These are the moments that blew us away in theaters, and changed society outside of them.
As a lifelong film buff, I started thinking the other day about the moments in black cinema that were the most impactful. This being Black History Month and all. The list I came up with was pretty easy to put together. Each of these moments affected me, and in a major way, society.
When I say black cinema, I’m talking about any films that talked about, dealt with, or included important facets or parts of the black experience. Thus, just because a movie isn’t all black doesn’t mean it cant be included in the black cinema discussion.
The “hardest” part of this list is justifying it. The name of this website is The Good Men Project, so I made the list male exclusive. I know that black actresses have given equally mesmerizing and important performances. But, for this list, I wanted to spotlight the guys.
Also, two of the videos that you will see below are edgy. Could I have included choices that were less…abrasive? In your face? Possibly. But, many times, things or events that impact pop culture are loud and messy. Sometimes, that may be the only way to make changes.
Here are four movie scenes that changed black films, American pop culture, and society.
4. Shaft’s Strut. In 1971, the world got a look at a completely new kind of screen hero. Black, sexy, and cool. And the opening scene of Shaft showed us that. And more. Shaft’s walk in the city was important because 1. here was a man of color walking with a purpose, 2. he was showcasing his male beauty in a way Hollywood hadn’t shown before (the Afro, the leather coat), and 3. he was tough (watch him give someone the finger). This wasn’t the first time a younger, cool black guy had graced the silver screen. Melvin Van Peebles had done it with his (as writer/director) Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song. But only a small part of the public saw his film. Shaft was a nationwide hit. And black men in America had a new template.
3.”They call me Mr. Tibbs!” Five words that still give you goosebumps. In black cinema lore, legend has it that theaters in urban cities (in 1967) played this scene from In the Heat of the Night repeatedly. In the middle of actual showings. I believe it. But I also believe that the next scene was probably played even more…
2. The Slap Heard Around the World. From the same movie, In The Heat of the Night. I could see black theaters stopping the full length film and showing this scene alone on a two hour loop. Especially in 1967. The image of a black man striking a white man (the white guy hit Virgil Tubbs/Sidney Poitier first) in a Southern locale was shocking, to say the least. I can only imagine the explosion of black rage and then pride as Tibbs defended himself. Tibbs defended himself. Years ago, seeing a black person on screen do that was at the very least, rare. At the most, unheard of. But, what better actor to do it than the ultra dignified Poitier? The Night slap helped put America on notice that the word docile was never again going to be used to described black men.
Not Safe For Work! NSFW!
1. “His Name is Reggie Hammond!” Once upon a time, Eddie Murphy was a kid in his early 20s. He was still starring on Saturday Night Live, when he scored his first film role in a film named 48 Hours. Believe it or not, the film’s studio, Paramount Pictures, didn’t think too highly of Murphy. As a matter of fact, the studio pretty much fired Eddie after seeing a few of his scenes in the movie. Cooler heads prevailed, Eddie was kept aboard, and 48 Hours was released on December 8th, 1982.
How was Murphy in the movie? Besides completely taking the movie over, and emerging as a superstar, he delivered a scene that has to be considered the best black film moment of all time. The “bar” scene in 48 Hours.
I remember my dad telling me for years that the bar scene in 48 Hours was the best black themed moment he’d ever seen in a film. And, I thought he was crazy. I’d seen Malcolm X (the film). Do The Right Thing. I’d seen “important” black films that had impactful scenes in them. How could a bit in a comedy be considered important?
I turned 30, and then watched 48 Hours. As an adult. And the scene became to me “The Scene”. It’s a seismic event because it showed greater America that black America was here. We had arrived. In 1982, it had to be a young Eddie Murphy who was brash, ultra confident, and reared in a world without Jim Crow as law to pull off The Scene. It had to be a young, gifted, and charming comedian that was able to say those R-rated things in The Scene, to make them so funny, and have both Americas pumping their fists in theaters. The Scene was a clairvoyant preview of what black American pop culture was going to do in the next 30 years: kick ass, and tell you it’s name while it was doing it. Reggie Hammond (Murphy’s character in the movie) became Michael Jordan, Keenan Ivory Wayans, Russell Simmons, and Barack Obama.