“Beloved” is a 1998 film starring Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, Kimberly Elise, and Thandie Newton that was adapted from a Toni Morrison novel. Back in the 1970s while working as an editor, Morrison came across a newspaper clipping about an enslaved woman who attempted to escape but was captured. Distressed at being forced to return to bondage, the woman attempted to kill her children to avoid having them return to slavery. That newspaper article inspired Morrison to write “Beloved”.
“American Gangster” is a 2007 crime drama set in the 1970s that tells the story of the Harlem kingpin, Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts, the police officer intent on bringing him down. But unlike many other films, “American Gangster” doesn’t just focus on the glitz and glam of being a crime boss but also touches on the real-life consequences and drawbacks of the lifestyle.
“Higher Learning” is a 1995 film directed by John Singleton. It’s one of the films from his collection, which might be lesser known than some of his other films, but it also offers quite a bit of social commentary. The story provides a look into the social, racial, and gender politics of a college campus. There are certainly main characters, but I look at the film as an ensemble piece that follows multiple characters balancing college with figuring out who they want to be.
“Finding Me: A Memoir” by Viola Davis is an account of the actress’ personal and professional life. Some of the experiences that she shares about trying to establish a career are similar to stories I’ve heard from others in her profession. But Davis’ personal journey was more interesting to me. I felt like I took more away from her personal story and found it incredibly inspirational. Fair warning that this is a tough read as there is some discussion of domestic violence, sexual abuse, sexual assault, poverty, and a host of other uncomfortable topics. But all in all, I thought Finding Me was just an absolutely incredible read.
“Cooley High” is a classic in the Black film canon but sets itself apart as one of the few true Black coming-of-age films. The 1975 film tells the story of two high school friends with big dreams who are growing up in Chicago during the 1960s. Set against a classic Motown soundtrack, the boys cut school to hang out and chase girls. But their lives are forever changed when their teenage hijinks include hanging with the wrong crowd.