Spiritual Perspectives on 50 Films for Black History Month
By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
African-Americans deserve our honor and respect for the amazingly resilient culture they have developed; for the survival skills they have marshaled in the face of slavery, injustice, and persecution; for the spiritual resources they have sustained; and for keeping their souls alive in tough times.
We have chosen the 50 Best Films about African-Americans reviewed from our spiritual perspective as one of the many ways to celebrate Black History Month in February.
Some of the films focus on historical figures such as Paul Robeson, the renowned singer; Malcolm X, activist for justice; Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court Justice; and Ernie Davis, the first black football player to win the Heisman Trophy.
The movies range freely across time from the days when freedom was seen as the Holy Grail to the contemporary scene in a riveting documentary of courageous warriors for peace on Chicago's violent streets.
Here you will find inspiring stories about the lifelines of community, friendship, and mentoring.
You can cheer Miss Jane Pittman on as she marches for civil rights and weep as you watch Ruby Bridges, a first-grader who advanced the cause of integration in an all-white school in Louisiana in 1960.
We felt our blood boiling as we watched the playing out of racial hatred in police stations, in the criminal justice system, in the military, in schools, and in white suburban communities. Race and class cast a large and ominous shadow over America and that is evident in films about the shabby treatment of black survivors of Hurricane Katrina and in the struggles faced by inter-racial couples.
But then, other more positive images come to mind like the camaraderie in black barbershops, in the wisdom of an elder tutoring a young black girl for a spelling bee, in the woman who says that "soul food is about cooking from the heart," and, last but not least, in the dynamic and dramatic singing of James Brown in concert.
Akeela and the Bee (Lions Gate Home Entertainment) is an inspiring story of an eleven-year old African-American girl who claims her power with the help of 50,000 coaches.
American Violet (Image Entertainment) exposes racism as the sick and sad shadow that is still alive and well in America.
Amistad (Dreamworks) is a substantive portrait of human dignity under fire and pays tribute to the spiritual firepower of justice.
Antwone Fisher (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) is a touching story about a young African American's desire to come to terms with his origins, a sacred task strongly recommended by a therapist.
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (VCI) is a moving drama that pays homage to the high value of freedom by celebrating the human spirit.
The Axe in the Attic (Indiepix) is a deeply moral documentary that examines the Katrina disaster and the incredible courage, patience, and righteous indignation of evacuees who are desperately trying to survive and reconstruct their lives with dignity.
Barbershop (MGM Home Entertainment) is an entertaining drama about an African-American barbershop owner who makes the startling discovery that true wealth comes from investing in others.
Beauty Shop (MGM) is a comedy that really works thanks to the appealing performance by Queen Latifah as an entrepreneur determined to fulfill her dream.
The Black Power Mix Tape 1967-1975 (IFC Independent Film) is a lively and fascinating glimpse of the Black Power Movement and its messages for America.
Blood Done Sign My Name (One Village) is a sturdy and sensitive drama about the Civil Rights movement in Oxford, North Carolina, in 1970; it rings true and reveals the scourge of American racism in all of its ugly manifestations.
Boyz N the Hood (Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment) is a movie that speaks to our hearts with its messages about responsibility, manhood, friendship, hope, self-esteem, and prosocial behavior.
Clara's Heart (Warner Home Video) is a touching film about the friendship between a Jamaican housekeeper and a young boy.
Coach Carter (Paramount Home Entertainment) is an inspirational film about a high school coach who has the gall to suggest that athletes must make their mark in the classroom as well as on the basketball court.
The Color Purple (Warner Home Video) is a stirring film, based on Alice Walker's novel, about a black woman who endures incredible oppression until she finally learns to stand up for herself.
Crash (Lion's Gate Films) is crash course in unmasking the racial and class divisions in American society that make every stranger into a potential enemy.
Deliver Us from Eva (Universal Studios Home Video) is an entertaining and insightful comedy about one way to handle a difficult person who is causing major distress in your life.
Do the Right Thing (Criterion) is a cautionary tale set in the ghetto about the racial hatred that still remains an open wound on the soulscape of America.
Down in the Delta (Miramax) is a movie showing that every family has a potential for resiliency and growth, no matter what the problems.
Eve's Bayou (Trimark) is a A spooky drama that explores the bonds between women and the explosions set off by family problems.
Everyday People (HBO Films) is an emotionally affecting film about the devastating changes taking place in the lives of the working poor in Brooklyn now that the traditional safety nets no longer protect them.
The Express (Universal Studios) is a sturdy sports flick about the legendary Ernie Davis who was the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy.
George Washington (Home Vision) is an extraordinary film about a band of poor African-American kids who struggle to keep their souls alive in a terrible and toxic environment.
Get on the Bus (Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment) is an important film which vividly conveys the yearning of some African-American men for solidarity.
Ghosts of Mississippi (Warner Home Video) is a film that convincingly plumbs the spiritual impulses behind the yearning for justice in the story of a racist who originally was freed for murdering a civil rights leader.
The Great Debaters (The Weinstein Company) is an inspiring and well-acted film about an extraordinary African-American debating team in the 1930s with the talent and determination to excel.
The Help (Walt Disney Video) is a tribute to African-American maids in the South during 1963 and their courage in telling their stories as a form of grace under pressure.
The Interrupters (Cinema Guild) is a riveting documentary about three committed, sensitive, and compassionate warriors for peace whose heroism has made a difference in the lives of people in inner city Chicago.
Jungle Fever (Universal Studios) is a disturbing film about the racial, gender, class, and social tensions in urban America.
The Long Walk Home (Artisan Entertainment) is a drama set in Montgomery, Alabama during the 1955 bus boycott proclaiming that racial equality cannot be eased into effortlessly; it requires the rigors of change and commitment.
Malcolm X (Warner Home Video) is a diligent and respectful biopic that tracks both the highs and the lows in the spiritual journey of one of America's most important black leaders.
Miracle at St. Anna (Touchstone/Disney) is a World War II story of four black soldiers that contains two magical moments of compassion that make the film special.
Mississippi Masala (Columbia TriStar Home Video) is a romantic film which challenges us to add more respect and tolerance to America's cultural stew of many colors.
Mr. & Mrs. Loving (Artisan Entertainment) is a drama based on a true story which presents important slice of civil rights history with its theme of interracial marriages.
Night Catches Us (SimonSays Entertainment) is a bittersweet drama set in 1976 about two African-Americans in Philadelphia forced to come to terms with the ghosts of their past.
Once Upon a Time ... When We Were Colored (Artisan Entertainment) is a heart-warming drama in which community becomes a seedbed where young souls are forged.
Our Song (MGM Home Entertainment) is an extraordinary coming-of-age movie about three girls living in a poverty-stricken neighborhood whose daily wanderings and intimate dramas during the last weeks of summer reveal their deep reserves of hope.
Paul Robeson: Here I Stand (WinStar) is an extraordinary documentary about the internationally known African-American concert performer, stage actor, recording artist and film actor.
Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire (Lionsgate) is an emotionally poignant film about a degraded and abused African-American teenage girl whose life is turned around by the love an inspiring teacher.
Q & A (HBO) is an unsettling film about the racial bigotry which permeates every facet of urban living.
The Rising Place (Monarch Home Video) is a melodramatic film that salutes an interracial friendship between two Southern women and the ways in which enthusiasm can be a life-saving gift in tough times.
The River Niger (Platinum Disc Corporation) is a touching family drama, an exploration of black identity, and a moving parable about love.
Rosewood (Warner Home Video) is an important film about a little-known episode in America's racial history that destroyed a town and a dream.
Ruby Bridges (Walt Disney) is an inspiring flim about an exceptional black girl whose Christian faith and spiritual resiliency are a lesson for all of us.
The Secret Life of Bees (20th Century Fox) is a remarkable and heart-affecting screen version of a deeply spiritual novel about the healing and transforming power of love.
Separate But Equal (Artisan Entertainment) is a drama which traces the events leading up to the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
Shadrach (Columbia TriStar Home Video) is a heart-affecting drama about a youngster who learns that we must give each death that enters our life the attention it deserves.
A Soldier's Story (Columbia TriStar Home Video) is a drama that is most effective in its message about the virulence of racism which makes both whites and blacks the victims of righteous indignation.
Soul Food (Fox) is an African American drama about the importance of ritual in holding families together.
Soul Power (Sony Pictures) is a lively and entertaining documentary about a three-day concert of R & B music held in 1974 in Zaire, Africa.
Thurgood (HBO) is a stirring and enlightening one-man performance by Laurence Fishburne on the life and legal career of Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American on the Supreme Court.