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2013 S&A Highlights: Films About Black Americans That Are Set Outside The USA

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by Tambay A. Obenson
January 3, 2014 10:56 AM
35 Comments
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Editor's note: As 2013 ends, and 2014 begins, I'll be reposting some of our highlights published during the last year. Those who've already read each one can obviously skip them, or revisit if you'd like. For those who joined us later in the year, missing many of these posts from earlier in the year, they will probably be new items. Here's the 13th of many to come, originally posted in March 2013. Happy New Year to you all! 

This is a topic that I brought up a year ago on this blog, but this time, I thought I'd approach it from a different angle altogether. 

I'm constantly pondering the myriad of films we've covered here on S&A over the last few years that feature, most often, a Caucasian man or woman (usually American or from continental Europe) in a non-USA country. We've seen quite a number of films about white Americans or white Europeans either already living in those foreign territories (like continental Africa, or the Caribbean, South America, the Middle East, South East Asia, etc, for example), or visiting one of those countries, in search of something or someone - whether it's salvation, redemption, inspiration, vacation, themselves, their spouses, children, friends, their dogs, cats, apes, whatever; and it's rare that they're villains, nor in positions of inferiority.

Also, those that are historically based usually involve white *settlers* (or remnants of colonialism) who come to see themselves as native to the land that their ancestors once occupied. 

And in thinking further about this, I realized that I couldn't come up with many titles of fictional narrative feature films that center on stories about African Americans specifically, set in countries outside of the USA. It's not like black Americans don't travel right? Or more specifically, it's not like black Americans don't travel to/visit/live/work in other countries that aren't the USA, right? I know more than a few.

Their reality just isn't reflected on our screens, big and small - as is the case for much of the so-called black experience, so nothing terribly shocking here, I know. But I'm just making an observation. I'm speaking in the spirit of what we call Pan Africanism. 

If Hollywood movies are any indication, one would think that white people were the only "race" of people who traveled internationally.

So there I was wondering... it'd be refreshing to see more films about African Americans set outside the USA. Although, let's face it, it'll be just as refreshing to see a wider variety of films about African Americans in America, period

But, with this post, and also as we continue to have discussions about the lack of diversity in how black people are depicted on screen, I'm most interested in films about black Americans that are set in other countries. I couldn't think of many films with that as a basis for the story.

And also, discussions abound about unifying the Diaspora. It's not quite happening in real life from where I'm standing, unfortunately; but at least, in the fantasy, make-believe world of the cinema, we CAN pretend, or show what could (or could not) be..

To be clear, I'm not including documentaries. I'm thinking of narrative fiction feature films with stories centered on black Americans who are either visiting a country (or several countries) outside of the USA, for whatever reason; or who are already living in those countries. And the stories don't have to be specifically about them and their experiences living in those countries. They could be thrillers, with the central character being a black American living in Tokyo, for example.

My question is two-fold: first, can you name any films that fit that criteria? And secondly, if you're a filmmaker or producer who's currently working on a film that fits the above criteria, I'd love to know more about your project, so please email me (obensont@gmail.com). 

And as an aside, we constantly mention co-production markets all over the world, which you can take advantage of. These are essentially initiatives that encourage filmmaking in the specific region where the market is housed. So, you actually might find it a bit easier to raise funds to shoot a feature in another country (offering incentives, and even money, and more) than you would here in the USA... just something to think about.

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35 Comments

  • audiodramatist | January 8, 2014 12:18 AMReply

    Georgia, Georgia with the great(s): Minnie Gentry, Diana Sands and the legendary Roger Furman.
    The film features one of the best "classic" lines uttered in the annals of Black American Culture: (I have to paraphrase) "If it's not in Jet (magazine) I don't believe it."
    Or something like that...I just remember the scene as Roger telling Minnie some news from the States (he is draft dodging in Sweden) and she says the line as she is doing Diana's hair.

  • BassMan | January 3, 2014 8:48 PMReply

    X-Patriots.

  • RCH | January 3, 2014 11:21 AMReply

    Don Cheadle in Traitor

  • Bre | March 30, 2013 11:37 PMReply

    Queen Latifah in Last Holiday

  • Emmanuel | March 29, 2013 6:22 AMReply

    Isaiah Washington, in the film 'Kin'.

  • QC | March 29, 2013 2:34 AMReply

    You have "Mahogany" with Diana Ross living in Rome, RZA with "The Man With the Iron Fists" in China, Chris Tucker with "Rush Hour" 2 & 3 in Hong Kong and Paris, Ice Cube in "Dangerous Ground" with him returning to South Africa to bury his father and find his brother, Don Cheadle in "The Guard" which is set in Ireland, Jaden Smith and Taraji P. Henson in "Karate Kid" living in China.

  • RobG | March 27, 2013 2:29 AMReply

    Hit! starring Billy Dee Williams (and Richard Pryor) - 1973 - A great action film with high production values. A lot of it takes place in Europe.

  • Noro | March 26, 2013 4:20 PMReply

    MITTE - a mockumentary about a wandering performance artist who ventures to Berlin, Germany in search of stardom.
    http://vimeo.com/3688895

  • Rique | March 26, 2013 3:39 PMReply

    Round Midnight starring Dexter Gordon and several other jazz greats

  • Jeff | March 26, 2013 10:34 AMReply

    There was also Diva, by Jean Jacques Beneix, 1980 (ish).

    It's about an American soprano living in Paris.

  • Eva-Nzingha | March 25, 2013 5:24 PMReply

    has no one mentioned Mahogany?

  • Jeff | March 25, 2013 4:31 PMReply

    Denzel visits Vietnam in American Gangster (2007).

    Sam Jackson visits the UK in the 51st State (2001). But if you missed this one, rest easy.

    Of course, they play a drug dealer and maker, respectively. But as a black Londoner I meet lots of black people from the US who work or study here without recourse to such extremes.

  • Jfree | March 25, 2013 4:24 PMReply

    Will Smith and others in Ali.

  • lechar | March 25, 2013 2:36 PMReply

    RZA as Blacksmith / The Man with the Iron Fists: An emancipated slave from America who becomes the blacksmith of Jungle Village. RZA wrote the role specifically for himself.

  • Warin | March 24, 2013 4:16 PMReply

    A short film called "Black Sheep," which revolved around a black man who I believe was teaching English in Japan. Also "XXX" starring Vin Diesel which has scenes that take place in Prague.

  • Secondwynd | March 24, 2013 9:53 AMReply

    Superfly T.N.T. (1973) the sequel to SuperFly is set in Rome and Africa (by all means, do make an effort if you haven't seen it) and will strike viewers as surprisingly complex if not a stimulating departure from its predecessor. Despite the film's title there is a thoughtful screenplay by Alex Haley, by the way, and classically trained Ron O'Neal who stars and also directs reprises his role as the new and improved character Priest. Music by Osibisi

    from Wikipedia:

    " Priest (O'Neal) has retired from his former life as a cocaine hustler back in the streets of New York and now living comfortably in Rome, Italy with his lover Georgia ( Sheila Frazier). Through a mutual associate he plays cards with, he comes into contact with Dr. Lamine Sonko (Browne) a native of a small African country. Dr. Sonko is a revolutionary living in Rome also and would like Priest to assist him with supplying guns for his fellow countrymen to defeat colonialism in his country. Priest is not interested at first but Dr. Sonko, having learned some things of his background, presses upon him he has an obligation to help African people. Having time to think and perhaps feeling a sense of guilt for his cocaine hustling days, Priest decides to visit Africa to see things for himself...."

  • D.A. | March 24, 2013 1:32 AMReply

    If what I am taking from your description is correct, then you are looking for films that are more in the tradition of 'Eat, Pray, Love' with Julia Roberts and 'The American' with George Clooney where the main character(s) is(are) set in an environment where they actually adapt to the local/cultural norms and customs as a traveler. Most of the films that do have black actors in said situations are rarely seen in that light and are moreso depicted as action heroes, villains or vigilantes with a story line that complies with high- octane action sequences than actual life overseas. I would have to say that the closest thing to that film that I've seen or known of is 'The Karate Kid' where Jaden Smith's character did have to adjust to life in China with his Mom (played by the beautiful Taraji P. Henson).


    I'm sure there are a number of films that have that quality where it's about the actual life abroad, and the action/adventure but none come to mind sadly. There's Bernie Mac in 'Ocean's 12', but it was criminal the short bit of camera time he had in it.


    I personally feel that we have plenty of quality genre films with black actors in them here at home, but thats only if you are looking for them. You and the staff here at Shadow & Act have done a phenomenal job of bringing awareness to these projects. The only issue now is to fill a neccesary void.

  • Peggy | March 24, 2013 1:12 AMReply

    I have always praised the Fast and the Furious series, specifically #3 on. They have filmed primarily in S. America. It was amazing to see Americans of color in Brazil surrounded by all those people of color! For that reason alone, I believe the F&F series is the MOST important series in show business today. Created and filmed by POC in majority POC countries. And very successful.

  • Donella | March 23, 2013 2:48 PMReply

    Denzel in Queen & Country (though I think he portrayed a Brit) and Don Cheadle in Traitor.

  • Shannon | March 22, 2013 7:05 PMReply

    Portions of "The Golden Child" and Alfre Woodard's flashbacks in "How to Make an American Quilt" fit.

  • Urban Cineaste | March 22, 2013 5:50 PMReply

    A few suggestions:

    To Sir with Love which starred Sidney Poitier

    The Crying Game with Forrest Whittaker

  • Alex | March 22, 2013 5:32 PMReply

    Don Cheadle The Gaurd. Set in Ireland. The most successful independent Irish film of all time.

  • zeus fiction | January 4, 2014 2:46 PM

    Great film. Funny also.

  • Herman | March 22, 2013 5:26 PMReply

    Jaden Smith in Karate Kid (2010) comes to mind.

    Dwayne Johnson in Fast & Furious (2011 & 2013) also comes to mind.

    Eddie Griffin in Irish Jam(2006)

    I believe Wesley Snipes takes some international trips in Blade 2 & 3 (2002 & 2004)

    Sanaa Lathan goes overseas to play pro ball in Love & Basketball (2000)

  • Joe Doughrity | March 22, 2013 5:17 PMReply

    Aaron Woolfolk's little seen masterpiece "The Harimaya Bridge" comes to mind. It's available on Netflix!

  • Donella | March 22, 2013 4:23 PMReply

    Diana Sands in Georgia, Georgia (1972).

  • Donella | March 22, 2013 4:28 PM

    Michael Jai White's filming in Brazil and I belive RZA filmed on location for The Man With the Iron Fist.

  • Donella | March 22, 2013 4:24 PM

    Beverly Johnson in Ashanti (1979).

  • getthesenets | March 22, 2013 3:50 PMReply

    I think the reason why there aren't more of these films is that only a small % of movie goers would be able to relate to the idea of AA living anywhere else.

    Outside of Black people from here visiting their roots in the Caribbean or African country-hyphen-Americans visiting their direct roots in their parents' home country....or people vacationing...or students or military abroad.... what % of Black people here are ever going to spend more than a year of their entire lives OUTSIDE of the continental USA?


    VERY small percentage.


    So you release a film with that element in it....you're telling a story that not very many people can relate to.

    After all..this is America.....we tend to speak only ONE language here......tend to not be concerned with what is going on outside of our borders...

  • getthesenets | March 26, 2013 12:11 PM

    @Winston

    interesting that you mention aliens....The next time you speak to any of your friends who are Black Brits , perhaps one of them will tell you about any of their encounters here where they speak to people and get stared at like ALIENS.
    As if it's unfathomable that a british accent comes out of a Black person's mouth.

    I'm fortunate enough to have moved in circles of Black folks from damn near every "social strata", American region, and continent and outside of the exceptions I mentioned Black folks living outside of the USA is not a concept that many can relate to.

    You mention sci -fi films and then neglect to mention that it's rare that you see Black folks as (leading) characters in those films either.

    Sci-fi films are just variations of the Illiad and the Odyssey fantasy types of tales/myths..where the hero travels...encounters monsters/beasts...slays those monsters and makes it back home . These types of legends/myths/stories exist in many cultures...and if you live in America..you've been fed a steady diet of those types of stories by tv/film...so going to see a variation of that in theaters isn't anything new.

    Unless you are an immigrant..I think it's rare that a kid growing up in this country sees, knows of, or ever thinks about Black people living outside of the USA.

    Maybe in YOUR circle it was different, but I think you'd have to concede that in general it's true.

  • Winston | March 26, 2013 11:09 AM

    "So you release a film with that element in it....you're telling a story that not very many people can relate to."

    Hmmph . . . so says you.

    So I guess the millions of people who enjoy sci-fi films do so because they can relate to fighting aliens and traveling the solar system, right?

  • getthesenets | March 22, 2013 3:39 PMReply

    Dangerous Ground-rapper Ice Cube plays an American with South African roots who goes back there after death of his brother.

    one of the fast and furious films set in Tokyo...again..a rapper bow wow was in it...never watched that one

    Rush Hour 2....set in China...

  • Donella | March 22, 2013 4:17 PM

    I saw Dangerous Ground. Liked it. Surprised that Ice Cube didn't do more movies set overseas.

  • Atl Flick Chick | March 22, 2013 2:42 PMReply

    How Stella Got Her Groove Back (for at least a portion of the film), Mahogany, Man on Fire

  • no | March 22, 2013 1:19 PMReply

    Well, you already have Shaft in Africa. How about Paris Blues? Red Tails. Miracle at St Ana. I can't think of any more.

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