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10 Under Appreciated Black Movies

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In addition to being a professor of philosophy specializing in race and culture, I am also a film critic. Aside from the random questions asking me to rank what I think are the best films of all time (I never do it. It changes daily.), I am often asked what are the black films that people should see that I think are under-appreciated. My ranking changes depending on my mood, but below are the 10 most under-appreciated black films.

In addition to being a professor of philosophy specializing in race and culture, I am also a film critic. Aside from the random questions asking me to rank what I think are the best films of all time (I never do it. It changes daily.), I am often asked what are the black films that people should see that I think are under-appreciated. My ranking changes depending on my mood, but below are the 10 most under-appreciated black films.

10. Jason’s Lyric (1994)

This was a mid-90s black film that was not noticed by many but has solid performances. It’s “I just need to get out of Houston” vibe is a little silly, but the chemistry between Jada Pinkett and Allen Payne is palpable, and Bokeem Woodbine is an under-appreciated actor who shines in this film.

9. Death At A Funeral (2010)

This should not have worked. A white screenwriter and a white director telling the story of a black funeral—but somehow it did. The comedy is elevated by a stellar cast featuring Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Kevin Hart, Regina Hall and Tracy Morgan…just to name a few. The silliness of the funeral is over the top, but not by much. Black funerals are a sight to behold.

8. Poetic Justice (1993)

To my mind, Janet Jackson left much to be desired in this film, but it’s Tupac Shakur that elevates the story. Had we not lost him early, he shows us what a dramatic turn he could have had. He plays every scene brilliantly. The director, John Singleton, died this year, and what a loss. This shows his command of the camera. I wish he made more films like this.

7. Beyond The Lights (2014)

This is an underappreciated gem. The acting is top-notch; the story is impactful, and the direction sublime. The breakout star of this film is Gugu Mbatha-Raw. She shows us why she is one of the most exciting actresses of her generation. Nate Parker could have been a star—if only he had not derailed his career before it even began.

6. Bamboozled (2000)

You’ve probably seen Spike Lee’s satire—but it’s worth another look. He has much to say about the way black people are treated by media, and the movie is insightful about the way the police respond to black men they deem dangerous. Watch it anew, and you’ll see that this deserves to be near the top of Lee’s filmography.

5. Rosewood (1997)

This is the second film by Singleton on the list. In this one, he tells the story of a 1920s act of mass terrorism visited upon the prosperous all-black town of Rosewood, Florida by citizens in a neighboring all-white working-class town. This film is terrifying because it lays bare the illogical nature of white supremacy, but it is required viewing—especially 100 years after the red summer of 1919.

4. Paid In Full (2002)

Cam’ron is the weak link in this film, but he still holds his own with Wood Harris and Mekhi Phifer in this coming of age tale set in the underground economy of drugs. I cannot express how surprised I was by the quality and emotional depth of this movie. This came out in the heyday of films produced by rappers, and the production quality and acting make it stand above the rest. The end still haunts me.

3. Hollywood Shuffle (1987)

Although it couldn’t have been known at the time, Shuffle became a foundational film that launched the careers of two of our most prolific filmmakers—Robert Townsend and Keenan Ivory Wayans. The film’s satirical commercial for “Black Acting School” was a courageous act of truth-telling. It showed how deeply entrenched the white gaze was in an understanding of blackness in 1980s Hollywood—and not much has changed.

2. House Party (1990)

This is the film that turned Kid and Play into household names. The joy of youthful blackness on display in the movie was contagious and made me want to be there. The Kid and Play dance featured in the film was a hallmark of growing up in the 90s, and Robin Harris was perfect as the father. I love this movie. Too bad not many young people know about it.

Fruitvale Station (2013)

Ryan Coogler, director of Creed and Black Panther, first told the story of Oscar Grant—an unarmed black man who was killed by white police officers. But instead of telling the story like a thriller, he directs Michael B. Jordan in a tragedy. The scene of Jordan trying to save the dog is both tragic and illumating—showing the depth of his humanity. The film has largely been forgotten, but is required viewing; it shows a major director at the beginning of his career.

This was not an easy list to compile. There are many I could have included; yet, when I consider the films that are not appreciated as much as they should be, these 10 stood out. Ask me tomorrow, and the ranking may be different—but these are the ten I always come back to.

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