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Laramie Movie Scope:
Personalized Black Film Series

A do-it-yourself black film series

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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November 6, 1997, updated March 7, 2002 -- There have been some very good black films made recently, but very few of them were shown at Laramie theaters. So I decided to set up a sort of do-it-yourself black film series series based on films I've seen, either on video or by driving to Fort Collins, Denver, or Cheyenne to see.

Here's how it works. You go to your local video rental store, rent the films and watch them. Now, I'm not black and I don't pretend to be an expert on black culture, but I think these are all really good films. If you don't agree with me, let me know. My e-mail address is on the bottom of the page.

These films include a pair of films by two of the best black filmmakers around, Spike Lee and John Singleton. The other is by Tim Reed, former star of "WKRP in Cincinnati." One of the films, "Rosewood" by Singleton, was in the recent UW African Studies film series, and I suspect it was the best film in that series by far. There was only one film in the series I haven't seen and that was "I'm 'Bout It."

So our first film is "Rosewood" by Singleton, who made a big splash at the age of 23 with his 1991 hit, "Boyz 'N the Hood." This latest film is based on actual events in Florida in 1922. It tells of a murderous spree by whites in a small black town, resulting in at least 70 deaths and the destruction of the town.

Although the massacre in Rosewood was horrible, Singleton also focuses on the heroic rescue of some of the townspeople with the aid of a few whites who stood against the terror of mob violence. It makes for a rousing finish. The film stars Ving Rhames ("Pulp Fiction") and veteran actor Jon Voight ("Midnight Cowboy" and "Most Wanted").

The next film in our little series is "Get on the Bus" by renowned director Spike Lee ("Malcolm X" and "Do the Right Thing"). This is a film that perhaps only Lee could have made because of his influence and power.

The film is about the Million Man March in Washington, D.C. in 1995. A group of diverse blacks are riding a bus to the march, traveling across the country. It is sort of a road film and it is also a little like the old World War II films where you've got a cross-section of the nation in one small group, only here it is almost all blacks.

You got your homosexual blacks, old and young blacks, rich, poor and middle class blacks. There are conservative blacks and liberal blacks. Not only do you get a good cross-section of black thought and experiences in the film, you also get serious discussion about Louis Farrakhan. You just don't get this kind of stuff anywhere else but in a Spike Lee film. This is not only a very good film, it is an important historical film as well.

The next film in this mini-series is another historical film, "Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored," was made as a labor of love by first-time feature film director Tim Reid. This one covers a black community in the south from just after World War II to the early 1960s. It shows, better than most films, the power and support provided by community, extended family and the church. It also shows the arrival of the civil rights movement.

The film has a huge cast, but Reid shows he's a fine director by deftly working in lots of character development and showing the interrelationships of all the people. Although the film doesn't have much drama, it has many other strengths that make it worth watching, including the struggles of one black businessman to stay alive in the face of unfair competition.

The next film in the series is "Eve's Bayou," which happened to be Roger Ebert's selection as the best film of 1997. It wasn't favorite film of that year, "L.A. Confidential" was, but it is an excellent film with a wonderful sense of place. Samuel L. Jackson gives a powerful performance as Louis Batiste, a doctor who is unfaithful to his wife, Roz, woderfully played by Lynn Whitfield.

The story is told through the eyes of their daughter, Eve (Jurnee Smollett, who gives a powerful performance). Another interesting character is a local voodoo woman, Elzora, played by Diahann Carroll. It is a very powerful drama.

The next film in the series is "Soul Food," a very popular film in 1997. It also boasts the number one selling soundtrack of 1997. Like "Eve's Bayou," "Soul Food" is a story about relationships in an extended family, and it is also a story as seen through the eyes of a child, Ahmad (Brandon Hammond).

"Soul Food" is the story of a large family held together by the love of Momma Joseph (Irma P. Hall) and her tradition of Sunday dinners for the whole family at her house. When she becomes ill, feuds break out among family members and the family seems to be falling apart. Ahmad takes it upon himself to try to mend the family. Just as there is always plenty to eat at the Sunday dinner, there is plenty of drama and humor for everyone in this film.

The next film in the series is the 2002 production of Antwone Fisher, a great film directed by and starring Oscar-winner Denzel Washington. It tells the story of a black man who overcomes tragedy to become a success, and it is based on a true story. Here is a link to my review of Antwone Fisher. The film was written by Antwone Fisher, a security guard at a Hollywood studio, who became a screenwriter. Is that neat or what?

I hope you like these films as much as I did. One of the great things about VCRs and DVD players is that even if your local theater won't show these kinds of films, you can still see them. It's a shame they weren't shown on the big screen here because these are some of the best films to come out in recent years.

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Copyright © 1997 Robert Roten. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)