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What Does The Sight and Sound 'Greatest Films of All Time' List Say About Black Films?

by Alece Oxendine
August 6, 2012 10:55 AM
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Black Girl Sembene

Let me say first that there are some truly amazing films on this list (to see the full list, click HERE) and if you haven't seen most of these, I suggest firing up that Netflix account or going HERE to find out how to watch these films.

OK, it's a shame that the only film the African diaspora on this list is Battle of Algiers. Granted it is an amazing film, and these films are all great, but this list shows a couple of things:

- One, lists are difficult to create, especially when the criteria is not clearly defined (I ordered a copy of the magazine that will give better insight behind the poll);

- And two, there are not enough of "us" as critics and tastemakers.

And so this list also leads me to ask: will our films ever be included in the major film canon?

There's no such thing as affirmative action with these tastemakers, and I don't think that a film should be included just because they need a black film on the list.

My question is, are there any films of high cinematic quality (as defined by these tastemakers) with black subjects, worthy of being on this list?

I don't have answers to any of these question, only suggestions, thoughts, ideas, and discussion.

So let's discuss.

For the next poll in 2022, which black films should be included and why?

What is your top 10 list of greatest black films (directed by black filmmakers) of all time?

Here's my top 10 black film list in no particular order. My criteria being, aesthetically strong, solid script, historical significance, and being directed by a director in the African diaspora.

- Within Our Gates

- Black Girl (Sembene's masterpiece)

- Yeelen

- Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song

- Touki Bouki

- Killer of Sheep

- Min Ye

- Do the Right Thing

- Daughters of the Dust

- Malcolm X

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  • KikiDee | August 7, 2012 12:58 PMReply

    My criteria of a great Black film (or any film for that matter) is a story that stays with me and compels me watch it over and over again. My list includes: 1. Pariah, 2. Nothing But A Man, 3. Eve's Bayou, 4. The Five Heartbeats.

  • KikiDee | August 9, 2012 3:14 PM

    @Laura, I stand corrected. For some reason, I thought Ivan Dixon directed NBAM. Instead Dixon directed The Spook That Sat By The Door.

  • Laura | August 9, 2012 11:27 AM

    Nothing but a Man while brilliant is not made by a black director.

  • Derek Stewart | August 7, 2012 8:53 AMReply

    I would have on my list: Too Sleep With Anger, Black Orpheus, City of Men, Jungle Fever, I Like It Like That, and Eve's Bayou. If I had more time I might be able to come up with my last three.

  • jb | August 9, 2012 11:05 AM

    black orpheus wasn't directed by a black director, which is the criteria identified by alece

  • Anne Thompson | August 7, 2012 12:25 AMReply

    I've been working on a best women filmmakers list, and it's clear that the S & S list consensus titles have accumulated cred over time--most of the films are pre-1960. And during that period, few women or black directors were working. Around the world, most got started in the 70s. (Battle of Algiers is a standout, but isn't Gillo Pontecorvo Italian?)
    Here's my top ten--truthfully, I could add Lee's 25th Hour and Malcolm X to the list, but to spread the wealth:
    1. Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing
    2. Antoine Fuqua's Training Day
    3. Lee Daniels' Precious
    4. Carl Franklin's One False Move
    5. John Singleton's Boyz n the Hood
    6. Gina Prince Blythewood's Love and Basketball
    7. Denzel Washington's Antoine Fisher
    8. Kasi Lemmon's Eve's Bayou
    9. Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep
    10. Melvin Van Peebles' Sweet Baadasssss Song

    F. Gary Gray, Sidney Poitier, the Hughes brothers, Julie Dash, and Forest Whitaker's Friday, Stir Crazy, Menace II Society, Daughters of the Dust and Hope Floats respectively didn't make my top ten. I have never seen Ossie's Davis's Black Girl, I should.

  • Erin | August 6, 2012 11:11 PMReply

    Soy Cuba! - granted it was an all white production

  • Firebrand | August 6, 2012 6:25 PMReply

    If a great black film like Yeelen made this type of prestigious list, that would make it lose its value in my opinion. Treasures like that should stay obscure for those brave enough to seek it out. Anyway, my own personal list of favorites has many black films on it (African, African-American, black British, etc), so a list like this doesn't make me angry. I don't put any weight on it anyway because it's obviously a very biased list, as exemplified by an American film getting the top spot.

  • Justsaying | August 6, 2012 6:12 PMReply

    Re: title of this post....Not a D@mn thing.

  • jacetoon | August 6, 2012 1:28 PMReply

    Make your own list who the F needs Sight and Sound?

  • Charles Judson | August 6, 2012 1:10 PMReply

    By the by, I do think this list does highlight the role being prolific or having a larger body of work plays a factor. Most of the folks included on this list have at least five or more features they've directed with many of them having well made it into the teens. Outside of a Charles Burnett, a Spike Lee or a Julie Dash the list of African American directors who have a wide body of work and a body of work that's strong thins out fast. Is that due to a lack of access or the lack of strong films? Is it both? Would, or will, BOYZ IN THE HOOD be on this list if Singleton had a body of work that was better regarded? There are ball players who have broken a record or two, but because they never won a championship (or more than one), and didn't have a standout career overall, or were a difference maker on their teams, who never made the hall of fame and won't. As it has been addressed here, the lack of career filmmakers is a major barrier. Not only for filmmakers themselves, but also in the ability to pass on knowledge and skills. As a festival, we've had films (shorts and features) submitted to us by filmmakers who were mentored and taught by Spike Lee. But, we've gotten many more that worked for, or were mentored and taught by everyone from Spielberg to Alexander Payne over the years. That Sight & Sound list includes a lot of filmmakers that worked with each other, talked to each other, admired each other and considered the other filmmakers on that list as contemporaries.

  • Charles Judson | August 6, 2012 12:40 PMReply

    I wouldn't read a lot into the lack of Black films on the list. Over 800 critics voted but the top film had 22% of the vote, the number 10 film had 8% of the vote, and the 50th film had 3% of the vote. For the most part, numbers 16 to 50 are just one vote away from moving up or down a slot, and 8 to 15 are within 5 votes of moving up or down, with 26 of the films in 16 to 50 sharing the same scores. With that little of wiggle room, that much overlap, and the low bar to be included, that means there's a lot of films in that 97% that were probably only a few votes away from slipping into the list. Even when they only had 145 critics participating the number one film in 2002 (46 votes) received twice the number of votes (22) as the number 5 film, and 885 films received at least 1 vote. With six times the number of critics voting, I'm confident that 885 films getting one vote was not only met, but it was probably crushed easily. I would also note that most of the 50 films are over 40 years old and only 6 were released in the last 30 years. Even if you have more Black critics voting, unless their lists have significant overlap--realistically most Black critics are going submit lists that will only have a few Black films if they have any at all-- you're likely to see a complete change in the films that appear below number 15 but no guarantee that more Black films make the list. With the 2002 and 2012 top 10 films overlapping by 7 films, you'd also see more of reshuffling of the order for the top 15. BUT, with windows that small, it's easy to surmise that a lot of the films folks are listing were picked by the critics who participated and those films just missed the cut. Still, I'd caution against using this list as some kind of barometer beyond being a starting point for debate and discussion and good introduction to film history. Using Sight & Sound's criteria, I would be interested in seeing a Black critic's list to see what films would show up.

  • Celluloidgriot | August 6, 2012 12:08 PMReply

    Cooley High, Superfly, Eve's Bayou, Malcolm X, Killer of Sheep, La Vie Est Belle, Chico and Rita, Do the Right Thing, Chameleon Street, Baadasssss!

  • Wendy | August 6, 2012 12:07 PMReply

    Wait a sec...I meant Menace to Society. I hated Boyz in the Hood LOL

  • Wendy | August 6, 2012 12:07 PMReply

    Hey Alece! Great point! I would add: Xala, Bamako, and Boyz in the Hood

  • incrediblejeff | August 6, 2012 11:30 AMReply

    Using your same criteria I made this list.

    Ganja & Hess
    Within Our Gates
    Malcolm X
    Looking for Langston
    Do the Right Thing
    Boyz 'N the Hood
    The Learning Tree
    Brother to Brother
    She's Gotta Have It

    Granted my knowledge of black films isn't as big as it should be.

  • LeonRaymond | August 6, 2012 11:16 AMReply

    I think as always a List that looks at all films including Black films is needed with Racist list makers cause there were films missing that were even white films that to me should have been on the list so we need some one like Roger Ebert, some one like Elvis Mitchell, Not Nelson George cause he's already showed his pro-Brooklyn pro Elitism, upper crust film Snobbery, there are other's can that be on a well formed panel and find a magazine of prestige and lay that list down so it will get respect. I can not at all respect that list, it was so Euro snob racist that it didn't make sense. Vertigo as great as a film as it is should not be #1

  • Laura | August 9, 2012 11:21 AM

    Amen about Nelson George. Glad m not the only one who feels that way. He's a real joke.

  • urbanauteur | August 6, 2012 5:36 PM

    oh..? my top 12 black list} Bamboozled-Love Jones-Bless Their Little Hearts-Killer Of Sheep-Daughters of the Dust-Cooley High-La Vie Est Belle-Chameleon Street-One of Us Tripped_She's Gotta Have It-The Meeting_Baby Boy_.

  • urbanauteur | August 6, 2012 5:30 PM

    @LEONRAYMOND, i agree with everything you said, and like you suggested, maybe add some kind of [black ]ribbon panel to constructively critique those black films, in light of these white boy's exclusionary tactics and/or movie-x-communication.

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