Every month I will highlight a Black artist, form of entertainment, business, or social media personality to help to spread awareness of Black Excellence. Be sure to check here on the 2nd of every month!
By now I'm sure all of you have finished binge watching Orange is the New Black and if you timed things right you probably still have about two weeks of your Netflix free trial month left. If you're anything like me you have probably been trying to find some other shows that don't pretend like Black folks don't exist in most major cities (I'm looking at you Friends) or a film that doesn't have "Tyler Perry's..." in the title. And likely you came up short. So what to do? What to watch? Let me help you out. This month I did the hard work of searching Netflix for a variety of Black films and television shows to highlight the quality Black programming that the popular streaming service DOES have available. This isn't a comprehensive list of all the Black movies and shows on Netflix, and I will readily admit that I picked a bunch of my favorites, but given the five categories of films and the couple of TV shows, I'm sure you can find something you'll enjoy. Even if you don't, there are other places to look that could really use your support.
Classics = Just what the name says, I'm gonna start with some classic Black movies on Netflix. As with every other category in this spotlight I try to highlight movies that might not get as much love, but since ALL of these movies are fairly well respected/liked, I tried to highlight ones that you might not know where on Netflix. Check and see if you can still quote these movies word for word, and see if you can find some new elements of these Black classics.
You can't talk about classic Black movies without mentioning The Color Purple. This is the movie that really jumpstarted Oprah and introduced us to Whoopi for God's sake. There's literally nothing I can say new about this classic but that it's on Netflix now, so you should definitely take a look to sing with Shug, cuss out Ms. Millie, curse Mr., and cheer at Celie and Nettie.
Apparently, "race themed films" do pretty well in the box office, and the original The Best Man is one of those damned race movies that people can't help but love. By following the wedding festivities of Lance and Mia the movie allows us to see the inner workings of the friendships of four professional Black men and women. The movie also teaches some harsh lessons about love and loyalty, and convinced me to never, ever, EVER write a book about real people without letting them know.
Yea, yeah, I know what you're thinking. "Ummm, Blade II? A classic? What you mean?" It is. At least in my mind. Yes, its the newest of these films (it came out in '02) but its status in the industry is what makes it a classic. You should know by now that the original Blade helped to save the superhero/comic book movie. The fact that the sequel was even more successful and more critically acclaimed dismissed any idea that the first one was a fluke, and once again cemented Blade as a high level Black superhero and Wesley as a great action star. It might not be a classic to many, but for blerds and bleeks Blade II is just as classic as any of these other films.
I had to include an Eddie Murphy film almost as much as I had to include The Color Purple. This spot would be reserved for my personal favorite Eddie Murphy movie, Life, or the iconic Harlem Nights, or even the insanely quotable Coming to America. But since two of those movies are no longer on Netflix and everyone has watched the last one on Netflix at least four times, I decided to go with The Nutty Professor. Few realize that this is probably some of Eddie's best acting (he did act for a whole family, after all) or that the movie itself is actually good. Speaking of, it should also be noted that this is probably the height of Eddie's love of playing an entire cast of characters, many of which he plays in drag. He's not the first (that would probably be Flip Wilson playing Geraldine Jones), but most comedians who do it now credit Eddie and this movie in particular. That alone makes this movie a classic.
Dramas = Everybody loves a good Drama, right? Most movies like to pull at our heartstrings and make us cheer, cuss out, and cry for the main characters, and its especially easy to do so when the characters on the screen look and/or act like the viewer. These four films look at the world through a variety of perspectives and give us all that good cry or that good shock that we want from a good Drama film.
First up is Fifty. This Nigerian film follows four 40+ women in Lagos living life as only a group of super successful women can. Seriously. One is a reality TV star, one is a party planner, one is a famous doctor and another is a high powered businesswoman: these women are THE TRUTH. Probably the best things about this film are that it has no problem showing an African community as a thriving city, and that these four women have NO qualms when it comes to sex. They get it IN. Its great to see the friendship and social lives of these four women, so if you want a great watch I HIGHLY recommend it.
Next comes Fruitvale Station. This one tells the true story of Oscar Grant, a victim of police brutality in 2009. This film is Ryan Coogler's first feature film, and began the set of films that he and Michael B. Jordan did together, and after watching it you'll see why they make so many movies together. Coogler does a great job of humanizing characters by showing facets of their lives, and what he does for Oscar Grant makes the conclusion of this film even more heartbreaking.
B For Boy is another Nigerian film, this one about the balance of traditional Igbo culture and the modern world. A woman who seemingly has everything has her life rocked when she learns she must produce a male child for her husband or risk losing him. Literary people could see it as essentially a more modern and film version of this little book called The Joys of Motherhood, especially considering that that is essentially what this is about. I have to warn you though, you're gonna be doing a lot of reading when you watch it.
The last Drama on this list is a film called Brotherly Love. I'm not gonna talk too much about this, and not just because there's already a very good review of this film on this site. No, the way this movie unfolds is just too good to spoil, so I recommend you take a moment to enjoy this film whenever you have a chance.
Comedies = We like to laugh too. Life gets rough enough to the point where we don't always wanna be reminded of that when we look for entertainment. Enter this next category of movies: the Comedies. Get ready to sit back and laugh until you cry (and then judge yourself for it) once you start up one of these films.
First we have the newest of these films, Dope. Now I understand that the jury is pretty split on whether this is a good movie or not, but I enjoyed it so I'm recommending it (any complaints about the movie can be forwarded to a trash can b/c IDC) Dope is about a group of kids who are stuck in the 90s (which is funny because none of them are old enough to have really enjoyed the 90s) and are repeatedly bullied for their interests. The movie follows their lives as they get wrapped up in their surroundings and try desperately to go back to being the 90s rock nerds that they were before the day started. There are a few questionable morals here, but overall its an enjoyable ride that I'm sure you'll enjoy.
November Rule is another ride, this time through the world of love and love triangles. It follows a man named Steve who has invented a dating law in which he breaks up with any and every girlfriend he has by November. When he breaks up with Leah, though, he finally realizes how stupid his rule is and tries to win her back. Hilarity ensues. It's an interesting enough film, and one that shows that even low-budget flicks can still be entertaining.
Can we talk about how weird it is that Kenan Thompson is the one who ended up on SNL and continuing a career in sketch comedy and not Kel Mitchell? I mean All That, Kenan & Kel, and this movie all show that he is the one with the most range out of the duo, but Kenan got the offer. Rumor has it that both tried out but SNL didn't take them both because they were afraid of the two dominating the show, but still. Anyway, Good Burger is essentially an All That skit turned into a movie, and a fairly solid movie at that. With appearances from other All That stars and a bunch of other 90s icons, you'll be looking for your own Good Burger by the time the movie ends.
The last of these comedies is Bad Boys II. Another sequel that surpasses the original in pretty much every way, Bad Boys II picks back up with Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowery as they try to take down a Cuban drug ring that involves some international narcotics, KKK members, Gabrielle Union, a Haitian gang, and a lot of homoerotic dialogue. The movie is a good example of the successful "buddy-comedy" subgenre and combines two huge actors for a lot of laughs.
Family Films = Since many of the above (and below for that matter) movies are rated R, it makes sense to highlight a few movies appropriate for the entire family. Sure, I watched stuff like The Color Purple when I was like 10, but not everybody wants that for their kids, so the films below are a little easier on the content to make films that the whole family can sit down and watch together.
Who would've thought that Rihanna would provide a voice for a good family film? Home, is a film about a misplaced alien and a teenage girl with Rihanna's voice both trying in different ways to find their own homes. The movie seems to follow the alien, but since its very much dependent on the relationship between Oh and Tip (the alien and Rihanna's character, respectively) I'd say it stars them both. That makes it very interesting then, that a lot of places refused to advertise Tip on the movie poster, but thankfully there were still enough pictures of Tip around to create images like this one.
Let it Shine is actually a DCOM starring Tyler James Williams (who also starred in one of my personal favorite TV shows: Everybody Hates Chris). It is one of the few DCOMs based around a Black cast, and focuses on the age-old battles between artistry and performance, secular and gospel, and the heart and the mind. When the terribly named Cyrus DeBarge uses his rap lyrics to get fame for his best friend, a teen superstar named Roxie drives them apart and the three of them must create new, stronger relationships to allow all of them to reach their dreams.
The only Seventeen Again we recognize is the one starring the Mowrys, never forget that. I have no clue what the Zac Efron version is about, but THIS one shows the two children of a widower (Tia and Tahj) who spend a few days with their feuding divorced grandparents (the grandmother is played by Tamera. Watch the movie; it will make sense). During that time the grandparents are exposed to a dangerous experiment that Tahj creates with some interesting consequences. Its a really good quick little movie, and it features my favorite swing scene in a film. Check it out and then go watch the rest of the movie. You won't be disappointed.
Yes, yes, I know. Raven is full of shit now. But that doesn't change the fact that her show and the first two Cheetah Girls movies were EVERYTHING. The Cheetah Girls is of course the original, based (kinda loosely) off a book series and adapted for TV, more specifically the Disney audience. Before HSM and its sequels/copies both Cheetah Girls movies were the the most watched DCOMs, and for good reason. The first one features a common plotline adapted for a younger audience (What would you do to be a star? Would you give up everything that you are? Oh wait, that was good. Hire me for your next musical movie, Disney) and some songs that are very feminist for their time and audience. (Go listen to Cinderella and Girl Power. Now.) Overall, despite her current fuck ups this movie proves that Raven is, was, and will probably continue to be a good actress that puts out good movies for the whole family.
LGBT Films = Its not easy to find LGBT films that don't focus on skinny white gay guys. Those of us who would rather see movies that feature queer characters that look familiar might have to search long and hard through the Netflix queue to find anything, but I've found four movies that can appeal to every letter in Black LGBT communities.
Rag Tag is my personal favorite of the bunch. It focuses on two men, the titular Rag and Tag, who grow up as the best of friends before life tears them apart. They reunite as adults and things start to pick up right where they left off, only this time with the stakes a little higher. One of the things I love about this film is that Tag (short for Tagbo) is Nigerian and Rag (a nickname for Raymond) has parents who were from the West Indies. The movie takes time to dismantle the belief that homosexuality is un-African and shows two men whose chemistry and love for each other is undeniable.
Pariah takes the age old coming out/coming of age tale and places it through the eyes of a young lesbian named Alike (pronounced Ali-kay). Alike comes to terms with her own sexuality early in the film, but her parents, particularly her mom, are...much less receptive. Its refreshing to see the spotlight being placed on a Black lesbian and the expectations being reversed (usually these types of movies are about gay guys whose fathers become abusive, this time its about a lesbian woman whose mother is unrelenting) and the actress who plays Alike is very good at portraying the range of this young woman's emotions. No matter how many coming out stories you've seen or lived, this one is worth a watch or two for the strength of the actors alone.
Yes, that is Jussie Smollett on the cover of The Skinny. Yes, he was in this movie three years before he picked up a microphone as Jamal. Yes many people knew he was gay long before he "revealed" it to the world. Now that that's out of the way, the actual movie is a pretty good and entertaining ensemble film (the movie features him on the cover, but it fairly equally stars all five characters) about college friends reuniting for Pride weekend in New York. As one could guess, A LOT happens during this weekend, and you can be along for the ride through sex, love, lust, and tragedy.
The other three movies here have been a romantic drama and two just flat out dramas, but stuff don't have to be dramatic all the time with queer folks. tangerine ends up being both intentionally and unintentionally funny as it follows a day in the life of trans sex worker Sin-Dee Rella (Yes, I know). Sin-Dee spends her time hunting down the "white real fish" who has been sleeping with her man and...well, watch it. Keep in mind however, that like many of these movies, it is an independent film and that this one in particular was shot on three iPhone 5s phones. That might explain a few things.
TV Shows = Full disclosure, it is HARD to find Black television shows on Netflix. I ranted earlier about just how few good ones are on there, so I apologize that a few of these are shows I've talked endlessly about. I will admit that there are a few other Black shows on other services like iTunes and Hulu, but given that Netflix has more content than those other two, it makes no sense that so few Black shows are here. Either way, enjoy the few that ARE there.
I'm sure you all knew I was going to start with A Different World. Yes, I know I have sung the praises of this show time and time again but I just cannot speak highly enough of what this show did. Almost 30 years later this show is STILL the only scripted TV show to explicitly take place on an HBCU campus, is responsible for increasing the number of students at HBCUs in its time, and dealt with so many issues that affected young Black students in the late 80s to early 90s from Apartheid to AIDS. I strongly recommend anyone, especially college age students, to take a look at this show. Oh, just skip the 1st season when you do it.
Speaking of shows that I always talk about, Being Mary Jane is another of my personal favorites, mostly due to the talent of Gabrielle Union. Gabrielle flat out acts, and since she's surrounded by other legendary Black actors and actresses like Richard Roundtree and Margaret "Shug" Avery that says A LOT. Being Mary Jane is one of the four shows headlined by Black women and unlike most of the other shows, it regularly focuses on the plight of a Black woman in a Black family with Black friends and Black lovers trying to survive in a white industry. I highly suggest you take a look at the show so you can come back and we can talk about how Gabrielle is always overlooked for acting awards.
The Bernie Mac Show is a part of that early '00s Black TV show boom that brought us My Wife and Kids, Everybody Hates Chris, One on One, etc. but for whatever reason it is the only one of those shows that made it to Netflix. That's still good though, because this show is funny, informative, and outside of the Kings of Comedy special, shows us the very best Bernie Mac had to offer. By taking in his sister's three kids, Bernie and his wife have their whole worlds turned upside down, learning about themselves and the kids who want nothing more than stability. One thing I have always loved about this show is the BEAUTIFUL Camille Winbush playing 'Nessa; the oldest child. I loved that this was one of the few shows that put a dark skinned girl front and center and allowed her to grow and be herself, in fact, I find that some of my favorite episodes centered around her (go watch "Raging Election"). But regardless, the show was great and all of its characters had their great moments.
Remember how I said Gabrielle Union and Being Mary Jane gets overlooked for acting awards? Well, meet the only show and actress that should be beating her: How to Get Away With Murder and Viola Davis. I really can't say anything about this show that hasn't already been said: it is smart, funny (when it wants to be), complex, and just...good. Like Being Mary Jane and Scandal the show starts off with a professional and successful Black woman having an affair with a married man, but much like the former HTGAWM stretches so far beyond that when we really start to understand Annalise Keating and her life as a lawyer and professor. Viola plays Annalise with so much conviction its hard to turn away from the screen, and you'll find yourself checking your own calendar and emotions as the show flings you through different time periods and feelings. While the number of Black shows (and to an extent films) on Netflix is limited, HTGAWM's inclusion proves that there are some gems hidden and obvious on the most popular streaming service.