Earlier this week, my film brethren at the American Film Institute convened to announced their list of the 100 Greatest films of All-Time, AFI's 100 Years ... 100 Movies --10th Anniversary Edition. While I didn't watch the show, I was curious to see which films made the cut and which ones were excluded. But more importantly, I wanted to see if the list had any "Shades of Black.”
1,500 filmmakers, critics and historians compiled the list and while I was not among that number, I wondered if notable Black film historian Donald Bogle, writer/filmmaker Nelson George or even Black Filmmaker Foundation head Warrington Hudlin were consulted to contribute their opinions.
After perusing AFI's list, I must admit that there are some fantastic films included on the list. But what really jumps out is the number one, which represents the films on the list that have a Black star in the lead. One, wow! Coming in Number 99 is the 1967 interracial classic, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner. To put this in perspective, if the world were to suddenly stop spinning right now and a new civilization sprung up and they went through the history of film in this country for the past century, there would be no record of the rich achievements of thousands of talented black award-winning actors and filmmakers.
I know there will be those who will say simply that by not being a part of this project that I'm just "hatin'. While there may be a shred of proof in not being able to raise my voice for some films that I felt were worthy, the fact of the matter is that in the early 21st century, it's time to acknowledge that for many years the playing field in Hollywood was uneven (and still is to this day). For the first 50 years of the 20th Century, black men were coons, bucks and buffoons on the big screen. It wasn't until legendary actors such as Sidney Poitier, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge emerged in the 1950s to begin creating new possibilities for people of color on film.
While Poitier won an Oscar for Lilies of the Field, he distinguished himself in two earlier films, The Defiant Ones and A Raisin in the Sun, performances that were superior to his Oscar win. For my money, Raisin is not only one of the top Black films of all-time, but one of the top 100 for sure.
Other films that should merit serious consideration are 1964's Nothing But A Man with Ivan Dixon and Abby Lincoln, the historic In the Heat of the Night, 1972's Sounder and Lady Sings the Blues, as well as 1974's Claudine. Films from the 1980's include 11-time Oscar nominee, The Color Purple as well as Spike Lee's riveting look at a sweltering cauldron of racial activity in Do the Right Thing.
What about Glory? Where's Malcolm X? Don't forget Boyz 'N the Hood. What's Love Got To Do With It, The Hurricane, Ray and Ali all are candidates for recognition. Don't get me wrong, I've seen about 85 of AFI's Top 100 and I enjoyed them all. While those films are good, you'd have to admit that having only ONE film with a Black lead from the past 100 is just short-sighted and plain wrong.
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? Not a Black film on AFI's list, that who. Until organizations such as the American Film Institute can recognize the proud heritage and contribution of Black actors and filmmakers, we should treat their list like they treat Black films, to borrow a phrase from Rhett Butler, "frankly AFI we don't give a damn!" That's "Black"atcha!