Friday, February 9

Streamathon - Black History Month


Black History Month (February 2018)

Preface: This is part of an ongoing blog series of curated movie marathons that are thematically or otherwise tied together. The other common factor tying these films together will be their availability to watch them all from the comfort of your own home on various streaming platforms. The goal is that writing this blog will somehow justify the excessive number of streaming platforms I subscribe to. The films will be found on some combination of NetflixHuluAmazon Prime VideoMubiFilmStruckShudder and/or Fandor. These titles will be available for the month that the blog is published. All of these subscriptions offer free trials so feel free to dive in and follow along… Have fun. Just don’t message me for my login information.

By: Emery Martin-Snyder

The celebration and observance of Black History dates all the way back to 1926. 50 years later, it would change from a week to a month. So I thought that this would be a good opportunity to look back at some great films made by Black filmmakers. While researching the subject, I had no intention of only including films that have race and race relations as their themes. I was genuinely just looking for good films made by Black directors. It turns out that these themes were unavoidable. I’ll let my readers extrapolate whatever sort of deeper meaning there could be to this fact…. In the meantime, just watch these flicks. 

The Stream

CHI-RAQ (2015
Directed by Spike Lee - Streaming on Amazon Prime

There are a lot of different ways that the story of Chicago’s high violent crime rate could be told. I’m so glad that Spike Lee decided to tell it this way. It’s flamboyant, audacious, colorful and beautiful…. And oh yeah, it rhymes. Its story comes from a Greek comedy by Aristophanes called ”Lysistrata” about the women of the Athenian and Spartan soldiers withholding sex in an attempt to end the Peloponnesian War. Lee uses this story to illustrate present day systematic injustices and take jabs at the politics of privilege that have led to the violent landscape that Chicago finds itself in.

Directed by D’Urville Martin – Streaming on Fandor

The New York Times once called this film the “Citizen Kane of Kung Fu pimping movies.” And although I’m not sure I really agree with the comparison, this flick is one hell of a ride. It’s full of continuity and other technical mistakes (you can clearly see the boom mike in one shot).  But I’m going to appreciate any story about a pimp who sends his prostitutes to “karate school”.  This film was made on a $100,000 budget and written and directed by its stars. D’urville Martin, a common fixture in both Blaxploitation and mainstream Hollywood films alike directed it and starred as the antagonist, Willie Green. The original screenplay was written by supporting actor Jerry Jones and adapted by Dolemite himself, Rudy Ray Moore. This is impressive because a lot of the most well-known Blaxploitation films were not actually made by African Americans. Jack Hill and Larry Cohen made a good career making these films in the 70’s. Don’t get me wrong, I love Hill’s FOXY BROWN (’74) and I think that Cohen’s BLACK CAESAR (’73) is a masterpiece. But those films were exploiting a very different type of gaze than what we find in films like DOLEMITE or Melvin Van Peeples’ SWEET SWEETBACK’S BAADASSSSS SONG (’71). 

SIDE NOTE: SWEET SWEETBACK is also currently streaming on Fandor. But, if you’ve never seen a Blaxploitation film, please don’t start there. Somethings you just have to ease your way into.

Directed by Ryan Coogler – Streaming on Netflix

Before you hit up the multiplex to see Ryan Coogler’s addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, check this impressive gem of a directorial debut. This is the story of the last hours of Oscar Grant before he was shot and killed by B.A.R.T officers on his way home from celebrating New Year’s Eve. As tragic as this story is, I absolutely applaud Coogler’s instinct to tell an honest account and refrain from the type of hero worship you might have expected to find. Oscar is portrayed as a troubled and very flawed young man that was most likely true to his actual character. What is showcased most beautifully in this film are the relationships he shares with his girlfriend, his mother and his young daughter. This is the type of depiction that is seemingly necessary to remind some that his life mattered. 

Directed by Raoul Peck – Streaming on Amazon Prime

“White people are astounded by Birmingham. They are endlessly demanding to be reassured that Birmingham is really on Mars.”

This documentary tells the story of Black Americans through the lens of activist James Baldwin’s writings. Baldwin was a contemporary of Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King and I think he took a far more poetic approach to race relations than those two. His perspectives are challenging and unapologetic and they tear at the very core of even the most progressive of us all. Essentially, we are asked to acknowledge and confront the very fibers that have woven together this nation. 

Directed by Kathleen Collins – Streaming on FilmStruck

This is the most cerebral film on my list. It’s a deep and intellectually philosophic look at the nature of relationships, art, race and gender as well as how those things interact with and inform each other. Collins’ script never takes on specific political or social leanings. Rather, it opens up the subversive causation of said leanings in the way that an artist husband and his philosophy professor wife would most likely discuss these things. 

Directed by Sabaah Folayan – Streaming on Hulu

This documentary covers the protests in Ferguson, Missouri following the killing of Michael Brown. I’m kind of a media junkie…. especially these days. This film kind of knocked me on my SJW ass. I was absolutely flabbergasted at the amount of coverage and information that had been missing from the bird’s eye view coverage of even some of the most left leaning publications. It’s composed primarily of footage taken from the streets during the protests with a healthy dose of interviews sprinkled in for perspective and context. I’m not quite sure if this was even the overall point the filmmaker was attempting, but I felt that this was just as much about media bias as anything else.

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