Rolling Out.com posted a blog at the beginning of February naming 5 movies that all African-Americans need to see. Of course my list differed from theirs, but it left me wondering about African-American representation in movies and how horrible most of it is. So I have decided to have use this blog to write about eight movies. On Monday, I will talk about the four movies that in my opinion best treat the issues of the Black Church and sexuality. On Wednesday, I’ll post the four movies that worst treat these issues.
Before we jump right to the best movies, let me explain my criteria. In ordered to be considered for the best list, a movie had to have elements that dealt substantively with both themes involving the Black Church and some aspect of Black Sexuality. The two did not have to be linked, both elements simply had to be present. I did not choose the movies based on the value of the messages about either topic, rather I chose them based upon how authentically they dealt with complexity of the human condition, particularly in regards to human sexuality in the African-American context and whether or not the Black church, or its beliefs impacted or intersected the lives of its characters, be it positively or negatively (or both, as it often turned out). That being said, enjoy the list…
The Best List
The Best Man
Why It Qualifies for Sexuality: The intimacy between Harper & Robin and Lance & Mia. The mutual sexual objectification of Harper & Jordan, Lance & so many people, and seemingly Quintin & whoever…
Why it Qualifies for Black Church: Although no scene of significance (other than the wedding) takes place in a church, the religious beliefs of Lance and Mia are very important sub-theme in this movie, especially in light of their behavior. Also there are clear notions of forgiveness and penance, punishment and grace that play themselves out in this movie.
Why It is One of the Best: So, honestly this movie was very close for me. I do have a problem with the fact that there is no strong, stable male character that stands as a counterpoint to Robin (to all of you Tyler Perry hyper-critics, note that this phenomenon did not begin with him). However, the more I think about it, the more I am intrigued, not only by the juxtaposition of the intimate and objectifying relationships listed above, but also by the broad middle ground that the movie establishes in between them. The relationships between Harper & Mia, Julian & Candy, and even to some degree Quintin & Shelby are cast in a wide spectrum of gray, while providing little moralizing about them.
Why It Qualifies for Sexuality: This movie, based on a true story, has themes of sex and power intermingled with hatred, fear, and violence between the races in a Florida county. A white woman lies about being attacked by a black man after she has been beaten up by one of her many white paramours. This attack leads to decimation of the adjoining black town whose sole white inhabitant is involved in a sexually exploitative relationship with the daughter of one of his neighbors. Not to be lost in this is the beautiful courtship between “Scrappy (Elsie Neal) and “Mr. Man” (Ving Rhames).
Why It Qualifies for the Black Church: Though there is nothing to indicate that Rosewood is an excessively religious town, Rosewood A.M.E. Church is clearly the center of the community. It was the meeting place for the African-Americans when trouble began, and its pastor of the church had a clear, although not absolute leadership voice in the community. The death of the pastor and the destruction of the church mark the death of any hopes of return to Rosewood.
Why It Is One of the Best: The misused fear of Black male sexual aggression toward white women was a political tool that has been used repeatedly throughout history to justify the killing of Black men, the terrorizing of Black families, and the destruction of Black towns. This movie captures an example of this awful truth of American history while not allowing the sexual politics of the movie to completely drown out the human element of the story.
Why it Qualifies for Sexuality: Sexualization and racism take center stage in this story of a plantation owner’s son and an enslaved woman whose daughter, Queen (Halle Berry) comes into her own in post-Civil War America. In her attempts to navigate the segregated world, she is subjected to among other things sexual violence.
Why it Qualifies for the Black Church: Queen goes to the Black Church seek help after she has been mistreated, abused and abandoned by the rest of the world.
Why It is One of the Best: First of all I could have very easily put Roots in this spot, there is no doubt that it is equally as deserving. I chose Queen for two reasons. 1) While the brutalities of slavery have been given some attention in literature and film, what has not received much attention, but what is no less important, are the brutalities and inhumane treatment suffered by a people who have are legally free, but are just as despised, especially in the Northern US. 2) Roots follows the life of Kunta Kinte, a man whose physical struggle with the demonic-like forces of slavery reflect the same type of force that for better or worse America idealizes in itself, and demonizes in all those who oppose it. Queen on the other hand follows a woman who uses primary survival tools are ingenuity and resilience.
The Color Purple
Why It Qualifies for Sexuality: If you don’t understand this, then you’ve never really seen this movie. The Color Purple weaves the themes of sexual molestation, teenage pregnancy, the importance of sexuality to a person’s mental and emotional health, power dynamics in marriage and relationships, sexual roles and identities in both personal and communal contexts into a narrative that is so gripping and complex that you don’t feel like you’re watching an after-school special. (Spike Lee could have used taken a lesson or two from this movie.)
Why It Qualifies for the Black Church: If “God is Trying to Tell You Something” was all there was it would be enough for several movies. In this one scene alone, we see a retelling of the end of the prodigal son parable set in Georgia. Shug returns “home”-to the church, where her father is pastor, and they are lovingly reunited after years of estrangement. Not only is the family dynamic at work here, but so is Shug’s distance from the church, evidenced by her singing the blues in a juke joint, on Sunday morning while church is going on. However, what compels her to return home is not desperation, as in the Biblical narrative, nor is it guilt, but it is the essence of God- love- that Shug feels and talks freely about throughout the movie. This love gently pulls on her in the language she knows best, the language of song, and gently, lovingly, and irresistibly calls her home.
Why It is One of the Best: Just in case you have doubts after reading the descriptions above, let me be clear that this movie tells a series of very messy and uncomfortable stories exceptionally well. Of course it has the great author Alice Walker to thank for most of that, (in fact if you’ve seen the movie, you ought to read the book.) however, book-to-movie adaptations are not always done this well. Also at work in this movie are: the tortured humanity of Mister, and how that resulted in the abusive relationship with Ceelie and a longing for Shug that is never quite fulfilled; the maturing of Harpo, who spends the entire movie wrestling with the socialization in domestic violence that he received, literally at the hands of his father; his wife Sofia, who is time and time again forced to protect herself from the violence of men. Each of these characters or plot lines could be it’s own movie.
Be sure to come back Wednesday to see the 4 worst movies list. Please feel free to leave your comments below.
Nelson Jerome Pierce, Jr. is an avid movie watcher, and is the Pastor of the Word Fellowship Church in Cincinnati, OH. Friend him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.
The views, opinions, and perspectives expressed in by guest and consultant bloggers do not necessarily reflect the views of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, its state affiliates, it member organizations, or the National Black Church Initiative. The Religious Coalition is committed through its National Black Church Initiative to faithfully, prayerfully breaking the silence on issues related to sex, sexuality and religion.