Covering Cinema From All Across The African Diaspora

POLL - The "Black" Classics?


As I've done with my last few posts, I'm changing the format of my blog a little; I'm still covering black cinema, but as opposed to my almost android-like reporting and commenting on the film news of the day (regardless of how I felt about it), I'll instead focus specifically on what's of interest to me in the world of cinema and ideas... like the following.

Living in New York City, I'm exposed to numerous specialty film screening series commemorating a specific filmmaker and his/her works, or a film movement, or films from a specific era, or country etc, etc, etc...

Rarely do any of these events celebrate filmmakers, or films, or film movements of the African Diaspora - an idea that I believe is up to "us" to introduce and implement. I'd like to believe there are audiences interested in the kinds of retrospectives I've seen given in honor of films and filmmakers of the French New Wave, or the Italian Neorealists, or even more recently, IFC Center's Mumblecore tribute, and others - except, the French New Wave, Italian Neorealists and Mumblecore will be replaced by the Third Cinema movement, the Los Angeles School of black film makers (Burnett, Gerima, Dash, Clark and others), and, even though it was primarily a literary development, films inspired or influenced by the N├ęgritude movement.

Even the Blaxploitation films of the 70s could be included in the mix - maybe not the most ideal period of films to celebrate, but much could be learned from the lot.

Instead of a Godard or Rohmer retro, how about a Micheaux or Ousmane Sembene commemoration; instead of Fellini, we'll have the likes of William Greaves, or even Melvin Van Peebles (Sweet Sweeback isn't the only film he made in his prime).

Now, there certainly have been events honoring the previous names I mentioned and others, including Spike Lee, and Charles Burnett; but, in my opinion, they aren't regarded in quite the same regal fashion as their European counterparts (although that sentiment isn't only relegated to cinema). Certainly, maybe they don't all deserve to be - but my core point here is that WE need to start exalting our cinematic "treasures" (both the films and filmmakers) in the same manner as other groups do! I'm not suggesting strict imitation, but rather, WE have to claim them and give them the importance they deserve, instead of waiting for "outsiders" to define them for us.

A couple of years ago, when I was running the now defunct Voyager Film Company, along with 2 business partners, we held bi-monthly micro-cinema screenings of films by the above black filmmakers and more, attempting to memorialize both the films and their creators. We felt that they were all being somehow cheated of the same kind of admiration and respect that their non-African equivalents were enjoying, and continue to enjoy - which, in turn cheats their already existing and potential audiences; so, we did something about it.

Currently, myself and a small team of other invested New Yorkers are working diligently on reinstating something identical - a theatre space where we can regularly screen films of interest to us - from previous eras, as well as contemporary works - all while paying tribute to our cinematic heroes.

So, out of curiosity, I have a question for you all: if you were to name 5 films (or filmmakers) of the Diaspora that you would consider important films (or filmmakers) that must be seen by one and all, what would those 5 films (or filmmakers) be? Not necessarily the most entertaining, or the most financially successful (although those could also be included); and not what you've been told is important, but rather your own individual opinions; 5 films (or filmmakers) since cinema's dawn, of the African Diaspora (not only films by African American filmmakers) that you think were groundbreaking in some manner, or were heavily influential on films that followed; films we could label the "black" classics, for lack of a better phrase. What would they be?

I realize we don't have a lot to choose from - but that fact should make your work easier, I'd think. However, if you can't come up with 5, list as many as you can think of. Or if you can come up with more than 5, feel free to do so as well.

Also, don't worry about ranking them in any order, unless you want to.

I'm sure most of our lists will feature many of the same films, but that's ok. I'd just like to get some sense of how varied our ideas are. There are no right or wrong answers.

Fire away and let's discuss...!


  1. Jaceeel said...

    Ganja & Hess
    Cotton comes to harlem
    Putney swope
    Soilders stroy
    the barry gordy films
    lady sings, bingo long, mahogany hell even last dragon.
    Lets do it again and Uptown Sat, Night
    Purple Rain and Under the cherry moon
    Of course films of spike, burrnet, pebbles father and son (new jack city)
    Superfly, shaft cleo jones. The Liberation of L.B. Jones and Petey Wheatstraw, Premium, Night of the living dead. Daughters of the Dust, Eve's Bayou, Friday, i gonna get you sucka, color purple, 48 hours, coming to america trading places, Blue collar, Pyror and murphy stand up, harlem nights,boomerang, the wiz, car wash, stir crazy bust loose, trick baby, candyman,Blacula pam grier movies, Tales from the hood, Def by tempation, Bones, Demon knight, killjoy and ragdoll.

    Have you guys thought of launching a web page and streaming the movies online. Wider audience. Charge a fee or get money from advertisement.

  2. The Obenson Report said...

    An online screening room has been considered previously, but, we could never get past all the legalese - obtaining rights, owners wanting money we don't have, etc...

    It ended up being a much more involved, expensive process than we imagined.

  3. Jaceeel said...

    Waxstax, black like me, sounder,Cabin in the Sky,imitation of life 30's and 50's, Buck and the Preacher, black girl, xala, coonskin, Black Orpheus, carmen jones. Princess tam tam, zou zou, The Emperor Jones, showboat, the harder they come.

  4. Jaceeel said...

    What about some of the fledgling filmmakers from the 80's and 90's (since the rights to their movies may be easier to obtain)and do interviews on the site. Maybe use people who didn't get distribution. Occasional show one of the well known films. Start with the unknown people.

  5. The Obenson Report said...

    Ok Jaceeel, you've named a lot of films here. Would you qualify all of them equally, or are there 5 to 10 that you would consider truly "important," "groundbreaking," and "influential," or any of the 3 adjectives - and also why?

  6. The Obenson Report said...

    Getting rights to the films is half the battle. Bandwidth is expensive; every time someone downloads or streams a film, they use up our bandwidth, and that can add up really quickly, especially since we're talking feature films. Without deep-pocketed investors, a venture like that won't survive.

    We've considered other avenues, and just felt that, for now, at least to start, brick & mortar screenings are best, and we'll build from there. Unless we suddenly come into a pile of cash from an investor.

  7. Aziza said...

    It's hard to pick just 5. My choices:

    1. One film by Oscar Micheaux, maybe Body And Soul, since Paul Robeson starred in it. 2 trailblazers together on one film at a time when the odds against them were insurmountable.

    2. Ousmane Sembene and Black Girl, the first film by a black African filmmaker to cross continents.

    3. William Greaves and Symbiopsychotaxiplasm 1. A brilliant film.

    4. As much as I hate to say it, Melvin Van Peebles and Sweet Sweetback, the film that arguably launched the Blaxploitation era.

    5. Euzhan Palcy and Sugarcane Alley. Not many black female directors were working before her and even after. She became the first black woman to direct a studio film too.

  8. jaceeel said...

    I would qualify them important in their own way. For example of course killjoy and ragdoll aren't citizen Kane (i have a high tolerance for horror films)but they have their beginning with a company called Big Time production which was created by Mel Johnson Jr. best known from total recall. I think that his company failed but pairing the films (or a week of black horror) and maybe getting him to come and talk before the film or after. Or do a night on female directors daughters of the dust,Just Another Girl on the IRT, and eve's bayou. Get some professor if you can't get the directors to come talk. Pair up with some other black film sites and organizations. i know i live all the way up a ticks butt but i just can't image that some black filmmakers wouldn't want to come and discuss their work or get a chance to screen. I just know some of these filmmakers only got to make one film. But it just isn't the directors the writers people that worked on the film. People always have interesting stories. A night on the works of chester himes cotton, Charleston blue and a rage in harlem. Get Bill duke, show harlem, hoodlum and premiere his newest movie, which i'm sure would be going straight to video-the distribtor may look favorible to a showing and adverting. Do a night on 80's music Beat street, Krush groove and Purple rain. Or have a prince night and show Rain, moon and his concert film. Do a Dolimite night ( i was surprised that i liked Wheatstraw). What i tried to do was to mix the serious with the fun. Do a southern night (LB Sounder) Or a Gorden parks night (sounder, tree and shaft). I guess i automatically thought of a establishment like the drafthouse in Austin. But to narrow i would pick from the list of established still living film royality Spike, Burrnet, Duke and Peebles and persue them like nobodies business and get one of them to show up for a retrospective. I'd really try for all of them, It was done before with Unstoppable: Conversation with Melvin Van Peebles, Gordon Parks, and Ossie Davis. I mean who every has the terms you could meet. To put butts in the seats you have to start off with familiar.

    Sorry for the crazy person post. hehehe.

    Ah, the ubiquitous pile of cash.

  9. Anonymous said...

    Sugar Cane Alley
    The Harder they Come
    Faat Kine

  10. The Black Box Office said...

    Actually, what I learned from my talk with Wendell, some of these filmmakers have digital rights to their films. Additionally, a couple of the films being discussed here are public domain at this point. This can and will happen. Online screening room IS a possibility. has created the legal precedent and template. Working on it now.

  11. Jeremiah J said...

    My top movies about Black life are:

    1. Bless Their Little Hearts
    directed by Billy Woodberry

    Makes Killer of Sheep seem like a step child even though Burnett wrote the script and was the DP.

    2. Passing Through
    directed by Larry Clark

    Also, makes Killer of Sheep a step child.

    3. Bush Mama
    directed by Haile Gerima

    4. Killer of Sheep
    directed by Charles Burnett

    Still one of the best independent films period, especially considering how it was made.

    5. Black Girl
    directed by Ousmane Semene

    Highly underated film and filmmaker.

    6. Nothing But A Man
    directed by Michael Roemer

    We just don't celebrated men like the character Ivan Dixon played anymore. They are still around, but they are marginalized because of their Black nationalist beliefs. I will bring them back if it is the last thing I do.

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