All the judges have voted, the ballots have been counted and the first round of elimination for the the Black Reel Registry of Honor has been completed. Which ten films were trimmed from the list of the greatest films in the history of Black Cinema?
We the initial list of nominees was unveiled earlier this year, there was a minimal amount of dissent with critics lamenting the choice of a couple of films over another. After much handwringing and cinematic stress, here is the list of the films that were eliminated in the first of five rounds of voting from our esteemed group of film professionals:
The Son of Ingagi (1940)
African Americans have enjoyed a uneven history in sci-fi films. The first film down is also the first science fiction-horror film to feature an all-black cast. The story centers on a couple inheriting the house of the doctor who had just returned from her trip to Africa. Unfortunately, they returned with a missing link monster named N’Gina as well as African gold. When N’Gina drinks the doctor’s potion, it puts him into a rage that makes him murder the good doctor. When another family inherits the slain doctor’s house, they soon find the presence of the monster. Written by the legendary, Spencer Williams based on his own short story House of Horror, it so impressed his production company that they hired him to write and direct his own feature film, The Blood of Jesus the following year.
The Son of Ingagi
Buck and the Preacher (1972)
Five years after reaching career apex as Hollywood’s number one box-office star, Oscar winner Sidney Poitier was dealing with backlash from the Black community for being typecast as over-idealized black characters who were not permitted to have any sexuality or personality faults. He teamed with his best friend, Harry Belafonte making his directorial debut with this western about a trail guide leading groups of former slaves trying to homestead in the West, immediately after the American Civil War. Poitier starred as Buck and Belafonte as The Preacher, the swindling minister of the “High and Low Order of the Holiness Persuasion Church.” Together, they protect a wagon train from bounty hunters. The film is also notable because it was one the first films directed by an African American and to be based on a band of African Americans fighting against the White Majority.
Buck and the Preacher trailer
The father of Black film, Oscar Micheaux continued to set the pace almost two decades after his debut with this musical, Swing! A cook (Cora Green) for a wealthy white family discovers her husband is having an affair with another woman (Hazel Diaz). After she confronts her husband a violent fight ensues, she heads to Harlem, changes her name and gets a new gig as a cabaret vocalist who becomes a star after overcoming some difficult obstacles. This was the only film for Green, a huge vaudeville star. Also appearing in a small role was Elvera Sanchez Davis, whose key contibution was giving the world one of it’s greatest entertainer, Sammy Davis, Jr.
After starting behind a secretary’s desk, Pam Grier emerged and created a female archetype and heroine, that filled ladies with pride and men with desire, playing a big, bold, assertive women, beginning in this 1973 breakthrough film. The first African-American female to headline an action film, Grier played a nurse who seeks revenge on drug dealers. Her character was advertised as the “baddest one-chick hit-squad that ever hit town!” Filled with sexual and violent elements typical of the blaxploitation genre, Coffy was a box- office hit, and made Grier an iconic star. She subsequently played similar characters in Foxy Brown (1974), Friday Foster, and Sheba, Baby (both 1975).
Go Down, Death (1944)
Spencer Williams makes another appearance on this list with third film (He previously directed The Blood of Jesus (1941) and the now-lost Brother Martin: Servant of Jesus (1942)) in his religious trilogy, Go Down, Death! The film’s title derives from a poem by the African American writer James Weldon Johnson and takes place in an African American community where the criminal boss Big Jim Bottoms (Williams) runs a successful juke joint. After a new preacher encourages many of his customers to begin attending church, Big Jim tries to discredit the pastor. When his plan goes awry, Big Jim evil ways and conscious catch up with him when he begins to fear for his soul. In order to depict the horrors of Hell, Williams used clips from silent fantasy productions created by the pioneering French filmmaker Georges Méliès.
Go Down, Death!
48 Hrs. (1982)
Eddie Murphy announced his arrival as a major film star in what is credited as Hollywood first “buddy cop” film, 48 Hrs. In the film, Murphy and Nick Nolte play a convict and a cop who team up to catch a cop-killer. The title refers to the amount of time they have to solve the crime. This was Murphy’s film debut (in a Golden Globe-nominated role) an established the then-SNL player as a rising superstar. If not for some Fortuitous casting, Murphy may never have gotten his big break. Originally, Clint Eastwood and Richard Pryor were set for the roles when Eastwood decided he wanted to play the con instead. He left the project for Escape from Alcatraz and the project went into limbo which set the stage for Murphy and Nolte.
48 Hrs. trailer
Anna Lucasta (1959)
The exotic Eartha Kitt and Sammy Davis, Jr. starred in this story of a sassy prostitute(Kitt) who was forced to make a living on the streets near the San Diego naval station at a young age after her father kicks her out. When an opportunity presents itself for the family to make some fast money playing matchmaker for a friend’s son, they approach Anna in hopes of involving them in their scheme. She falls for a sailor (Davis) who complicate the family plans. Playing the alcoholic father was the great veteran actor Rex Ingram (Sahara and The Green Pastures), who was excellent in this film.
Anna Lucasta clip
Uptown Saturday Night (1974)
The first of three films teaming Sidney Poiter and Bill Cosby was this funny buddy comedy classic, Uptown Saturday Night. When the two men sneak into an uptown club, Madam Zenobia, they think they’re living the high life. But the club is robbed a group of masked gunman taking everything including the lottery ticket in Poitier’s wallet. They go on a wild adventure to retrieve the stolen ticket, while trying to stay alive. Poiter and Cosby would later re-team for Let’s Do It Again (1975) and A Piece of the Action (1977) . Earlier this year, it was announced that Will Smith and Denzel Washington would star in a remake of this hit film.
Uptown Saturday Night trailer
Dirty Gertie from Harlem U.S.A. (1946)
The third film on this list from director Spencer Williams, tells the story of a nightclub entertainer from “Rinidad” who makes her way to Harlem to perform as the headliner in a revue at the Paradise Hotel. Gertie has earned the nickname “Dirty Gertie” for the casual nature in which she entices and then humiliates men. After attracting the attention of two US military officers–a soldier and a sailor–whom she nicknames “Tight Pants” and “High Pockets,” it is only a matter time that she can’t keep leading men before it comes back to haunt her. Williams had a cameo in the film playing a female fortune teller who predicts Gertie’s demise.
Dirty Gertie from Harlem, U.S.A.
The Color Purple (1985)
The film based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, is based on the story of a young African American girl named Celie and shows the problems African American women faced during the early 1900s, including poverty, racism, and sexism. Celie is transformed as she finds her self-worth through the help of two strong female companions. The film is notable because it was the film debut for both Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey. It also marked director Steven Spielberg’s transition from big-blockbuster films to smaller, intimate stories. The film received 11 Academy Awards nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actress for Goldberg and Best Supporting Actress for both Avery and Winfrey. Spielberg was nominated and the film was shut out, tying the record set by 1977’s The Turning Point for the most Oscar nominations without a single win.
The Color Purple trailer