With so many great African American movies to choose from, it wasn’t easy coming up with ten favorites. The ten that I chose as my favorites, are movies with plenty of drama, realism, and great acting. These are movies that I could watch over and over again, and still enjoy them as if I were watching them for the very first time. So, without further ado, here’s my list of Top 10 favorite African American movies of all time. Let the Top 10 debate begin!
10. Love & Basketball
Love & Basketball is a 2000 romantic drama film. The film stars Omar Epps, Sanaa Lathan, Debbie Morgan, Alfre Woodard, and Dennis Haysbert. It is the story of two next-door neighbors in Los Angeles, California who grew up loving basketball and, eventually, each other.
9. What’s Love Got To Do With It
What’s Love Got to Do with It is a 1993 biopic which tells the life story of Tina Turner. The film stars Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne, who both received Oscar nominations for their incredible performances.
8. The Five Heartbeats
The Five Heartbeats is a 1991 musical drama film directed by Robert Townsend, who co-wrote the script with Keenan Ivory Wayans. The film’s main cast includes Townsend, Michael Wright, Leon Robinson, Harry J. Lennix, Tico Wells, Harold Nicholas of the Nicholas Brothers, and Diahann Carroll. The plot of the film (which is loosely based on the lives of several artists; The Dells, The Temptations, Four Tops, Wilson Pickett, James Brown, Frankie Lymon, Sam Cooke and others) follows the three decade career of the fictional band The Five Heartbeats. The film depicts the rise and fall of a Motown inspired soul act through the eyes of the film’s main protagonist Donald “Duck” Matthews (portrayed by Townsend).
7. A Soldier’s Story
A Soldier’s Story is a 1984 drama film, based upon Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Off Broadway production A Soldier’s Play. A black officer is sent to investigate the murder of a black sergeant in Louisiana near the end of World War II. It is a story about racism and segregation in a black U.S. Army regiment with white officers deep in the Jim Crow South, in a time and place where a black officer is unprecedented and bitterly resented by nearly everyone. The movie was nominated for three Academy Awards: for Best Picture, Supporting Actor (Adolph Caesar as the murder victim), and Screenplay Adaptation.
6. Cooley High
Cooley High is a 1975 feature film written by Eric Monte (co-creator of Good Times). The film, set in 1964 Chicago, Illinois, stars Glynn Turman and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, and featured a soundtrack made up primarily of 1960s Motown hits. The film is considered a classic of black cinema, and its soundtrack featured G.C. Cameron’s hit single “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday”. The song was covered in 1991 by Boyz II Men on the group’s first LP, named Cooleyhighharmony in honor of this film. Cooley High is frequently compared favorably to the 1973 George Lucas film American Graffiti. ABC had planned a television adaptation of Cooley High, but the pilot was poorly received, and Fred Silverman, the head of the network, asked the pilot’s producers, to redo the show as a sitcom with new characters (Raj, Rerun and the rest) and with a new title so as not to confuse it with Monte’s “Cooley High.” New writers were hired, cast changes made and a switch from one-camera film to three-camera delivered “What’s Happening!” to the network where it ran from 1976 to ’79.
5. The Color Purple
The Color Purple is a 1985 film directed by Steven Spielberg. It is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by Alice Walker. The film tells the story of a young African American girl named Celie and shows the problems faced by African American women during the early 1900s; including poverty, racism, and sexism. The character Celie is transformed as she finds her self-worth through the help of two strong female companions. Three of the film’s star’s, Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, and Margaret Avery were nominated for Academy Awards for their brilliant performances.
Glory is a 1989 American drama war film. The film is the true story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry as told from the point of view of its commanding officer, Robert Gould Shaw during the American Civil War. The 54th was one of the first formal units of the U.S. Army to be made up entirely of African-American men. The film stars Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher, and Denzel Washington who won an Academy Award for his role as a proud escaped slave named Trip.
3. Malcolm X
Malcolm X is a 1992 biographical film directed by Spike Lee about the African-American activist and Black Nationalist Malcolm X. The story is based on The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley. Denzel Washington was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his stunning portrayal of Malcolm X. The film also starred Angela Bassett, Al Freeman Jr., and Delroy Lindo.
2. Do The Right Thing
Do the Right Thing is a 1989 film produced, written, and directed by Spike Lee. Director Lee stars in the film, alongside Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Giancarlo Esposito, and Bill Nunn. The film is also notable in that it marks the feature film debuts for Martin Lawrence, and Rosie Perez. The film was a box office success, and received numerous accolades and awards. It was also the film that President Barack Obama took his then girlfriend, Michelle Obama to see on their first date.
1. Boyz N The Hood
Boyz N The Hood is a 1991 film written and directed by John Singleton. Starring Ice Cube, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Morris Chestnut, Nia Long, Angela Bassett, Regina King and Laurence Fishburne, the film depicts life in poor South Central Los Angeles, California and was filmed and released in the summer of 1991. It was nominated for both Best Director and Original Screenplay during the 1991 Academy Awards, making Singleton the youngest person ever nominated for Best Director and the first African–American to be nominated for the award.