The Best And Worst In Black Movies 2011

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At a Rutgers University’s Actor’s Spotlight this past February, Idris Elba bluntly articulated Black Hollywood’s sentiment: “The Oscars aren’t designed for us.” Elba was responding to this year’s Academy Awards, where not a single black person in the industry made the ballot.  No matter; while the media and Hollywood insiders were in a tizzy about  the so-called  “Oscar black-out”  black independent film quietly picked up the baton and sprinted to glory with projects that expanded the definition of “The Black Experience.”  From the creation of Ava DuVernay’s AFFRM (African-American Film Releasing Movement) to the critical acclaim of indie darlings like Shame, Pariah and Kinyarwanda, today’s black filmmakers are not waiting for permission to tell their stories.

The Urban Daily has rounded up some of the best and the worst in black film for 2011.  Which was your favorite and/or least favorite Black film of 2011? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Fast Five (Universal)

Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Ludacris, Tyrese

Dir: Justin Lin

Opening Weekend Position: #1

Total Domestic Gross$209.8 million

The Urban Daily Rating: B

Justin Lin pulled the ultimate hat trick; after 2009’s lackluster Fast and Furious it seemed the franchise’s demise was written on the wall.  Going back to the drawing board, Lin wisely went back to the basics of what has made the series so iconic–fast cars, hot bods and more adrenaline packed action.  The introduction of The Rock (and those massive biceps) to the collection of existing man candy (Paul Walker, Vin Diesel)  kept the ladies glued to their seats.  Spectacular high octane car chases and gravity defying chase scenes brought their male fans back in droves. Tyrese and Ludacris’  bickering was witty, humorous, and never descended into coonery. With its racially balanced cast, Fast Five has put Hollywood on notice–diversity pays very well at the box office.


I Will Follow

Salli Richardson Whitfield Omari Hartwick I Will FollowStarring: Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Michole White, Omari Hardwick, Dijon Talton

Dir: Ava DuVernay

The Urban Daily Rating: B

I Will Follow is the impressive debut from filmmaker (and AFFRM founder) Ava DuVernay.  Salli Richardson-Whitfield turns in a touching performance as Maye, a successful make-up artist charged with wrapping up the affairs of her recently departed aunt, Amanda (Beverly Todd).  Michole White is especially gripping as Amanda’s daughter, Fran, who is still deeply resentfully towards Maye and Amanda’s tight bond. Beautiful cinematography and an understated script, punctuate “I Will Follow’s” contemplative approach to loss and renewal.

The Help (Dreamworks)

Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain, Cicely Tyson

Dir: Tate Taylor

Opening Weekend Position: #2

Total Domestic Gross: $169.4 million

The Urban Daily Rating: C-

Based on the NY Times bestseller by Kathryn Stockett, The Help is a coming of age story seen through the eyes of a young southern socialite, Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) who  decides  to buck tradition and write a scandalous tell-all book about the seemingly genteel society ladies and “the help” who cater to them.  From a surface perspective, The Help would seem to be a substantive, female-centric film that tackles racism and class division, but the movie opts for a very polite and sanitized version of Mississippi in 1962. Instead of a story of self-empowerment for African-Americans, they opted for Hollywood’s tired “White Jesus” trope, cleverly disguised in the form of a spunky 20-something college graduate.   One of The Help’s most egregious offenses was their shameless marketing which  included  a collection of recipes, a clothing line on The Home Shopping Network, and scent collection from Carol’s Daughter “inspired” by the characters in the movie.  The accolades heaped on The Help by countless mainstream critics confirmed what many had long suspected–that it reeked of white privilege and was  just a cathartic exercise to assuage their liberal guilt.  While Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are immense talents, even their fine performances can’t save the watered down, revisionist history of The Help.

Pariah (Focus Features)

Starring: Adepero Oduye, Kim Wayans, Pernell Walker, Charles Parnell, Aasha Davis

Dir: Dee Rees

The Urban Daily Rating: A

Pariah is a lovely coming of age story by filmmaker Dee Rees.  A former intern of Spike Lee’s, Rees worked on her screenplay while working on the set of “Inside Man.”  Adepero Oduye plays Alike, a bright student and talented poet with a secret—she’s slowly coming into her own as a lesbian. Oduye brings innocence and a lyrical soul to her character, which immediately draws the viewer into Alike’s  journey of self-discovery.   Kim Wayans gives an inspired performance as the tightly wound Audrey, who can’t seem to keep her husband at home, and is in deep denial about  the truth of who her “tomboyish” daughter really is. Pariah effectively examines the lies and silences needed to keep up the appearance of the picture perfect family.

Madea’s Big Happy Family (Lionsgate)


Starring: Tyler Perry, Loretta Devine, Shannon Kane, Natalie Desselle-Reid, Isaiah Mustafa, Rodney Perry

Dir: Tyler Perry

Opening Weekend Position: #2

Total Domestic Gross: $53.3 million

The Urban Daily Rating: D-

Based on the 2010 stage play, Big Happy Family tells the story of Shirley (Loretta Devine), who wants to arrange a family dinner with her wayward children, to announce her fatal cancer diagnosis. While I give Perry kudos for featuring actresses of varying shapes and sizes, the rampant misogyny in Big Happy Family totally negates the director’s goodwill towards women. Lines like “Row, row, row, your ho” and “1-800-CHOKE-A-HO” seemed shockingly out of place for what should be a feel-good family film.  It was especially disappointing to see talent like Shannon Kane and Natalie Desselle-Reid (who was the bright light in the sitcom “Eve”) play such shrewish ball-busters.  While Teyana Taylor brought a few laughs as a gold-digging baby momma, it was still just another nasty stereotype that black women don’t need to contend with (as if we don’t have enough).  Big Happy Family proved one thing to the African-American female population—Tyler Perry is NOT your friend.

Jumping The Broom (Tristar)


Starring: Laz Alonso, Paula Patton, Loretta Devine, Angela Bassett, Mike Epps, Megan Good, Gary Dourdan

Dir: Salim Akil

Opening Weekend Position: #3

Total Domestic Gross: $37.2 million

The Urban Daily Rating: B

A fun romantic comedy that follows the story of two families that converge on Martha’s Vineyard to witness the nuptials of lovebirds Jason (Laz Alonso) and Sabrina (Paula Patton).  The course of true love goes awry when it becomes an all out class war between the blue-collar Taylors and the upper-crust Watsons.  While people mistakenly dismissed it as just another Tyler Perry clone,  “Jumping The Broom” was actually smarter and more even-handed in their depictions of the rich and working class.  Jason’s mother (Loretta Devine) may  have come off as a sanctified holy-roller, but her words and actions dripped with venom.  Some of the movie’s best scenes are when Devine’s character locks horns with the Watson’s haughty matriarch (Bassett).  While minister T.D. Jakes may have been on board as a producer, it didn’t dampen the sexual sparks between the movies’ two couples: Patton and Alonso, as well as  Good and Dourdan.

Mooz-lum

Starring: Evan Ross, Nia Long, Roger Guenver Smith, Danny Glover

Dir: Qasim Basir

The Urban Daily Rating: B-

Qasim Basir gives us a timely snapshot of growing up Muslim in post 9/11 America.  Evan Ross plays Tariq, a Muslim teenager who decides to break away from his strict religious upbringing to attend a midwestern college.  Roger Guenver Smith is scarily good as Tariq’s father, –a man whose deep abiding faith eventually costs him his marriage and family.  Nia Long gives a career turning performance as Safiyah, a fierce mama bear who strives to navigate her son through both the Muslim and secular world.  Long imbues Safiyah with femininity, strength, spirituality and succeeds in redefining our views of Muslim women.  Mooz-lum shows the universality we share in family and commitment, whether you worship in a cathedral, a mosque or a temple.

Kinyarwanda

Starring:Cassandra Freeman, Edouward Bamporiki, Cleophas Kabasita, Mazimpaka Kennedy

Dir: Alrick Brown

The Urban Daily Rating: B

Kinyarwanda is a gripping tale that explore the events of the Rwandan Genocide from the viewpoints of six interweaving stories.  Watching Kinyarwanda, you realize that American’s media coverage of the tragic event, only gave us half the story.  One narrative reveals that the Muslim leaders decreed a fatwa, forbidding fellow Muslims from participating in the heinous crimes.  Later on we learn, that survivors sought and found refuge at nearby mosques, forging a bond between Christians and Muslims.  Kinyarwanda encourages views to look within themselves and ask “Is it easier to hate or to forgive?” The film will leave you questioning our government’s  unwavering belief in retaliation, under the guise of diplomacy.

Shame (Fox Searchlight)


Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, Nicole Beharie

Dir: Steve McQueen

The Urban Daily Rating: A

Steve McQueen is the director to watch.  This former visual artist gave the film world a literal dropkick in the gut with the raw and visceral Hunger.  McQueen reunites with his cinematic muse, Michael Fassbender (Magneto “X-Men: First Class”) for the controversial Shame. Fassbender plays Brandon, a seemingly handsome and successful business executive living in New York City. Unbeknownst to all, Brandon is in the grip of sexual addiction.  Things get complicated when Brandon’s flighty sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan) blows into town. Fassbender gives a knockout performance, fearlessly baring himself both physically and emotionally for the audience.  Mulligan is also excellent–Sissy’s emotional neediness is both terrifying and heartbreaking.  Nicole Beharie brings light and intelligence to her role as Marianne, a potential love interest for Brandon.  Shame pushes the boundaries with its sexual frankness, proving  why we need dynamic visionaries like McQueen who dare to challenge Hollywood’s status quo.


Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey

Dir: Constance Marks, Philip Shane

The Urban Daily Rating: B+

Being Elmo takes an in-depth look at the voice behind Sesame Street’s most iconic figure.  The documentary is a wonderful example of how talent and preparation can open doors to anyone’s career passion.  Clash, born into a solid middle class Baltimore family, first had an interest in puppetry as a child when watching “Captain Kangaroo.”  With the support of his parents, Clash was soon creating his puppets and was hired by a local TV station, while still in high school.  Through sheer determination and a stroke of serendipity, he soon found himself working with his long-time idol, “Muppets” creator Jim Henson.  What is refreshing about “Being Elmo” is seeing Clash consistently upend the stereotype of the “Angry Black Man” by bringing joy and smiles to children everywhere through a little red puppet.

Corman’s World: Exploits of A Hollywood Rebel

Dir: Alex Stapleton

The Urban Daily Rating: A

Roger Corman is the most prolific director you’ve never met.  Affectionately dubbed “The King of The B’s” Corman’s career has spanned over five decades, and has 200 films under his belt.   Director Alex Stapleton, a long-time Corman fan who had no formal film training, simply picked up the phone and asked “Can I make a film about you?”  After countless hours of research and interviews, what we get is a deeply engrossing and slightly irreverent slice of Hollywood history.  Corman’s World includes commentary from some of the most prolific A-listers who graduated from Corman boot camp, including Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorcese, Ron Howard, and Pam Grier.  “Corman’s World” while highly entertaining, is also a great resource to aspiring filmmakers looking to navigate the shark-filled waters of the film industry.

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