Movies for Black History Month

Posted on: February 28, 2018

On this final day of Black History Month, we’re highlighting some relevant movies. The New York Times recently published a list of their “essential movies from the 20th century that convey the larger history of black Americans in cinema.” Below are some of the films from this list that you have access to via the JMU Libraries collections. You’ll also find brief excerpts of the commentary on each film, by Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott, chief film critics for the New York Times. The full commentary and the full list of movies are in the New York Times story, 28 Days, 28 Films for Black History Month.

Available on DVD (ask for these films at the Carrier Ask the Library Desk):

Within Our Gates, directed by Oscar Micheaux, 1920 – a “stunning rejoinder to white supremacy”

Imitation of Life, directed by John M. Stahl, 1934 – a “classic weepie… decidedly and at times uncomfortably a product of its segregated moment”

Stormy Weather, directed by Andrew L. Stone, 1943 – “one of two films made in 1943 with all-black casts… A skit performed in blackface by the African-American comedy duo Flournoy Miller and Johnny Lee in the film may disturb viewers today, but it’s a reminder of the complicated history of minstrel performance — by whites and blacks — in American entertainment.”

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm, Take One, directed by William Greaves, 1968 – an “unclassifiable hybrid of documentary, backstage comedy and avant-garde prank… mischievously eloquent on the struggles of the black artist in a supposedly liberal society”

The Learning Tree, directed by Gordon Parks, 1969 – “with this film… Parks became the first African-American director of a major studio production.”

She’s Gotta Have It, directed by Spike Lee, 1986 – “The sexual politics may look a little problematic in hindsight, but Spike Lee’s debut feature, a shoestring production that helped to ignite both the indie boom and the African-American new wave of the late ’80s and early ’90s, remains a loving, lovely portrait of black bohemia.”

Tongues Untied, directed by Marlon Riggs, 1989 – a “passionate, angry mix of documentary, memoir and poetry that was shown on PBS is a milestone in both New Black and New Queer cinema…”

Daughters of the Dust, directed by Julie Dash, 1991 – “Beyoncé’s visual album, “Lemonade,” sparked the latest revival of interest in this masterpiece, a ravishingly beautiful work of historical reconstruction and feminist imagination.”

Malcom X, directed by Spike Lee, 1992 – an “electrifying epic, which traces the arc of 20th-century America through a single extraordinary life”

Devil in a Blue Dress, directed by Carl Franklin, 1999 – “offers up a rich vision of African-American life… almost entirely absent from Hollywood’s fantasies past (and often present)”

The Watermelon Woman, directed by Cheryl Dunye, 1996 – a “reminder that the impulse to tell new stories is often entwined with the longing to honor lost or neglected traditions”

Available as a streaming movie via the JMU Libraries website (click the film title to see your streaming options):

Shadows, directed by John Cassavetes, 1959 – “Cassavetes’s electric debut feature is a landmark independent film about three black siblings”

Ganja & Hess, directed by Bill Gunn, 1973 – a film “about vampires, but it’s less a horror film than a sensual, scholarly, magic-realist exploration of black history and black desire.”

Killer of Sheep, directed by Charles Burnett, 1977 – “One of the essential films of American cinema… sings a song of love, family, brutalizing despair and ineffable, persistent human dignity.”

Losing Ground, directed by Kathleen Collins, 1982 – “Identity — aesthetic, racial, sexual — is among the themes that wend through this film”

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