I was originally goes to write about the film Nothing But a Man because I strongly believe that it should be mandatory viewing for all young black males. I checked through my entries when I vaguely remembered comparing it to another great film about black masculinity in America, Killer of Sheep. So I’ll probably wait a little while longer before I revisit it again, but you can read said comparison by clicking this link here ->https://panamaenrique.wordpress.com/2010/08/28/im-just-trying-to-be-a-man/.
So instead of that, I’d rather briefly talk about a few other films that I also believe should be mandatory viewing. I’m only going to talk about a few of them that are worth watching briefly because while they each deserve to be talked about in a lengthy piece, I don’t think I’m cut out for writing 5000+ plus words right now.
- Nothing But a Man
- Killer of Sheep
- Chop Shop
- Hoop Dreams
- The Education of Sonny Carson
- The Cool World
- The Learning Tree
- To Sleep With Anger
- Black Girl (1972)
- To Sleep with Anger
- Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song
- A Good Day to Be Black & Sexy
- The Other America
- Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
- Every Child is Born a Poet: The Life and Work of Piri Thomas
- American Pimp
- Stagger Lee
- Finding Me
- Pro-Black Sheep
- Black & White & Red All Over
I believe that is a decent primer. The above films run the gambit of poverty, pressure to join gangs, prison, life after prison, sexuality, politics, and justice. The only film on the list that I wouldn’t call a Black film is Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and that is because I believe every American should view it regardless of race, sex or class.
The Cool World, Chop Shop, The Education of Sonny Carson and The Learning Tree were each chosen because they deal with black adolescence at varying points in time and the frustrations with the world that have to either be engaged with or avoided. We are usually put on an accelerated path towards manhood and thus adopt hyper-masculine traits to try to cope with our responsibilities that the older men in our lives should be taking care of. For example, despite the character Alejandro in Chop Shop being the significantly younger brother (he’s about 10 and his sister is around 16) he positions himself as the caregiver of the two constantly working multiple odd jobs throughout the entire day and outright refusing to let his sister work at certain points throughout the film.
Nothing But a Man, Killer of Sheep, Hoop Dreams, and To Sleep with Anger are all brilliant examples of where we could end up. They all have happy endings to one degree or another though. Nothing But a Man features a shiftless black man named Duff Aderson who uses his frustrations with work, maybe future father-in-law and emasculation brought about by racism as an accuse to live up to his duties as a man. He refuses to spend anytime with his child that was born out of wedlock, even after the mother of child leaves. He choses to instead just the child support payments to the woman who his baby’s mother left her child with. There are some slight rebellions on Duff’s part to reassert some dignity/pride into himself with refuses to laugh a racial jokes about black men by his white coworkers, which he is later fired from, and again refusing to refer to white attendants at a gas station as ‘sir’ as he feels their car up with gas. Duff does in the end straighten out when he finally commits to the women whom he has been attempting to court throughout large portions of the film. He comes to terms that he isn’t going to able to pride himself in the fact that he is a man by simply standing up to racism, though that does play a significant role for him, he realizes that in order to be a respectable man to himself he has to take responsibility for the things that he has done in his life and protect the things he cares about.
The Other America, Stagger Lee, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Pro-Black Sheep are all about politics. The former two are documentaries: The first of which covers a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the second is about former Black Panther party leader Bobby Seale. These two are necessary viewing if only for the simple fact that the knowledge of the Civil Right movement if woefully ignorant in America. MLK is only simple know for nonviolence and a line from his ‘I Have a Dream Speech’ while the entire Black Panther movement is only known for terrible slogans and being militant.