Contemporary Hollywood Studio Films That Tackle Race/Racism (Survey)

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by Tambay A. Obenson
June 26, 2013 3:52 PM
24 Comments
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Alright folks… a little challenge to keep you all busy on a relatively slow news day.

But also in light of the entire Paula Deen fiasco, the ongoing Trayvon Martin shooting court case/George Zimmerman trial, all of which (and more) have me thinking about race in America today - as well as the widely-held notion that Americans, collectively, don't like to/want to talk honestly and frankly about race, even though that may be exactly what America needs.

So here's the challenge: Is the above notion also applicable in movies? As we do in real life, do we also avoid dealing head-on with race at the cinema? What I want to do is come up with a list of contemporary films – let’s say films made in the last 23 years, going back to 1990 – financed and distributed by Hollywood studios, that specifically tackle race/racism in the present-day, in the USA, that are not set in the historical past, and aren’t told from the perspective of a white protagonist.

Got it? Make sense?

Let me itemize the criteria:

1 - First, the films must have been backed by a Hollywood studio. NOT independent films.

2 - They must have been released in the last 23 years - so anything after 1990.

3 - They should be set in the present-day - so, tackling race/racism as it exists today, because, as I think you’d notice, the burden of race is most often contained in the historical past, keeping the matter of race/racism in the past tense, as if to say that it no longer exists today, since we’re supposedly “post-racial”.

4 - The story isn’t told from or centered on a white protagonist – essentially told from a black person’s POV.

Again, the issue of race/racism has to be central to the film’s plot; not relegated to a scene, or a minor subplot. Although I'd also add that the films don’t have to be literal; they can be metaphoric, or allegorical. But, if you go down that path, be sure you can support your suggestions well, convincing us on what you feel makes them racial metaphors or allegories.

So, have at it, and let’s see what you can come up with…

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24 Comments

  • Angelo | July 14, 2013 1:46 PMReply

    I believe that Get On The Bus is one of the most important films about race ever made. The issues brought up in that film still resonate with us today. Whether we're talking about homosexualty in the black community, black actors, the rise of the modern black Republicans, and etc.

  • Knew | June 27, 2013 9:57 PMReply

    Hangin' with the Homeboys ?

  • ScriptTease | June 27, 2013 10:10 AMReply

    Zebrahead I know fits somewhere in the mentioned category. I would also like to add, I can't wait to the day when topics like this is a thing of the past.

  • kid video | June 27, 2013 3:57 AMReply

    White Man's Burden(1995)...staring Harry Belafonte and John Travolta

  • FactChecker | June 27, 2013 12:47 AMReply

    Can Halle Berry's "Frankie and Alice," be a contender? If memory serves it mostly takes place in a modern day setting, but there are character flashbacks -- '70s I think -- to when the character is in psychiatric treatment. But Berry does a phenomenal job of channeling a white southern racist woman. ... Definitely her best film since Dorothy Dandridge.

  • Miles Ellison | June 26, 2013 10:53 PMReply

    Bamboozled. Judging from some of the movies/TV shows we've seen in the last few years, Spike Lee was a prophet.

  • Maybe | June 26, 2013 10:43 PMReply

    Hotel Rwanda, Precious, Something New, Jumping The Broom, Black Snake Moan, Hustle & Flow?

  • Qwinci | June 27, 2013 3:17 AM

    Black Snake Moan??? Hustle & Flow!!!?? What are you, crazy???

    Oh wait...I just saw your name. Never mind.

  • Maybe | June 26, 2013 11:14 PM

    Brooklyn's finest

  • Sandra Hinson | June 26, 2013 9:42 PMReply

    "Night Catches Us" comes to mind but it may not count because it was quasi-independent. Released by Magnolia Pictures. Good film. "To Sleep with Anger" I suppose was also too 'independent' to make the list, but has big names associated with it. Okay. I see your point. This is really hard.

  • Nadia | June 26, 2013 10:38 PM

    Night Catches Us was actually set in the past. So it wouldn't count. Did To Sleep with Anger deal directly with race? Also I think it was indie anyway.

  • Umm ... | June 26, 2013 9:39 PMReply

    Rosewood?
    Hurricane?

  • Nadia | June 26, 2013 10:39 PM

    Rosewood wouldn't work because it's set in the past. Hurricane though, hmm.

  • T | June 26, 2013 9:25 PMReply

    Crooklyn? distributed by Universal

  • eboni p. | June 26, 2013 8:00 PMReply

    Higher Learning?

  • onyx | June 26, 2013 7:42 PMReply

    Okay, strike Malcolm X. I see Crash has already been mentioned, and I want to say Monster's Ball, though I know Billy Bob Thorton's character has just as much screen time as Halle Berry, but it also dealt with her son being overweight, and that's a form of bigotry, since she tried to limit what he ate and gave a tearful speech on how her son couldn't be black and overweight in America. So I still submit Monster's Ball (Lee Daniels Entertainment, Lions Gate Films)

    And what about Romeo must Die? though it dealt with crime, there were racial insults used for comedic affect, directed at Jet Li.

    Too bad it has to be set in the USA, because The Karate Kid had both a cultural and racial component.

  • Sterling Cooper | June 26, 2013 8:47 PM

    I would strike your earlier submission of Jungle Fever as well. Here's why: outside of well-made documentaries, Spike's narrative features fall into one of two categories-- either to propagandize his warped personal angry-unattractive-short-man ideology, or calculated attempts to make money. Usually his earlier films fall into the former category, as certainly does Jungle Fever: his own personal diatribe against his white stepmother, married to his jazz musician father, Bill Lee.

  • onyx | June 26, 2013 7:28 PMReply

    Okay, I'll submit some:

    Jungle Fever, 1991, (Universal and Spike's 40 acres and a mule)

    Shaft (2000) Samuel L Jackson investigated the death of a young black man by a racist. (Munich Film Partners & Company (MFP) Shaft Productions, New Deal Productions, Paramount Pictures)

    I want to add Malcolm X, since it was distributed by Warner Brothers
    Produced by Largo International N.V. (presents)
    JVC Entertainment Networks (in association with)
    40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks

    Hoepfully I can come up with a few more

  • CareyCarey | June 26, 2013 6:08 PMReply

    Damn, my head hurts. I generally like mind-games with movies at its core, but these narrow guidelines put a cramp in my style. Geezzzz... NOT independent films... must have been released in the last 23 years... must be told from a black person's POV... should be set in the present-day... must have at least one light-skinned black woman and two dark skinned black women and one angry black man as main characters...

    I mean Damn Tambay, you're killing me man. And to make matters worse, you opened with the Trayvon Martin shooting court case. Listen, I refuse to listen to or watch any news accounts of that new-age "To Kill A Mockingbird". That's right, although everybody knows what happened on that fateful night of February 26, 2012, the black man (a kid in this case) will not receive justice.

    Side bar... Loss of innocence: "It's a sin to kill a mockingbird", Atticus said to his children. Mockingbirds never harm other living creatures. "They don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us". To kill a mockingbird is to kill that which is innocent and harmless--like Tom Robinson and Trayvon Maritn.

    Now were was I? Oh, this post is on race/racism movies. Okay, I'll start right here-->" they can be metaphoric, or allegorical"

    Oh lord, there's a movie that immediately came to mind. Well, there was these people who didn't look like the normal natives of the time but they found themselves in the midst of their mess. Now, since they were basically immigrants, they were housed in the projects, or ghettos as some would define them. Anyway, like most ghettos, the local police ran roughshod over their ass, leading some to fight back with a determined vengeance. The name of this movie is District 9! :-(

    Okay, I have 4 more.

    Morgan Freeman in Invictus (apartheid) and The Power Of One.

    Denzel Washington's The Great Debaters and The Hurricane. In the latter, a black man is falsely accused of the murder of several white people. Racism is at the core of the problem.

  • ScriptTease | June 26, 2013 6:08 PMReply

    I have watched my fair share of films dealing with racism and slavery, and frankly, I just do not want the experience at the theater. We're talking about this as if this is the only thing black people are allowed to write about, as if this is the only thing black folks want to see when they go to the movies or Netflix a movie, or whatever way we choose to watch a film.
    Racism, colorism, fatherless children, welfare, and everything else that plagues the black community needs to be discussed openly. We need to have topics like this on a regular basis until the majority of us get it. Many affluent and influential black people seem to ignore this because of their status, and they do not want Mr. Charlie to cut off the power source.
    I checked out some of these high profile celebrity blogs, Global Grind for an example, the mention of Dark Girls was nowhere to be found on his website. Even Oprah rarely tackled the issue, but now that she is doing more of her OWN thing, she is reaching out more to the black community, and I am thankful for that, I just hope she does not abandon us after her network blows up, I guess only time will tell. Any who, I know some people hate to hear this statement, but black folks need to step outside the box.

  • Edye | June 26, 2013 5:04 PMReply

    Told from a black POV? That negated the challenge. I can remember movies that dealt with racism in a realistic way, but not necessary from a black pov. And not necessarily from a white one either. I thought Crash was one of the most honest movies of its time. Yes, it was a series of vignettes that tied a group of diverse lives together. But it was one of the most honest movies made. I thought Menace to Society was deep. Gave me a glimpse of what was happening to our young men. I was not aware of the depth and breadth of destruction until I saw that movie. It was a teaching tool for me, a mother of two boys.

  • Vanessa Martinez | June 26, 2013 5:01 PMReply

    Does 'Lakeview Terrace count?' Probably not..
    'Crash'
    'Higher Learning'

  • Art | June 26, 2013 4:03 PMReply

    This is, of course, a trick question. No such films exist that properly fit the criteria Tambay laid out. Even films that might on the surface appear to be told from a "Black" perspective, aren't really.

  • MK | June 26, 2013 8:15 PM

    ...which, I suspect, is exactly his point.
    There's work to do.

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