Urban sagas and “Roots,” Black History Month and a trip to the video store

Julie Montesion

With the month of February being Black History Month it is only natural to look at some of the films that have put African-American culture in the spotlight.
The film industry has come a long way since Sam Lucas (“Uncle Tom’s Cabin”) became the first African-American to star in a leading role.
Black films have been making their mark in today’s media as well as serving as powerful pieces of work used to portray African-American culture and history.
Steven Spielberg’s 1997 film “Amistad” made a huge impact on the public’s view of slavery in pre-Civil War America. The film is about an 1839 mutiny aboard a slave ship on its way to America.
The story turns into a courtroom drama once the slaves are tried for murdering the owners of the ship.
Starring such prominent actors in this film are Morgan Freeman (“The Shawshank Redemption”), Anthony Hopkins (“Hannibal”), Matthew McConaughey (“Contact”), and Anna Paquin (“Almost Famous”) “Amistad” is a must see.
The television mini-series “Roots,” which first aired in January of 1977, gives another look into slavery. The series is based on the Alex Haley novel and aired for eight consecutive nights with a 12-hour duration.
The story follows a young Kunta Kinte (John Amos), who is captured from his West African tribal community and sold into slavery. The story later continues on with Kinte’s descendants.
Viewers are shown the brutal whippings, rapes, forced separations and slave auctions. The series also stars African-American poet/activist Maya Angelou (“How to Make an American Quilt”), Louis Gossett, Jr. (“A Raisin in the Sun”) and O.J. Simpson (“Naked Gun”).
The Spike Lee film “Malcolm X,” another Haley novel, is a favorite depicting the late Civil Rights era. This film shows the controversial Nationalist Black Panther leader, played by Denzel Washington (“Remember the Titans”). The three-hour film also stars Angela Bassett (“Waiting to Exhale”) and director Spike Lee (“Summer of Sam”).
Another film to check out is John Singleton’s 1991 hit “Boyz n’ The Hood.” This film is a coming of age tale about a group of teenage boys growing up in the rough setting of South Central Los Angeles. It follows a father and son relationship. Father Furious Styles, played by Laurence Fishburne (“The Matrix”), tries to teach his son Tre Styles, played by Cuba Gooding, Jr. (“Jerry Maguire”) wrong from right and to take responsibility for his actions.
Other urban coming-of-age films by John Singleton include last year’s “Baby Boy” featuring Tyrese, Ving Rhames and Snoop Dogg, as well as 1995’s “Higher Learning” with Omar Epps, Tyra Banks and Ice Cube.