Black Movies That Aren’t Nearly As Good (Or Even As Black) As We Pretend They Are » VSB

Featured, Lists, Movies, Pop Culture

Black Movies That Aren’t Nearly As Good (Or Even As Black) As We Pretend They Are

Columbia Pictures


Every fall Hollywood releases the important films—that is, the movies they think will garner Oscar attention. There will be the obligatory biopics with actors embodying disability or overcoming adversity. There will the political films that uncover a scandal or tell stories centered in human misery. Then there will be the artistic achievements, you know,films about basically nothing but either took a long time to make or have unconventional direction.

As we move into this season, I thought it wise to look back at films that many black folks love and explain why they either should not be considered a black film or why they ain’t worth a damn.

Look, just because a film is watchable doesn’t mean it’s good and there are a number of beloved black movies that are valorized just because they star black actors. I call these the ‘Halle Berry (HB) Awards’ in honor of the preeminent overrated black actress who won an Oscar for being a mediocre white man’s jump off.

HB #1: The Wiz

This movie is boring and it’s directed by a white dude (more on that later). Yes, there are amazing musical numbers. Yes, Michael Jackson danced and sang his ass off. Still, this hot garbage is hardly watchable. The narrative will put you to sleep faster than a Benadryl downed with a glass of red wine, and the acting is aggressively bad. Like, DMX in Belly kind of bad. Diana Ross killed the singing, though. Too bad they asked her to act.

I would wager that most people fast forward through the story and only watch the musical numbers and if you don’t you’re losing at life.

HB#2: The Color Purple

This movie has great acting, great direction, and brilliant source material. My only beef is that Steven Spielberg is the director. I guess they could not find someone black to put behind the camera.

I don’t care how many times you quote the film or how much your big mama watched it, if someone black ain’t in the directing chair, I’m not considering it a great black film.

HB #3: Coming to America

See HB 2. No black director. I refuse to consider it a great black film.

HB #4: Hidden Colors

This is what you watch at the beginning of Hotep basic training. It purports to give insight about the lost history of black people in America, and even if I were able to turn off my philosophical mind, I’d still find some of the information difficult to believe. Further, the director is a noted misogynist and, just being honest, the film’s production values are laughable. This movie is so laced with Hotepism that I needed a bottle of lotion for my ashy ankles after watching it.

HB#5: She’s Gotta Have It

Spike Lee’s first film is aiight. He tries to elevate the material by shooting it in black and white, but the gender politics are antiquated and the acting is mediocre at best. It’s Spike’s first film, and I can tell.

HB#6: Every single Tyler Perry film (except Daddy’s Little Girls) and ESPECIALLY Temptation.

I’m not even going to dignify these films with a thoughtful analysis.

HB #7: Lean On Me

This film is beloved by black grandfathers everywhere because it is a two-hour meditation on patriarchy and respectability politics. Joe Clark begins the film by expelling 300 students, and then begins to treat educators and students alike in a condescending and infantile manner. Oh yeah, a white dude directed this film as well.

 ‘Fair Eastside’ was dope, tho.

HB#8: All the sequels to Friday

You know those movies aren’t funny. You ain’t gotta lie to kick it.

HB #9: New Jack City

This film has not aged well. The haircuts are laughably bad, the dialogue is VERY bad (Ice-T actually says, “I want to shoot you so bad my dick is hard”), and the acting is worse.

Nino Brown is a cartoonish villain (Did he really put crack in the Thanksgiving turkey?) and the film does not deal with the way housing discrimination and poverty played a role in the explosion of violence in the 1990s. This film is essentially a commercial for the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. I’m pretty sure Hilary got the idea of Super Predators watching this movie.

HB#10: Baby Boy

With the exception of Four Brothers, John Singleton has been making nonsense since 1997, and that’s too bad—he started with such promise.

Boyz N The Hood is a black coming of age masterpiece; Poetic Justice is a ghettoized take on a road movie, and both Higher Learning and Rosewood are essential, tragic films. It all started going downhill when he made Baby Boy—and I can see why.

This is an indulgent film. It tries to be a coming of age tale for a grown ass man, a comedy, a tense, urban drama, and a love story all at once—while failing on all fronts. The direction is sloppy; the editing haphazard, and the acting is so bad that Gary Coleman would be offended. Snoop Dogg is supposed to be a threatening presence, but his arms look so emaciated in the scene with an undershirt that it made me wonder if he would have the strength necessary to pull a trigger if the narrative called for it.

Singleton thinks he is insightful in the critiques of black men as careless fathers, but he merely showcases respectability politics and patriarchy in how the narrative is resolved. The film lacks the insight of Boyz in explicating how institutional racism plays a role in the failure of some black men to play an active role in the lives of their children, and, ultimately, the film calls for men to grow up and be the heads of their households without showing the barriers that could preclude such a happy ending from taking place. Essentially, according to this movie, black men need to pull up their pants, get a job, and take care of their families. But what happens if race keeps you from making a living, saving wage?

I’m sure folks will be coming for my black card or calling my place of employment demanding that I no longer teach classes on black films. That’s fine. Most of you think Coming to America is funnier than Harlem Nights (Editor Note: It is.), evidence that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Law W.

Lawrence Ware is a philosopher of race at his day job and writes if the kids go to bed on time. He is a contributing editor of NewBlackMan (in Exile) and a frequent contributor to The Root and other publications. He has been featured in the New York Times and you can sometimes find him discussing race and politics on HuffPost Live and Public Radio International. He is the kind of Steelers fan that enjoys watching the Cowboys lose.

  • I agree with The Wiz, I only watch for the costumes and the songs. I’ve never been a fan of how Diana Ross strong armed her way into that Dorothy role (with her old a z z). The plot moved so slow and is a real snooze fest outside of the musical numbers.

    I don’t give a damb who directed Coming to America, love it, consider it a Top 10 black film cuz it’s got black bodies in it.

  • HouseOfBonnets

    How can you deny the wiz and coming to America? Sir…..


      • HouseOfBonnets

        You’re welcome lol

    • Toya Dixon

      I KNEW this list was some fuckery when I saw the Wiz was the first thing on it.

      • Mary Burrell

        We will send The Drop Squad for this writer

    • AmBam

      He was right about the Wiz. I was not born when it came out. But I watched it a few years ago and the music is the only thing good. It’s just too drawn out.

      • HouseOfBonnets

        I can understand if it is a bit long but i’m a 90’s baby and we loved the wiz lol

        • Blueberry01

          Girl, tell them The Sound of Music is long, too.

      • Junegirl627

        There’s a difference between not aging well and saying its not black enough. The wiz is a classic because of what it represents in terms of black greatness and entertainment.

      • Wizznilliam

        That’s the only one he was right about. The rest is him just trolling us.

    • Trill Mickelson

      Dude lost me at Coming to America. Now look, I think that Harlem Nights is an EXTREMELY underrated movie. But funnier than Coming to America? That’s absolutely absurd.

  • QueenAnnaT

    Oh, this just struck a nerve with me. LOL Please see my copied and paste Facebook status from earlier this week.

    #RandomQuestion Help us with this dinner convo.. What quintessential Black movie do you think every Black person should see or have in their collection. Like think, if we were going to leave 6 movies behind for the aliens to get a glimpse, what to include. We are only choosing 2 independently and then need to agree on the final 2.

    My Mandatory Pick: Coming to America and Roots (the remake)
    His: Friday and School Dayz
    We both decided that New Jack City and Love Jones (we needed a romantic selection).

    Left on the table in a very hard fight Lean on Me, Harlem Nights, Set it Off, and Juice. Damn. This was hard. Lol
    What ya’ll think? Are we missing something?

    Edit: We added The Color Purple as a Bonus 7th selection (for after church and whatnot)

  • Kas

    Fuck, and I actually have to get work done today. I need a new job.

    • QueenAnnaT

      I do too. A communication plan I have jooked on all week, in the name of VSB (lol). At least I’m working from home, though. The Friday before a holiday should be nice and quiet.

    • Kas

      Still fucking working. This is that bullsh!t!!!

  • HouseOfBonnets

    Also the sucky and inauthentic traits of Tyler perry films and hidden colors goes without saying. That’s something you automatically judge a person on.

    • I still can’t get over the fact that he’s actually having secks with a consenting adult woman and said woman had his baby.

      Girl why?

      Who hurt you?

  • I saw the title to this article and got hype because I completely agree but then I saw Coming to America on this list?! Cmon bruh. A couple others I don’t agree with as well. Random, but for some reason I never considered Lean On Me a black movie. I think that’s because I first saw it in school lol.

  • Brandon Allen

    Where the explanations at tho? This about 6 1/2 black movies.

  • Negro Libre

    So what’s the definition of a black movie?

    • I say anything with a predominantly black cast

    • miss t-lee

      Apparently it keeps changing.

      • Negro Libre

        Black folks always been reinventing words and ish.

        You can make a dictionary of the never-ending meanings of ni$$a alone.

        • miss t-lee


      • Kas

        It’s like pornogra phy vs . art, I know it when I see it.

        • miss t-lee


        • cyanic

          Art avoids the money shots that makeup hardcore.

          • Kas

            Which is why I prefer hardcore.

            • cyanic

              Favorite era?

              • Kas

                Recently, 70/80’s.

                • cyanic

                  You like it when people were genuinely happy to be there.

    • QueenAnnaT

      I’d say, one with a 90% black cast. Because a Black director with a 10% Black cast isn’t a Black movie to me.

    • panamajackson

      This is the question that begets all questions.

      • cyanic

        Whoopi Goldberg made movies where her backing ensemble was white. But we should consider these movies black since the white writers made sure to add racist dialogue for the sake of establishing that her character is black.

    • For me, a movie in which the focus is on a Black character (doesn’t have to have a predominately Black cast) and thematically it’s centered on Blackness.

      • LadyJay?

        Wait a minute. If the focus is on a Black character….I do want a predominantly black cast

    • Lego

      For me, it’s a question of whether it is a part of the black film canon (or black people homework).

      Friday – Canon
      Other Fridays – Not Canon
      Color Purple – Canon
      12 Years A Slave – Not Canon
      Coming to America – Canon
      Harlem Nights – Not Canon

      • Ess Tee

        “Black people homework.” You must listen to Denzel Washington Is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period (as do I).

        • Lego

          Denzelots Unite!

          • Jennifer

            Denzealots! Woot!

      • then no new film can be considered a Black film than :-/

        • Lego

          If canonization was the only framework used to define things, nothing would be good enough for anything. Of course there is black film outside of the “black film canon”.

      • Jennifer

        Tell me more about 12 Years A Slave. Why would you consider it outside of the canon? I ask that particularly since it has a black director.

        • Lego

          I feel that it wasn’t essential viewing for black folk, but every white person had to see.
          Great movie, amazing black performances, etc, etc. But, not an immortal black film, at least not yet. Maybe it needs a decade or two to age.

          • Jennifer

            Interesting. I would add it to the canon because of McQueen’s direction. I also had a friend who took his high school students to see it (including black kids) because he felt that slavery — let alone its true brutality — was not being taught in textbooks and they needed to know. Maybe we need time and distance to decide its significance.

            I already think that Creed will be added to the canon over time. It’s such a love letter to black culture in Philly and Coogler’s direction was so good. (And, Slate included it in that list I shared downthread.)

            • Lego

              Maybe 12 Years will enter into the Essential American Film Canon despite it’s foreign director and cast because of the necessity of it’s story and superior execution? Time will tell.

              • cyanic

                The foreign director is black. As he said doing press for the movie the difference between us is the direction our separate boats went.

                • Lego

                  I’m aware. I never implied that his nationality dictated his blackness.

                  • cyanic

                    But you felt his foreign-ness was otherness.

                    • Lego

                      Nope. I speculated that his film may enter the American canon despite the fact of his (and some of the cast’s) nationality. My speculation is not othering him, it is a socratic exploration of the discussion at hand.

      • Cleojonz

        Why not Harlem Nights? It was like black comedy elite.

        • Lego

          Why not Soul Plane? Between Kevin Hart and Mo’Nique alone…

          • Cleojonz

            Never seen Soul Plane and I’m good without it. I’m just saying at the time it was a REALLY big deal you had Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor starring in a movie together. And here was Red Foxx and Della Resse too? I’m just trying to understand your thinking that it’s not Canon.

            • Lego

              Quality folks =/= canonized film. But for reals, I don’t know. I was 7 when the movie came out, saw it sometime in the 90s, and haven’t seen it since. It never left an impression.

              But seriously do watch Soul Plane, starring Academy Award winner Mo’Nique and MTV Comedic Genius Award winner Kevin Hart.

      • Epsilonicus

        How is Harlem Nights not canon?

  • miss t-lee

    I agree with The Wiz, Baby Boy, She’s Gotta Have It. Folks have tried to take my card over The Wiz, but c’mon…if you’ve watched Mahogany, you know Miss Ross The Boss couldn’t act her way out of a paper bag.

    Wouldn’t watch Hidden Colors if you paid me.

    The rest of the list though? Nah. These films are good money.

    I remember seeing Lean On Me in the theaters. Don’t do the math on that. Quotables for days…

    And you aren’t a fan of Coming To America? I’m pretty sure you’re ISIS.

    • QueenAnnaT

      He is as ISIS as the guy from Aggie’s post earlier this week. Like leave the country, sir. “Going from America”

      • miss t-lee


    • Why was 33 year old Diana Ross playing Dorothy anyway?

      • miss t-lee

        Berry Gordy.

      • TeeChantel

        We know how D Ross got that role.

  • Harlem Nights isn’t funny. The fact that it’s so unfunny given all the Black genius involved in it makes it probably the most disappointing Black film of all time.

    • miss t-lee

      We gotta get y’all funny bones, and senses of humor checked out.

      • Not even top 5 Richard Pryor films.

        • miss t-lee


    • cyanic

      Harlem Nights is a vanity project for Eddie Murphy. It was about him hanging out with other legends while in period costumes on Paramount’s dollar.

      • which is totally and completely fine. I would of done the same thing. Just Eddie and Richard have so many other films that are just outright hilarious.

        • cyanic

          I don’t like Pryor’s filmography outside of Blazing Saddles and Harlem Nights. Never understood the negative rep of Nights. Sure it has it share of dull sections which is understandable considering who the writer-director was. He had much ego back then. So he likely kept things that should have been eliminated like the love scene between Pryor and his woman.

          • Kas

            Pryor was in blazing saddles?

            • cyanic

              Damn. It was intended for him. He co-wrote it though.

More Like This