diaspora-720x360For November—African History Month—I decided to identify and celebrate films of Black People where the Black Image has been  portrayed in 3 dimensions- without the weight of stereotype, humiliation, and debasement smeared all over it.

This is a folder of movies and documentaries that depict lives in the African diaspora—in fiction and non-fiction—that as a black person you can ‘watch safely’. These are stories where you will not ‘die first’. You will not find yourself cringing inside as you watch the screen… Finding movies for this list was not a simple thing. Many of the films sold to us as ‘Black’ are not. They may have black people in them- but their intentions are really aimed at destroying the black community and psyche. Some do so intentionally- others do so by incompetence or carelessness… Storytelling is a ‘Right’- just like the ‘Right to Vote’- but the ‘Right’ to be the honest centre of our own story is a ‘Right’ many systemic forces are still trying to withhold from black peoples world over…

You will notice certain glaring absences on this list. You will not find movies like ‘Biko’ and others that pretend to be about black heroes- but which have white people at the centre of the narrative. You will not see shows like ‘American Gangster’ or ‘Shottas’ which sell black-on-black violence to the community. You will not see racist movies like ‘Last King of Scotland’ (no matter how much we like Forest Whitaker) or ‘Captain Phillips’ which ignore a century of European invasion, genocide,  and colonialism in creating collapsed environments and attempt to blame African personalities for these problems whilst elevating heroic white characters…  You will not see shows like ‘I Am Legend’ (and a lot of Denzel movies) which pretend to be about black heroes but which actually neuter, kill, or castrate those so-called heroes… You will not see movies that glorify delinquent aspects of black culture and attempt to sell those as commonplace aspects of black communal and individual life and behaviour- like ‘Superfly’…

It is not that this list attempts to sanitise Black History and life- a casual glance at the list shows that it does not. The movies on this list are simply places where something worked- allowing Black Humanity to shine through. With complexity, with wit, with heroism, with self-criticism- with humanity. You have to remember it took over 100 years of film production before we had the first mainstream black love story on screen and the first black hero-myth!!! We must remember this is the same world where the White House and past US presidents endorsed ‘Birth of the Nation’- the Klu Klux Klan movie which endorsed Klan murderous vigilantism of black people and also banned images of black boxer’s Jack Johnson’s historic first unified boxing match where he knocked out the white champion. These facts must remind us that we must not take the war against the ‘Black Image’ lightly… Most of the broad noses and round lips were struck off of thousands of Egyptian statues of pharaohs and gods so that no record could exist of black divinity and royalty… By scientists! With knowledge of these truths as our recent history we must therefore attempt to fill in the blanks of all the history that is hidden from us in our personal lives and spaces. Casual elements of history which other people take for granted about themselves- like the image of God in your own likeness- or heroic ancestral stories from your land of origin from 1000 years ago… We must fill in these blanks. We must then personally build shrines to our ancestral history- buy and store the books, hoard the images on our computers, print and post up reminders of our complex past in the knowledge that such images are still not our mainstream ‘Right’… We must build these ‘Storehouses of Self’ in the hope and endeavour that this history will eventually become public and mainstream.

The movies and documentaries on this list are simply ones I can vouch for. I am sure there are others around- but I haven’t seen them as yet (e.g. I still have to see many of Sidney Poitier’s movies and am still tunnelling through the vast cargo of Nollywood). These listed movies are safe places. Some are for adults only, some are for teens, and a few are for kids. They are shows you can bring your children up on. This is critical. THERE ARE NOT MANY FILM AND TV SHOWS THAT YOU CAN BRING BLACK CHILDREN UP ON! Apart from their being excluded from many narratives as characters with agency- their thousand year history is normally completely erased, and when included, denigrated. And of course kids have the same host of black stereotypes heaped on and sold to them from the youngest age…

This list—whilst celebrating times people got it right—is small when placed against the list of all the films ever created. You can see just how minute the amount of films depicting black humanity is. Compare the stunning quantity of real life and fictional portrayal of white lives—from all types of historical periods and types of heroism and super-heroism—to the narrow range of portrayals of black life. Even on a definitive list like this! So this is a call to arms again for all black film and image makers. There is much work to be done!

The backdrop of this list is the fact that after 130+ years of motion picture and literally millions of movies- we can still count the amount of times that the Black story has been told warmly. We can still list easily the amount of times African people are allowed to be the centre of their own stories. Where are the stories of the billions of black lives in the thousands of civilisations that we have manifested in throughout humanity’s history? Where are the stories of black heroism, super-heroism, and divinity? That reclamation, in film, of narratives of the people who are the First People of Earth remains the great enterprise of this century.  Bear in mind that when Europeans arrived in Africa 500 years ago they met a continent of 10,000 Nations- the most diverse landmass on the planet. What do we know of those lives?

The stories I have listed here are not perfect- they are simply times when something happened right and black humanity was allowed to shine through. I call them ‘safe places’. Places where your soul will not be betrayed. These are not ‘preachy’ shows about ‘Black History’ (in fact, not a lot of those make this list). These are comedies, romances, cartoons, sci-fi narratives ,action movies, as well as gritty urban tales. Most do not pretend to ‘political correctness’. They simply are human, 3-dimensional, non-reductive, and redemptive… They come from America, Cuba, Brazil, the motherland, and Trinidad and our diaspora. They represent tales of African lives told with integrity. Many of these same film makers or actors have produced very destructive movies in their other portrayals of black people (e.g. Quentin Tarantino), but in the movies in this list, the stories work. They are safe.

Again, this is not a list against ‘complex portrayals’- this is a list against racist narratives dominating the black image. This is a list that recognises the need for black people to have some respite in their ‘Dreaming’. We need safe places from stereotype, degradation, and the underhanded manipulation of our image. We need safe places from the rewriting, marginalising, and/or debasing of our history. We need safe places away from the devaluing of our lives and existence. We need safe places to just be. So in celebration of African History Month, here’s the list:


  1.  The Virgin of the Seminole by Oscar Micheaux
  2. St Louis Blues – with Nat King Cole
  3. 100 Rifles – with Jim Brown


  1. To Sir with Love
  2. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
  3. In the Heat of the Night


  1. A Soldier’s Story
  2. Mo Better Blues
  3. Mississippi Masala
  4. Crimson Tide
  5. Devil in a Blue Dress
  6. The Hurricane
  7. Remember the Titans
  8. John Q
  9. Antwoine Fisher
  10. Out of Time
  11. The Great Debaters


  1.  Blade pt 1
  2. Passenger 57
  3. Money Train
  4. Down in the Delta
  5. Masters of the Martial Arts
  6. Disappearing Acts


  1.  Kirikou and the Sorceress (for children)
  2. Kirikou and the Wild Beasts (for children)
  3. Afro Samurai (for young people)
  4. The Black Panther animated series by Reginald Hudlin (for young people)
  5. Bebe’s Kids (for young people)


  1. Reggae by Horace Ove
  2. King Carnival- by Horace Ove
  3. Pressure- by Horace Ove
  4. Playing Away- by Horace Ove
  5. I is a Long-Memoried Woman
  6. What my Mother Told Me
  7. Sugar Cane Alley/ Rue Cases Negre
  8. City of God
  9. Besouro
  10. Hit for Six
  11. Jab: The Blue Devils of Paramin
  12. Bacchanal Time
  13. Dancehall Queen
  14. The Harder They Come
  15. Rockers
  16. Between Friends
  17. Home Again
  18. I Am Cuba
  19. Chico and Rita
  20. Buena Vista Social Club
  21. Fire in Babylon


  1. Unforgiveable Blackness: Jack Johnson
  2. Paul Robeson: Here I Stand
  3. Marcus Garvey: Look for me in the Whirlwind
  4. Free Angela and all Political Prisoners
  5. Beats. Rimes, Life: Trials of the Tribe Called Quest
  6. Theolonius Monk: Straight No Chaser


  1. Ray
  2. Purple Rain
  3. Dream Girls
  4. Rize
  5. The Wiz


  1. Pride
  2. Any Given Sunday
  3. The Express
  4. Coach Carter
  5. Mr 3000


  1. Something the Lord Made
  2. Finding Forrester


  1. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  2. Akeelah and the Bee
  3. The Pursuit of Happyness
  4. The Karate Kid


  1. Richard Pryor: Live in Concert
  2. The Best of Eddie Murphy: Saturday Night Live
  3. Eddie Murphy: Delirious
  4. Eddie Murphy: Raw
  5. Coming to America
  6. Boomerang
  7. Chris Rock: Kill the Messenger
  8. Chris Rock: Bigger and Blacker
  9. Chris Rock: Never Scared
  10. Down to Earth
  11. 2 Days in New York
  12. Chapelle’s Show
  13. Dave Chapelle’s Block Party


  1. She’s Gotta Have It
  2. Daughters of the Dust
  3. Sankofa
  4. Adwa


  1. I’m Gonna Git Yu Sucka
  2. Hollywood Shuffle
  3. Boyz N the Hood
  4. Mo Money
  5. Posse


  1. Belly
  2. Love Jones
  3. Have Plenty
  4. The Wood
  5. Brown Sugar
  6. Soul Food
  7. Best Man
  8. The Brothers
  9. Save the Last Dance
  10. Drumline
  11. Bring It On
  12. Love and Basketball
  13. Beauty Shop
  14. Think Like a Man
  15. Just Wright
  16. Good Deeds
  17. Jumping the Broom
  18. Baggage Claim
  19. Fruitvalle Station


  1. Little Man
  2. White Girls
  3. Lottery Ticket
  4. Ladies Man


  1. Beloved
  2. Amistad
  3. Django Unchained
  4. The Butler
  5. Twelve Years A Slave


  1. Shaft
  2. Sweet Sweetback Badass Song
  3. Buck and the Preacher
  4. Black Dynamite
  5. Cleopatra Jones
  6. Foxy Brown


  1. Andrew Dosunmu’s ‘Mother of George
  2. Souleymane Cisse’s Yeleen

Posted on November 14, 2013, in President's Blog and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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