry Belafonte. Cosby and Poitier teamed up again for Let’s Do It Again (1975) and A Piece of the Action (1977). Although their characters have different names in each film, the three films are considered to be a trilogy.

5 Car Wash 1976

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This comedy starred Bill Duke, Melanie Mayron, and Antonio Fargas, and is a comedy about a “day-in-the-life” of a Los Angeles, California car wash, its employees, and its owner, Mr. B. In an episodic fashion, the film covers a full day, during which all manner of strange visitors make appearances, including Richard Pryor as a preaching ‘wonder-man’, but the film is best remembered for the hit song from its soundrack recorded by Rose Royce, written and produced by Norman Whitfield, was a #1 hit and one of the biggest hit singles of the Disco era.

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Other titles incl – The Mack, Foxy Brown, Coffy, Cleopatra Jones, Black Caesar, Hell Up In Harlem

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6 Fame1980.

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The film follows a group of students through their studies at the New York High School of Performing Arts. The film is split into sections corresponding to auditions, freshman, sophomore, junior and senior years. The film ranked number 42 on Entertainment Weeklys 2006 list of the “50 Best High School Movies”.It is best remembered for the theme tune sung by Irene Cara.Also, thanks to its lead male character Leroy, it popularised cane rows as an acceptable hair style for Black men! The film has spawned a television series and spin-off, a stage musical, and a 2009 film remake.

7 Flashdance1983.

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When this movie was released I remember film critic Barry Norman describing it as ‘The only dance movie I’ve ever seen, where the camera dwells longer and more lovingly on the dancers’ crotch, than on her feet.”Since I was a horny young teenager at the time, and since the crotch in question belonged to Jennifer Beals, I certainly wasn’t complaining!

Flashdance opened to bad reviews by professional critics but was a surprise box office success, becoming the third highest grossing film of 1983 in the USA. Its soundtrack spawned several hit songs, among them “Maniac” by Michael Sembello and the Academy Award-winning “Flashdance… What a Feeling“, performed by Irene Cara.

It tells the story ofeighteen year-old Alexandra (Alex) Owens (played by Jennifer Beals) who is a dancer in a tavern at night and a welder at a steel mill during the day, and dreams of being accepted by a prestigious dance school, thePittsburgh Conservatory of Dance and Repertory.

Hip Hop culture hits the cinema in 1984. The East Coast/West Coast beef that dominated hip-hop in the late 90’s was fortold a decade earlier on celluloid, when two movies about the fledgling hip-hop scene, set on the two different coasts of the US, giving two very different views of hip-hop, were released in the same year.

Whatever their lack of artistic merit these two movies from the 80’s helped kick start the rise of hip-hop culture worldwide.Before these movies it was an underground subculture of New York’s Black and Hispanic community.After this point it rose from strength to strength to become the worlds dominant youth culture.

8Beat Street1984

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Set in the South Bronx, Beat Street follows the lives of a pair of brothers and their group of friends, all of whom are devoted to various elements of early hip-hop culture. Kenny Kirkland is a budding DJ and MC, and his younger brother Lee is a hardcore b-boy who dances with the New York City Breakers. Kenny’s best friends are Ramon a graffiti artist known by his tag, “Ramo”, and Chollie his self-styled manager/promoter.Although not of much interest to those outside of hip-hop culture (which, lets face it, was most people in the mid 1980’s) this film was required viewing for any self respecting B-Boy, as it featured cameo’s from many of hip-hops biggest stars at the time includingAfrika Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic Force, Jazzy Jay, Doug E. Fresh, the New York City Breakers, the Rock Steady Crew, Treacherous Three, Grandmaster Melle Mel & the Furious Five – and hip-hop Godfather Kool DJ Herc.

9 Breakdance/Breakin 1984

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Whilst Beat Street was an authentic slice of New York’s hip-hop culture in all its forms, Breakdance was the Hollywood version.Its is basically the story of nice white girl Kelly, a struggling young jazz dancer who meets up with two break dancers, Ozone and Turbo from the other side of the tracks, who have a bitter rivalry with another crew, Electro Rock.A million miles from the birthplace of hip-hop in the South Bronx, it was all palmtrees and sunshine, legwarmers, and leotards, studded leather gloves, and smouldering sexual tension. (Remember this was the era of Miami Vice on TV!)But hip-hop fans ate it up for its rare glimpses of the still devoloping artforms of breakdancing and body popping.And of course like any self respecting Black movie it had a slamming soundtrack that featured “There’s No Stoppin’ Us” by Ollie & Jerry, “Tour de France” by Kraftwerk, “Ain’t Nobody” by Chaka Khan and “Reckless” by Ice T, who had a brief cameo in the film.


In his first three movies, whether he’s a cop, or a con-man, or a convict,Murphy plays virtually the same character, a fast talking wise guy who’s out of his natural environment, but through quick wittedness and charm, manages to come out on top.

1048 Hrs.1982

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starring Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy as a cop and convict respectively, who team up to catch a cop-killer. The title refers to the amount of time they have to solve the crime. This was Eddie Murphy’s film debut (in his Golden Globe-nominated role). 48 Hrs. is often credited as being the first “buddy cop” film. The genre evolved throughout the 1980s and 1990s with features such as Beverly Hills Cop, Running Scared, Lethal Weapon, Tango & Cash, Bad Boys, and Rush Hour. The film spawned a 1990 sequel, Another 48 Hrs.There were two more sequels that represented low points in Murphy’s career.

11Trading Places 1983

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This is basically a modern reworking of the Prince and Pauper story with Dan Akroyd playing Louis Winthorpe IIIa Harvard educated, silver spoon fund manager, and Eddie Murphy playing street hustler Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) who switch places.

12 Beverley Hills Cop 1984

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Murphy stars as Axel Foley, a street-smart Detroit cop, who heads to Beverly Hills, California to solve the death of his best friend (although the trailer says that he’s on vacation). The soundtrck spawned Alex F – by Harold Faltemeyer – an irrestiblepiece of 80’s sythetic pop that was to give birth to the Crazy Frog years later.


For viewers who are only familiar with Eddie murphy’s family friendly fare of recent years such as Daddy Day Care and the Dr Doolittle and Nutty Professor franchises, the factthat in his younger days he was the f’ing and blinding, sexist, racist, and homphobic heir to Richard Pryor’s comedy crown will come as a shock.But in the 80’s Eddie Murphy ruled the stand up comedy kingdom. He took the raw explicit style that Richard Pryor had made famous in the 70’s, and ran with it.Though Pryor was undoubtedly a comedy genius, his standup was sometimes rambling and lacking focus.Murphy’s on the otherhand was air-tight and sharp as a pin. Also unlike Richard Pryor, whos stand up performances on film, on stage, and on record, gave his fans a steady stream of comedy gold, Murphy only made two stand up movies. Thankfully both of them are classics.

13Delirious – 1983

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The 70-minute show, released in 1983, showcases his most racy material. The word “f**k” is used a total of 230 times, and “shit” is used 171 times.This stand-up routine was infamous for its depiction of a homosexual Mr. T, and formaking fun of James Brown‘s singing mannerisms, particularly the scratchy nature of Brown’s voice and the nearly indecipherable nature of his lyrics. X-rated, outrageous, and dangerous.

14 Raw1990

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After the runaway success of Delirious, Murphy came back 7 years later with this.Rawis a brilliant critique of the cut and thrust of moodern relationships in America, basing it around the messages in the popular songs of the time Nothing Goin On But the Rent and What Have You Done for Me Lately? He jokes that he intends to go deep into Africa to find a ‘bush bitch’ who has no concept of Western culture in order to get a wife who (he hopes) will not divorce him.

Other titles include, Harlem Nights, Life,


As a scan through our list so far will testify, the 80s were dominated by musicals, comedies and interacial buddy movies.In music as with in film the Black Power aesthetic of the 70’s was all but forgotten, and proper Black movies were a thing of the past.That was util Shelton Jackson Lee kicked in the door with his debut She’s Gotta Have it.The arrival of that movie was remiscent of that of Sweet Sweetback 15 years earlier. Something that Black sudiences had been waitng for but had not even realised it.In the interim period, thanks to the likes of Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover, Mr T, and Carl Weathersaudiences had gotten used to Black men being the action hero, but what they hadn’t been seeing, and was conspicous by it’s absence, was Black people in loving/romantic/sexual situations.Black men were allowed to fire guns, throw punches, and crack jokes but not be sexual.It seemed as though Hollywood was happy to see Black men being aggressive, but not being romantic. Spike Lee changed all ofall of that with his first movie.After kickin’ open the door for Black filmmakers at the end of the 80’s, Spike Lee led a rennaisance in Black cinema that, fuelled by hip-hop culture,lasted throughout the 90’s.

15 She’s Gotta Have it – 1986

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She’s Gotta Have it
had enough Black people having sex in it to make up for its absence from the screen in the previous 10 years.It tells the story of Nola Darling (portrayed by Tracy Camilla Johns) a young, attractive, sexually-independent Brooklynite who juggles three suitors: the polite and well-meaning Jamie Overstreet, the self-obsessed model Greer Childs, and the immature, motor-mouthed bicycle messenger Mars Blackmon played by Spike Lee himself. Nola is attracted to the best in each of them, but refuses to commit to any of them, cherishing her personal freedom instead, even though each man wants her for himself.As well as breaking cinema’s sexual taboos, She’s Gotta Have It is also credited with depiciting the new types of African American’s that had grown up in the wake of the civil rights movement – the Buppie, the B-Boy and The Bap.(See Nelson’s George’s book for more details).Spike’s iconic b-boy character Mars Blackmon, went on to be the star of Nike’s TV commercials for the Air Jordan shoe.

16Do the Right Thing – 1989

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The film deals with issues of racial conflict in the multi-ethnic community of Bedford-Stuyvesant, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, during the hottest day of the summer. Director Lee stars in the film, alongside Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn, and John Turturro. The film is also notable in that it marks the feature film debuts for Martin Lawrence, and Rosie Perez.

It has come to prominence again of late as it reported to be the first film that dating Barack Obama and his then girlfriend Michelle went to see.

The song “Fight the Power by Public Enemy is not only on the soundtrack but is crucial to the narrative ofthe film, as its blasted from a huge boombox toted by central character Radio Raheem.

17 Jungle Fever – 1991

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A very ambitious project this attempted to tackle the twin subjects of interacial relationships and the drug epidemic in the same film.After been criticised for featuring a sanitised drug-free version of the ghetto in Do the Right Thing, Spike looked the crack epidemic full in the face in this 1991 movie, (the subtext perhaps being the the twin evils of drugs and mixed relationships were destroying the fabric of the Black community). The plot centers on the interracial romance between a successfully married Black architect, Flipper Purify (played by Wesley Snipes), and an Italian-American secretary, Angie Tucci (Sciorra). The subplot considers the problems of drug abuse, with Flipper’s brother Gator (an Oscar worthy performance from Samuel L. Jackson) as a crack addict, and a minor role for Halle Berry as his crack addicted girlfriend.It also features a brief cameo from Queen latifah

18Hollywood Shuffle 1987

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Another of the pioneering Black filmakers of the 1980’s was Robert Townsend. Thiscomedy satirizes the stereotyping of African Americans in both film and television and details the frustrations of Black film makers and actors with a Hollywood system that only wanted to see the usual racial stereotypes or Eddie Murphy.It was directed and produced by Robert Townsend, and written by Townsend, and Keenen Ivory Wayans. Many of the cast and crew later became involved in the Fox TV sketch comedy series In Living Color (1990-1994), and the style of humor is similar.

Other titles worth checking outSchool Dayz, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, Metero Man, Girl 6, Summer of Sam, 25th Hour, Inside Man


Once the likes of Spike Lee and Robert Townsend , had kicked the Hollywood door open, the hip-hop generation wanted a piece of the pie.Just as hip-hop infilitrated the cinemas in the mids 80’s, it returned in the 90’s.But this time it wasn’t in movies documenting the new musical subculture, but rather as rappers taking on serious dramatic roles about urban America.The list of ex-rappers who have tried their hand at acting is endless, (LL Cool J, Queen Latifah being two of the more successful examples) but there are a few who have made the move so well, that they have eclipsed the success of their original careers.

19 Jasons Lyric

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This makes the list as it features a fresh faced Jada Pinkett ( now Mrs Will Smith ) and boasts a soundtrack  of soulful r n b playas of the day.

When two African-American teenagers fall in love on the drug-ridden streets of Houston, they need courage to stay together and resist violent temptation in this urban drama.

Starring: Allen Payne, Jada Pinkett, Bokeem Woodbine, Treach

Director: Doug McHenry

20 House Party1990

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Written and directed by Reginald Hudlin this hip-hopcomedy starred rappersKid and Play as well as Paul Anthony, Bow-Legged Lou, and B-Fine from Full Force, and Robin Harris (who died of a heart attack nine days after House Party was released). The film also starred the likes of past and future famous faces, such as Martin Lawrence, Tisha Campbell, A.J. Johnson, Daryl “Chill” Mitchell and Gene “Groove” Allen (of Groove B. Chill), John Witherspoon, with a cameo by funk legend George Clinton.

21 Boyz n Tha Hood – 1991

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Starring Ice Cube in his first dramatic role Boyz n the Hood is a painful coming of age story written and directed by John Singleton. Co starring Cuba Gooding, Jr., Morris Chestnut, Nia Long, Angela Bassett, and Laurence Fishburne, it depicts life in poor South Central Los Angeles, California, an area blighted by the effects of broken families and gang violence.Both director John Singlton and rapper turned actor Ice Cube were shock discoveries.The filmwas nominated for both Best Director and Original Screenplay at the 1991 Academy Awards, making Singleton the youngest person ever nominated for Best Director and the first African–American.

22 New Jack City 1991

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A crimethriller/neo-noir film starring Wesley Snipes, Ice-T, and Mario Van Peebles (son of Melvin Van Peebles) who also directs. Snipes stars as Nino Brown, a rising drug dealer and crime lord in New York City during the crack epidemic. Nino and his gang, the Cash Money Brothers (CMB), become the dominant drug ring within New York City when crack cocaine is introduced to the city streets during the 1980s and mid 1990s. They convert an entire apartment complex (“The Carter”) into a crack house. Ice-T plays a detective who vows to stop Nino’s criminal activity by going undercover to work for Nino’s gang. New Jack City was the first theatrically released film for director and co-star Mario Van Peebles.

23 Juice – 1992

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Although 2 Pac was a rapper before he turned to movies it was his role in this 1992 movie rather than his first 2 albums that wonhim worldwide attention. In this story, he played the character Bishop, a trigger happy teen, for which he was hailed by Rolling Stone‘s Peter Travers as “the film’s most magnetic figure”.Another classic hip-hop movie with a long list of cameos from New York’s finest, this was also the big screen debut from Omar Epps. He went on to star with Janet Jackson in Poetic Justiceand with Duane Martin in Above the Rim. After his death, three of Shakur’s completed films, Bullet, Gridlock’d and Gang Related, were posthumously released.

24 Deep Cover 1992

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This was a uncover-cop buddy movie with a difference.Laurence Fishbourne plays LAPD cop Russell Stevens who goes undercover to infiltrate a drugs cartel. Nothing particualrly original there, but the twist comes when he teams up with Jewish lawyer David Jason, played Jeff Goldblum, who though from the outside appears to be a law abiding citizen, really wants to be a drugs lord.It is the teaming up of these two very different men, who should both be on the right side of the law, but both cross that line so spectacularly, that give the movie its dramatic tension.

For the hip-hop trainspotters the soundtrack included the title track that introduced Snoop Doggy Dogg to the world, and was the genesis of the Death Row Record lable.

25 Bad Boys – 1995

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More than any other, Will Smith is the poster boy for all ‘rappers turned actors’, winning acclaim on the silver screen that he never quite managed behind the mic. After forging a successful TV career with his sit-com The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (in which he just played a version of his rap persona) here, he built up a new persona for himself – similar to the one Eddie Muyrphy had honed to perfection in Beverley Hills Cop 11 years earlier – the quick talking, trigger happy, cop.His pairingwith comedy actor Martin Lawrence resulted in great screen chemistry that led to a box office smash and sequel.

26 Friday 1995

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West Coast rapper Ice Cube made his name in hip-hop as the ‘nigga ya love to hate’ and forhis movie debut in Boyz N Tha Hood he played pretty much the same role.So his first movie as writer, star, and executive producer was a surprise.An easy going comedy about an easy going homeboy who still lives with his parents, and hangs out with his weed smoking best friend Smokey. This was the movie that shot comedian Chris Tucker (who was later to star in the Rush Hour franchise) to fame.

27 Set It Off1996

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This action/crime/dramadirected by F. Gary Gray, let the ladies in on the action having four strong female leads.Starring Jada Pinkett, Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox and Kimberly Elise (in her theatrical debut), as four close friends in Los Angeles, California who decide to plan and execute a bank robbery. They decide to do so for different reasons, although all four want better for themselves and their families.

Other titles include Menance II Society, Fresh, Dead Presidents (very soulful soundtrack), Clockers

In Too Deep, , Sugar Hill, Above The Rim, Mo’Money


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Just as the shoot-em-up hip-hop movies of the early 90’s were starting to wear thin, there came a new genre, showing the lives and loves of American’s Black middle class, who all had upscale lives, successful careers, beautiful homes and who’s only concern was their complicated love lives.

28 Mo Better Blues1990

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Mo’ Better Blues is a sexy stylish jazz musical was directed by Spike Lee and starred Denzel Washington, and Wesley Snipes, It follows a period in the life of a fictional jazz trumpeter Bleek Gilliam (played by Denzel Washington) as a series of bad decisions result in his jeopardizing both his relationships and his playing career. The film focuses on themes of friendship, loyalty, honesty, cause-and-effect and ultimately salvation.

The soundtrack to the film was composed and played by Branford Marsalis Quartet and Terence Blanchard but also featured the jazz/rap hybrid Jazz Thing by rap duo Gangstarr.

29 Boomerang1992

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After his career hit a slump at the end of the 80’s, Eddie Murphy moved with the times and hit gold again with this Blackromantic comedy, directed by Reginald Hudlin. Eddie Murphy stars as Marcus Graham, a hotshot advertising executive who also happens to be an insatiable womanizer and male chauvinist. But his lifestyle of serial womanising is thrown off balancewhen caught between his new boss Jacqueline, played by Robin Givens, and the nice girl next door played by Halle Berry.As well as employing an all Black cast Murphy also moved with the times by utilising a slamming soundtrack that featured songs by Boyz II Men, and Toni Braxton, and was executively produced by Babyface.

30 Waiting to Exhale – 1995

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During the late 80’s and early 90’s, the Black male cinema going audience had plenty to keep them returning to their local picture houses, but the Black female audiences were still feeling neglected, with roles for Black female actors confined to being the male hero’s love interest.Still, they had the novels of Terry McMillian to keep them entertained.Then someone had the bright idea of putting one of her novels up on the screen. Waiting to Exhale starred Whitney Houston and Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine and Lela Rochon and was adapted from the novel of the same name by Terry McMillan. The story centers on four female friends living in the Phoenix, Arizona area and their relationships with men and one another. All of them are “holding their breath” until the day they can feel comfortable in a committed relationship with a man.

The original music score was composed by ladies choice Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds.

31 Love Jones1997

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Rather than hip-hop or R&B the musical backdrop here was Jazz and spoken word poetry.Once Halle Berry had left Black movies to enteer the mainstream, Nia Long took her place as the actress of choice to play thosegirl-next door roles. Larenz Tate plays the spoken word artists who pursues her.Isaiah Washington, Bill Bellamy, and Lisa Nicole Carson lead the supporting cast.


Soul Food1997

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Soul Food is told through the eyes of 11-year-old Ahmad (Hammond), follows the trials of the Joseph family, a close-knit Chicago family that gets together to have Sunday dinner every week, with plenty of soul food to go around. Featuring an ensemble cast, the film stars Vanessa L. Williams, Vivica A. Fox, Nia Long, Michael Beach, and Mekhi Phifer. The film centers on the trials of an extended African-American family, held together by longstanding family traditions which begin to fade as serious problems take center.Moral of the story ?The family that eats Soul Food together, stays together.

Other titles include The Best Man, The Brothers, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Obsessed


Naturally, after finally getting an opportunity to tell the stories of ordinary Black folk on the big screen, some filmakers also wanted to tell the story of our heroes, musical, political and otherwise.The biggest budget of these once again came from Spike Lee with his1992 biopic of Malcolm X, followed with Will Smiths portrayal of Muhammed Ali, but there were also the smaller budget more low key portrayals of musical hereos like Jamiee Foxx’s portrayal of R& B singer Ray Charles , or Cadillac Records the story of pioneering record label Chess

33The Five Heartbeats1991

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A musical drama directed by Robert Townsend, who co-wrote the script with Keenan Ivory Wayans. The plot of the film (which is loosely based on the lives of several artists; The Dells, The Temptations, Four Tops, Frankie Lymon, Sam Cooke and others) follows the three decade career of the fictional band The Five Heartbeats. The film depicts the rise and fall of a Motown inspired soul act through the eyes of the film’s main protagonist Donald “Duck” Matthews (portrayed by Townsend).

34Malcolm X 1992

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directed by Spike Lee about the African-American activist and black nationalist Malcolm X. The story is based on The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley. Denzel Washington was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role. Every self respecting Black person should know the life story of Malcolm X, but the story of the making of the film is nearly as interesting.

Once Warner Bros. agreed to greenlight the project, they wanted Academy Award-winning Canadian film director Norman Jewison to direct the film. Jewison, director of the classic civil rights film In the Heat of the Night, was able to bring Denzel Washington into the project to play Malcolm (the two would later work on The Hurricane). Soon a protest erupted over the fact that a white director, Jewison, was slated to make the film.Spike Lee was one of the main voices; since college, he had considered a film adaption of The Autobiography Of Malcolm X to be his dream project. Lee and others felt that Malcolm’s story had to be told by a black director.They eventually got there way when the studio and director gave way to protest.But that was not the end, but merely the beginning of Lee’s struggle. There were those in the Black community that felt that a sex symbol like Denzel Washington was not suitable to play the lead role, and that given his controversial earlier movies, Lee was not a suitable director. Then there were the financial problems. The film was saved by the financial intervention of prominent African Americans, some of whom appear in the film’s final photo montage during the closing credits, including Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Janet Jackson, and Prince. Their contributions were made as donations; as Lee noted: “This is not a loan. They are not investing in the film. These are black folks with some money who came to the rescue of the movie. As a result, this film will be my version. Not the bond company’s version, not Warner Brothers’. I will do the film the way it ought to be, and it will be over three hours.” Money well spent.


When we Were Kings (1996 ) /Soul Power (2009)

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These two documentaries tell the same story, of the epic 1974 boxing match between Muhammed Ali and George Foreman which became known as the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’.Whilst the former concentates on the boxing aspect of the event and features exerpts of the match itself, the later focusses on the three day music concert that took place as part of the same event, and features music from BB. King, The Spinners, and James Brown. But clips of Don King, James Brown, & Muhammed Ali, who feature in both all in their prime, just talking, are worth the price of the admission alone!

36 Amistad1997

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Directed by Steven Spielberg based on the true story of a slave mutiny that took place aboard a ship of the same name in 1839, and the legal battle that followed. It shows how, even though the case was won at the federal district court level, it was appealed by President Martin Van Buren to the Supreme Court, and how former President John Quincy Adams took part in the proceedings. Though a powerful portrayal of the evils of th slave trade, the picture came in for some criticism at the time of its release as yet another example of movies where helpless Black savages are saved by the all powerful white men.

37 The Hurricane1999

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Directed by Norman Jewison, and starring Denzel Washington. The script was adapted by Armyan Bernstein and Dan Gordon from the books Lazarus and the Hurricane by Sam Chaiton and Terry Swinton and The 16th Round by Rubin “Hurricane” Carter.The film tells the true story of boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, whose conviction for a triple murder was set aside after he had spent almost 20 years in prison.

38  Ali2001

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The biographical film directed by Michael Mann tells the story of boxing icon Muhammad Ali(played by Will Smith) from 1964 to 1974 featuring his capture of the heavyweight title from Sonny Liston, his conversion to Islam, criticism of the Vietnam War, banishment from boxing, his return to fight Joe Frazier in 1971, and, lastly, his reclaiming the title from George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle fight of 1974.This was the role that proved Will Smith was real actor and not just another rapper trying his luck.He transforms his body to look like a convincing boxer and inhabits the role.After seeing it you won’t think of another actor who could have done a better job.


Ray – 2004

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Ray, portrays the life and career of blind R&B singer Ray Charles, between 1930 and 1966 and stars Jamie Foxx in the title role. Foxx won the 2005 Academy Award for Best Actor for the role.Before shooting could begin, director Taylor Hackford brought Foxx to meet Charles, who insisted that they sit down at two pianos and play together. After two hours, he stood up, hugged Foxx, and gave his blessing, proclaiming, “He’s the one… he can do it.” Charles was expected to attend a showing of the completed film, but died before it opened. The movie is the all-time number one biopic per screen average, opening on 2006 screens and making 20 million dollars.

40 Dreamgirls2006

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A period piece set in the 1960s and 1970s with a primarily African-American Ensemble cast, Dreamgirls is adapted from the 1981 Broadway musical of the same name which contains several allusions to the lives and careers of Motown Records act The Supremes, a connection the film version expands upon. Dreamgirls follows the lives of Effie White, Deena Jones, and Lorrell Robinson, three young women who form an R&B singing trio from Detroit, Michigan called “The Dreamettes.” Thanks to manipulative agent and record executive Curtis Taylor, Jr., the Dreamettes become famous but conflict arises when Curtis transforms “The Dreamettes” into the pop-friendly “Dreams,” particularly when he has Deena replace Effie as both lead singer of the group and as his romantic interest.The film adaptation of Dreamgirls stars Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, Eddie Murphy, and Jennifer Hudson, who won the 2006 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Effie White.

41 Cadillac Records 2008

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Written and directed by Darnell Martin the film explores the musical era from the early 1940s to the late 1960s, chronicling the life of the influential Chicago-based record-company executive Leonard Chess, and the musicians who recorded for Chess Records.The film stars Adrien Brody as Chess, Cedric the Entertainer as Willie Dixon, Mos Def as Chuck Berry, Columbus Short as Little Walter, Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters, and Beyoncé Knowles as Etta James.

42 Panther

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43 The Tuskeegee Airmen

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44 The Great Debaters  – 2007

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Chris Rock – Stand up

45 Bring The Pain 1996,

46 Bigger & Blacker in 1999,

47 Never Scared in 2004.

It is without doubt that I state that Chris Rock is the funniest comedian at work today.He took the title from Eddie Murphy in the 90’s , just as Eddie took it from Richard Pryor in the 80’s . After a few minor cameo roles in films like Beverly Hills Cop, and New Jack City it was 1996’s Bring the Pain, that reinvented Rock as one of the best stand-ups in the industry.His routine, which featured commentaries on race in America, stirred up a great deal of controversy.Continuing with the explicit and near to the knuckle style discussing sex and relationships as his predecessors, Rock also discusses politics and race relations in a way that Murphy never did.He stirred up mass controversy for his ‘Niggas Vs Black people’ routine, that every Black person needs to hear.

“Theres a civil war going on right now between Niggas and Black people.

And niggas have got to go!”

As we’ve already outlined, there is a long tradition of African American comedians crossing over into movie stars. In complete contrast to Pryor & Murphy, Rock’s dramatic movie roles have all been awful, so rather than abandoning the stand up circuit for an easier life as a leading man, stand-up is where he has maintained his popularity and profile.

48 The Original Kings of Comedy2000

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As well as the dominance of Black comedians Pryor, Murphy, and Chris, there is a wealth of other comedy talent in America bubbling under the mainstream.Cable TV show, the Def Comedy Jam showed the depth and breadth of Black comedy talent in the U.S. Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer, and Bernie Mac were four of the biggest names of this ‘underground’.Although able to pack venues with their loyal fans in the US, to the rest of the world, and to white America, they were relatively unknown .The Original Kings of Comedy, directed by Spike Lee, revealed them to a wider audience. Filmed in front of an audience in Charlotte, North Carolina, the comedians give the audience their views about African American culture, race relations, church, and families. Bernie Mac, and Cedric the Entertainer went onto to successful movie careers in their own rights.




49 – Glory

50 – Get On Up / Dear White People

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