February is the shortest month of the year and it is designated Black History Month. Despite its brevity, there are a lot of books and movies that are worthwhile reads and/or watches. So if you have not put on a video or picked up a book, I offer a few recommendations bearing in mind I am sure I missed something. Feel free to add and or discuss.
Like many in my generation, ‘Roots’ was an eye-opener. The mini series is excellent and available, but reading the book is better. When I read the book, I found myself completely swept up in the story, feeling all of the pain and humiliation that Kunta Kinte and his progeny experienced. Alex Haley was brilliant in the telling of his family history and it is a magnificent read.
Also by Alex Haley (published a decade or so earlier) is ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X’. The controversial story of one of the best known African American leaders in the early 1960â€™s. Some might believe this to be a subversive book, but it is the life story of a man (as told to Haley) who begins his life on the fringe and later develops into one of the great voices of the Civil Rights movement. Malcolm X lived and spoke in counterpoint to Dr. Martin Luther King. Despite our discomfort with the Nation of Islam, the point of view is fascinating.
Other books that I found to be wonderful and enlightening are Alice Walkerâ€™s ‘The Color Purple’ (the movie as well). Maya Angelouâ€™s ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’, and Richard Wrightâ€™s ‘Black Boy’ were riveting. I have attempted ‘Native Son’ on more than one occasion, but I confess, I still have not read the book. I have not read Toni Morrisonâ€™s new story ‘A Mercy’, but I have read ‘Beloved.’ I also saw the movie. The book has incredible drama and almost seems to be a novel of sin and redemption. The movie is good, but it is something I am still not able to sit through a second time. I also recommend ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ for reading. The movie is good, but omits a lot of family background for Sipsy and Big George (her son). The book also has a few recipies.
I have also enjoyed Terry McMillanâ€™s ‘Waiting to Exhale’ (the movie to me was so-so â€“ Whitney Houston never did it for me but Angela Bassett is fantastic). ‘Exhale’ covers the male/female relationship front which is always a lot of fun. If you like mysteries, try Walter Mosleyâ€™s Easy Rollinâ€™s mysteries. I got my first taste watching the film ‘Devil in a Blue Dress’ with Denzel Washington, Jennifer Beals and Don Cheadle. This novel takes place in L.A. in the post World War II 1940â€™s. Subsequent books move into other decades. What is fun is that these are just novels with no agenda other than to entertain.
On the film front, I recommend anything by Spike Lee. I have not seen all of his films but the ones that I have seen, ‘Malcolm’, ‘Do the Right Thing’ and ‘Get on the Bus’ offers a distinct point of view. Don’t forget Lee’s Documentarys, I have not seen Singletonâ€™s ‘Boys â€˜n the Hood’ or his other films and I cannot recall if Singleton directed .Roseville’ with Ving Rames, Don Cheadle and others. In this case, I prefer the book by a white journalist on the incident. ‘Like Judgment Day’ reads like a mystery and investigative journalism. I think I prefer the book because the author was able to interview the survivors and their children.
I went over this part with my spouse and we turned up a few. ‘Sounder’ with Paul Winfield & Cecily Tyson. Two other interesting films about family with its ups and downs are ‘Eve’s Bayou’ and ‘Soul Food.’
Diana Ross’ film debut ‘Lady Sings the Blues’ about the life of jazz vocalist Billie Holliday. The caveat is that a lot of fiction was added to make the film more romantic. This was produced by Motown’s Barry Gordy and put Richard Pryor on everyone’s radar. If we look at some â€˜golden oldiesâ€™ most do not get beyond the blacks as servants thing;
however, Paul Robsonâ€™s performance in ‘The Emperor Jones’ or James Earl Jones in ‘The Great White Hope’ are good viewing. Sidney Portier was the break thru actor in the 1950â€™s and has an extensive filmography as actor and director. I think my favorite Portier movie is ‘In the Heat of the Night’. Racism is up front and center in this crime drama. Portier won his ‘Oscar’ for ‘ Lilies of the Field’.
I will close with ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ which may be seen as an obvious choice. Great
film, I am reluctant to include this since Atticus attempted to save the poor ignorant Negro. What I most remember from the film and book is Atticusâ€™ advice to his young daughter, Scout when she is learning to get along with the other children at school. He told Scout hat before you make up your mind about someone, you may want to climb into the other personâ€™s skin and walk around in it, you might see things differently.
It really isnâ€™t that hard to do.