Black History in Movies


Tuesday, February 05, 2013

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As raised by out TEENvoices, February is celebrated as Black History Month and as with most themes, art imitates life.

The movies that TEENage has chosen on this list are often shown during Black History Month. They serve as a reminder of the hardships of slavery and segregation in the Unites Sates and motivation to persevere through life's obstacles.

It is often said that you cannot truly appreciate where you are and cannot fully understand where you need to go unless you remember where you are coming from.

Though they may not relate to Jamaica directly, it provides a perspective as to how well we have fared as it relates to the topic of race and segregation.


A Raisin in the Sun


Set against the background of a dilapidated two-bedroom apartment on Chicago's south side in the 1950s, A Raisin in the Sun is a story about the pursuit of the American dream.

The Youngers are a black family, who faced the American nightmare through prejudice and financial struggles and being constantly faced with life-changing decisions.

With a prospect of greener pastures in the form of $10,000, the plot reveals how the price of opportunity will often times be more than financial. It also tests family values and strength in the face of competing interests, which can stifle the pursuit of happiness.

Discrimination is pungent throughout the scenes as represented by the physical and social boundaries of the all-white Clybourne Park neighborhood. The movie demonstrates that the way to deal with discrimination is to reassert their dignity in the face of it rather than allow it to pass unchecked.

Just like Mama's plant, one is left with the impression that with persistence and dedication to your dreams they will come true. It answers Langston Hughes' question of "What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?" Simply, it lives on.

— Jomarie Malcolm

To Kill a Mockingbird


To Kill A Mockingbird created almost iconic folk heroes of a generation. Such heroes caused this movie to rank 25th on the America Film Institute 10th anniversary list of the greatest American movies of all time.

The film, based on the similarly titled novel by Harper Lee, took place in 1930 pre-contemporary America, a place still heavily afflicted by racism.

The hero of the movie, Atticus Finch, who was later named by the American Film Institute as the greatest movie hero of the 20th century, was a lawyer and father of two, living in Alabama — a state significant for having the capital where Rosa Parks first refused to get up from her seat. Finch jumps to the defence of a black man accused of raping a white woman.

With a justice system pervaded by racism, Finch tries to get the court and the public to accept the overwhelming evidence of the black man's innocence. His children attend the court proceedings and and see their father vilified by racist people. Finch doesn't succeed and the unjustly accused African-American is killed while trying to escape from prison.

It is eventually uncovered that he was truly innocent and it was the white father of the girl raped girl, who actually committed the crime. At the time when To Kill a Mockingbird was released, racism was still unreasonably present in the society and it put forward a commendable view of Black History with a anti-racism message.

— Yakum Fitz-Henley

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner


The Oscar nominated film, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner explores the very controversial issue of inter-racial marriage.

As suggestive in the title, Joanna Dreyton, played by Katharine Houghton, returns to her liberal upperclass home with her black fiancé Dr John Prentice, played Sidney Pottier. Despite their liberal stance of treating all people as equals, Joann's parents are not pleased with Joanna's decision of marrying a black, despite the fact that he is educated.

The context of the film is set in a time in the United States when it was unfathomable that a white woman of Joanna's status would chose to wed a black man, whether he was educated or not. This speaks volume to the deep psychological social structure, whereby black people were discriminated against despite of their achieved status.

Within the Jamaican context, the line between racism and classism is oftentimes blurred — where the colour of one's skin is usually used to judge, which community one is most likely to come from, the sub-themes of class and race in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner can be identified with easily.

— Sharlene Hendricks



The Roots mini-series oftentimes reminds many black people of the sore topic of slavery. However, the movie presents much more than that, it shows the struggles that brought the black race to where it is today and motivates us to continue moving forward.

Based on the novel by Alex Haley, it follows the life of a young boy, Kunta Kinte (played by LeVar Burton), being captured from his homeland in West Africa and taken to The Americas to serve as a slave. Throughout the movie Kunta Kinte is seen as the 'troublesome' slave, who would not follow the rules of plantation life.

One major rule was the casting away of his African roots, which meant he had to give up his African name, Kunta Kinte, and adopt the name, Toby, given to him by his white plantation owner. This he refused to do and was severely punished.

Throughout the movie, Kunta Kinte held tight to his dream of freedom from the captivities of slavery and though he tried many times and failed he never gave up on his fight.

Though Kunta Kinte dies before winning his freedom, his determination served as motivation for the rest of the slaves to continue the fight for freedom, which they eventually won.

— Shanique Hayden

The Color Purple


The Color Purple, which is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by author, Alice Walker. It exposes the life of a young coloured woman from Georgia (Whoopi Goldberg), who is sold to a farmer, by her father, where she is often verbally and physically abused. Throughout the movie, we follow the life of this woman as she faces hardships, and how the love and support that she receives from her sister and friends that help her scale the many challenges.

The eighth film directed by Steven Spielberg, it portrays discrimination that was faced by the women in early 1900s. The captivating storyline illustrates the magnitude of disdain shown to these women, especially from men of their own race and the societal roles that these women are expected to play.

While the movie may serve as great entertainment, it highlights the struggles of the black race, especially the women. "Look at you, you're black, you're poor, you're ugly, you're a woman, you are nothing at all," is one quote depicts the stark disgust that of the women of the early 20th century, and those who lived before faced.

This scene, however, is a turning point for the lead, as she takes a stand against the discrimination she had been facing.

Despite these misfortunes, viewers are shown how important family and friends are in life and how the hardships can be overcome. Spielberg and his team have done a great job in highlighting the struggles of the black race and the many steps they took to overpower them.

— Melaine Warren



Set in 1839, the Amistad depicts the real-life story of mutiny aboard a Spanish slave ship La Amistad, and the plight of the slaves after they try to make their way back to Africa.

Leaving from the Cuban port, Djimon Hounsou — who plays the role of Cinque in the film — painstakingly manages to daringly escape start a mutiny with other slave companions. They take control of the vessel, sparing the lives of only two members of the crew, hoping that they will be able to guide them towards safety. Instead they are taken to the American shore where they are jailed by the authorities and charged as runaways.

As a result of the actions aboard La Amistad, there stirs a movement for the severe punishment of the slaves. However, Anthony Hopkins, who plays the former of former President Quincy Adams, and Morgan Freeman, who stars as Theodore Joadson lead the charge for slaves to be granted their freedom.

After much controversy, including the slaves being freed before being held for a second time, they are finally granted their freedom, and the opportunity to return to their native land — Africa.

With a star-studded cast that comprised household names such as Freeman, Hopkins, Hounsou, and Matthew McConaughey, the movie captivates its audience from the word 'go'.

— Devaro Bolton

Remember the Titans


Based on a true story, Remember the Titans explores various topics including racism and discrimination, athletics, teamwork, and leadership.

The movie tells the story of an African-American coach (Denzel Washington) and the events surrounding the Titans — an inter-racial high school American-football team in Virginia.

Set in 1971, the movie shows realities of segregation, as Washington is shown resistance by the school board, parents, the previous coach Bill Yoast (played by Will Patton), who has been demoted to his assistant, the athletes, and the community at large. But he pushes on with his unbiased approach to training black and white athletes, with his main aim of getting them to work together for the benefit of the team.

Remember The Titans somewhat gives the story from both sides of the spectrum, expressing the challenges of both groups as they learn to respect and trust each other, and together become a force to be reckoned with.

The film is a great family movie that outside of the portrayal of 'segregation by colour' reminds the viewer that each individual can be an agent of change especially with unity and persistence.

— Kimberley Sherlock

Akeelah and The Bee


"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most... And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people the permission to do the same." — Nelson Mandela

Used in the movie, this quote embodies the message of Akeelah and The Bee as it follows the life of 11-year-old Akeelah (Keke Palmer), who has a passion for words and is exceptionally bright, but hides behind truant behaviour and 'ghetto' vernacular.

As a result of one of these truant acts, her punishment is to participate in the school's spelling bee competition, which she dominates and is then discovered by Dr Larabee (Laurence Fishburne).

Through counselling and coaching from Dr Larabee, she finds she doesn't have to hide her true self, but can shine her light and give hope to her beat-up community and broken family, which she does all the way to the national competition.

We, and Akeelah, learn to embrace our culture and most importantly, ourselves. For even though the ending is predictable, this film shows that it is in the journey, not the end, that we find who we really are.

The acting is spectacular, the emotions are real and this story of black triumph is simply phenomenal.

— Shantayaé Grant

The Great Debators


"With confidence, you have won before you have started." — Marcus Garvey

The Great Debators celebrated this notion through the story of Melvin B Tolson, a professor at Wiley College Texas, a predominantly African-American college, who in 1935, inspired students to form the school's first debate team, which went on the challenge Harvard, a predominantly white college in the national championship.

The movie told you a history lesson about the civil unrest that manifested itself in segregation and violence towards African-Americans in the state of Texas during the Great Depression. The graphic scenes of fires started by the Klu Klux Klan and the hatred towards African-Americans in the form of lynching painted some of the obstacles the students from Wiley College Texas would have to endure.

What made this journey to success so intriguing was that against a backdrop of civil rights unrest and racism, this team of young African American students were able to break down the boundaries of race and boundary with the limitless potential of their intelligence.

No longer were they considered just a great African-American team, their delivery, conviction and evidence of research allowed them to emerge as a great team period.

— Jomarie Malcolm

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