It seems like the best of times for African-American films, with Oscar contenders and critically acclaimed movies like Brit Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave,” Lee Daniels’ “The Butler,” Ryan Coogler’s “Fruitvale Station,” Justin Chadwick’s “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” and Adam Leon’s left-field indie hit “Gimme the Loot,” Streampix offers its own selection.
Here’s a list of the Top 10 Streampix picks for Black History month, including a pair of classic Spike Lee joints, along with vehicles for superstar stand-up comics-turned-actors Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby and Chris Rock.
“Do the Right Thing”: Spike Lee’s incendiary 1989 film about racial tensions boiling over in a Brooklyn neighborhood was the clarion call for a new era of African-American filmmaking, as well as introducing Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” onto the airwaves. With Lee himself, who received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay, as Mookie, the movie features an all-star cast, including Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Danny Aiello, Giancarlo Esposito (“Breaking Bad”’s Gus Fring) and the late, great comic Robin (“Bebe’s Kids”) Harris.
“Mo’ Better Blues”: Lee’s 1990 follow-up to “Do the Right Thing” was very different, following a period in the life of the fictional jazz trumpet player Bleek Gilliam (played by Denzel Washington), who lives up to his name with a series of bad decisions that threatens his career and personal life, very much based on the director/writer’s father, a jazz musician himself. Lee plays Gilliam’s manager, with a supporting cast that includes Wesley Snipes, as well as Spike regulars Giancarlo Esposito, his sister Joie Lee, Cynda Williams and Robin Harris, who died five months before the release of the movie, which was dedicated to his memory. The soundtrack features music by the Branford Marsalis Quartet and frequent Lee collaborator, trumpeter Terence Blanchard.
“Love and Basketball”: Omar Epps stars as the son of an NBA star who has a romance with fellow basketball player Sanaa Lathan, the tomboyish girl next door in this smart, heartfelt 2000 film written and directed by first-timer Gina Prince-Bythewood and co-produced by Spike Lee. The two are forced to make difficult choices between each other and the game they love, as well as family and team. Also stars Alfre Woodard along with insurance pitchman and former “24” POTUS Dennis Haysbert.
“The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings”: John Badham’s 1976 comedy about a barnstorming ex-Negro League baseball team in 1939 offered a veritable all-star cast headed by Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor and James Earl Jones in this story of a group of players who revolt against being treated like slaves by their club owner and set off to form their own squad. Williams character was based on legendary pitcher Leroy “Satchel” Page. The movie was co-produced by Motown founder Berry Gordy.
“My Girlfriend’s Back”: Malik Yoba and Aloma Wright star in a romantic comedy about a man whose life is turned upside down by an unexpected visit from an ex, with the sanity and security of his present giving way to a journey through the craziness of his past. The movie was directed by Steven Ayromlooi, best-known for the infamous direct-to-video cult film, “Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood,” but don’t hold that against him.
“Brewster’s Millions”: Richard Pryor stars as a down-on-his-luck baseball player who stands to inherit $300 million if he can spend one million bucks a day for 30 days in a row in this 1985 Walter Hill-directed comedy, the seventh film version of the 1902 novel by George Barr McCutcheon. Pryor’s foil is catcher Spike Nolan, played by the late John Candy, with Lonette McKee as the love interest. Other cameos appearances are made by Tovah Felshuh, Hume Cronyn, Rick Moranis, Yakov Smirnoff and Lin Shaye.
“CB4”: Tamra Davis, wife of Beastie Boy Mike D., directed this 1993 hip-hop satire starring Chris Rock—his first outing since splitting “Saturday Night Live,” about a fictional rap group, named after the prison block where they allegedly formed. Rock co-wrote the screenplay with veteran journalist Nelson George, who also produced. The rap group’s hits included the controversial “Sweat of My Balls” and “Straight Outta Locash,” their rise to fame documented by a director played by Chris Elliott of “Late Show with David Letterman” fame. Phil Hartman plays an ambitious politician who seeks to shut them down on obscenity charges. Look for brief appearances by “Treme” star Khandi Alexander, Isaac Hayes as a store owner and “In Living Color” comic Tommy Davidson.
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“Cry Freedom”: A nice companion piece to “Mandela,” this 1987 British movie directed by Richard Attenborough is based on the true story of journalist Donald Woods (Kevin Kline), who is forced to leave the country after attempting to investigate the death of his friend, black activist Steve Biko (Denzel Washington). The movie received three Oscar nominations, including one for Washington as Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Score and Song for the title track.
“The Cookout”: Queen Latifah co-stars, co-wrote and co-produced this 2004 comedy about an affluent NBA superstar (Storm P), who invites friends and family from the old hood to a barbecue at his estate, where cultures—and stereotypes—clash. The film also stars Tim Meadows, Danny Glover, Farrah Fawcett and rapper Ja Rule.
“Ghost Dad”: Bill Cosby plays the title role, a widower who suffers an untimely death and must learn to put family before money and career when he returns as a spirit to be with his three children in this heartwarming 1990 comedy directed by Oscar winner Sidney Poitier. The movie also stars Denise Nicholas and Christine Ebersole, with music by Henry Mancini.