Tuesday, February 27, 2024

24 Hours of Movies: Happy Black History Month

by Patrick Bromley
A marathon celebrating Black filmmakers!

Much of February has been spent celebrating 1994 at FTM, but I don't want to let the whole month pass by without recognizing Black History Month. In honor of this very special month, here's a 24-hour marathon of movies directed by Black filmmakers. Let's do it!

10 am - Car Wash (1976, dir. Michael Schultz)
Let's kick things off with a comedy! Michael Shultz's Car Wash is a joyous burst of music and laughter about the goings on at a Los Angeles car wash over the span of a single day. The movie boasts an insane cast in both lead and cameo roles, but what makes it stand so far apart from other similar comedies of this period is the sense of infectious fun director Schultz injects into it -- the same spirit he captured in Cooley High one year prior. It's funny to me that this is written by Joel Schumacher, since he more or less tried less successfully to remake it just a few years later with D.C. Cab.

11:45 am - Posse (1993, dir. Mario Van Peebles)
I know that New Jack City is Mario Van Peebles' best movie by a pretty wide margin, but I love the idea of programming a western into the second slot and his sophomore effort fits the bill. The story isn't as compelling as New Jack and it lacks a single performance as magnetic as Wesley Snipes, but the ensemble is impressive and Van Peebles continues to direct with style. The few times I've watched this one I wanted to love it just a little more than I did, but maybe watching it in the context of this marathon, surrounded by a bunch of other movies, will improve the experience.

1:45 pm - Set It Off (1996, dir. F. Gary Gray)
Switching things up a little for this fantastic female-led '90s crime film with a killer cast. Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Viveca A. Fox, and Kimberly Elise play four friends who are all down on their luck in different ways and decide to pull off a bank robbery to change their respective fortunes. Between this and Friday, F. Gary Gray was once such a promising director; he more or less lost me when he became a more commercially-driven for-hire guy. It will be good to back to a time when I was excited about his movies.

3:45 pm - Love & Basketball (2000, dir. Gina Prince-Bythewood)
It's important when doing these marathons that one continually mixes up genres and types of movies so as to avoid repetition or burnout early on. We've been watching primarily genre movies thus far, so let's switch things up and slot in this wonderful sports romance from writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood, in which Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan play a pair of young athletes pursuing careers in basketball and gradually falling in love with one another as the years pass. Movie star performances from the two leads -- in particular Lathan, who feels like a discovery even though she'd been acting for a bit -- and knowledge of the sports world told with genuine sensitivity and passion make this a very special movie.

6 pm - Hollywood Shuffle (1987, dir. Robert Townsend)
Things are going to get heavy in the next three hours, so let's tee up our primetime feature with this 80-minute piece of comedy gold courtesy of Robert Townsend. Self-financed by the filmmaker/star himself, the movie is a semi-autobiographical sketch comedy in which a young actor dreams of making it big in Hollywood while fighting against the obstacles that faced Black actors in the 1980s (and decades before). It's a movie of its time, but the messages still last to this day. Several brilliant bits -- among them "Black Acting School" and "Sneaking Into the Movies" -- and a super-talented ensemble (billed as the "Hollywood Shuffle Players") elevate this to the level of comedy classic.

7:30 pm - Malcolm X (1992, dir. Spike Lee)
I knew I wanted to program at least one Spike Lee film in this lineup, as he's arguably one of the most important and influential Black filmmakers of the last 50 years. Deciding which one wasn't easy. Ultimately I decided to go with Malcolm X, his second-best movie and maybe one of the best movies of the 1990s. Denzel Washington gives one of several career-defining performances as Malcolm Little, a young criminal who later becomes Malcolm X, an activist and leader of the Black community. Epic in scope while never sacrificing the intimacy of a character study, Malcolm X is a towering achievement and would be the absolute crown jewel in almost any other director's filmography, provided that same filmmaker had not already made Do the Right Thing. The three-hour runtime isn't great for a marathon like this, but its placement in the Primetime slot means we can just give ourselves over to the movie before we settle in for the overnight portion.

11 pm - Caught Up (1998, dir. Darin Scott)
As we start getting weird, I want to be sure to program Darin Scott's neo-blaxploitation movie starring the great Bokeem Woodbine as an ex-con trying to go straight whose life begins going to hell when he gets involved with a psychic (Cynda Williams in a holy shit performance). Violent, sexy, and out of its mind, Caught Up is a wild ride that I wish more people would see and talk about. Forcing people to sit and watch it in the middle of a 24-hour marathon is one way to do that. And while we're starting it an hour before midnight, the fact that it will be playing at that hour confirms its correct status as a perfect midnight movie.

12:45 am - Ganja & Hess (1973, dir. Bill Gunn)
Finally a movie I've never seen! What better excuse to finally check out Ganja & Hess than this marathon? 

2:45 am - Us (2019, dir. Jordan Peele)
While Get Out remains my favorite Jordan Peele movie, Us is the movie I most feel like revisiting in this time slot because the horror imagery stands out more in this film than in his others for me. I've been due for a rewatch anyway, having not seen it since the theater. I feel like this is the one that will improve the most on a second watch and the one that will play the best in the overnight section.

4:45 am - Bones (2001, dir. Ernest Dickerson)
Like with Spike Lee, it was hard to pick just one Ernest Dickerson movie -- especially overnight because he made a handful of great genre movies (including Juice, Surviving the Game, and Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight). I'm going with Bones because a) I've seen it the least and b) it's got a great '70s blaxploitation vibe that will work well in this slot. Snoop Dogg plays a gangster who gets murdered and comes back as a vengeful spirit 30 years later and that's all you really need to know. Dickerson eventually moved to television and directed just about every good show of the last 30 years, which is great for him but a bummer for us movie fans who were denied many more Ernest Dickerson movies like this one.

6;30 am - Buck and the Preacher (1972, dir. Sidney Poitier)
My favorite Black western started out as a Joseph Sargent movie before star Sidney Poitier fired him and took over as director himself, marking his debut behind the camera. He plays a former Union soldier leading a wagon train west, which gets attacked and robbed by white men. Buck and his partner, a preacher with whom he has an uneasy alliance (played by an impossibly great and scene-stealing Harry Belafonte), have to go get the money back and possibly get revenge. Poitier's inexperience behind the camera is apparent at times, but it's never distracting enough to take away from the story, the performances or the western tropes being turned on their heads. This movie rules.

8:30 am - Passenger 57 (1992, dir. Kevin Hooks)
It wasn't until Adam Riske recently pointed out just how many bangers Kevin Hooks made that I came to appreciate him as a filmmaker. While I've always been a fan of Passenger 57 -- aka Die Hard on a commercial flight but with Wesley Snipes at the peak of his powers -- its placement in our marathon has as much to do with the quality of the movie as it does with wanting to program a Kevin Hooks joint. He's another guy who pivoted to television, meaning we missed out on a bunch more B-movie classics.

10 am - Deep Cover (1992, dir. Bill Duke)
Let's close things out with one of the best neo-noirs of the '90s, directed by Bill Duke, a guy known for being a great character actor but who should have made a lot more movies than he did just based on the strength of this one. Laurence Fishburne stars as a cop who goes way undercover to take down a drug dealer, played by a brilliantly slimy Jeff Goldblum. Great dialogue (courtesy of Michael Tolkin), stylish photography, and Fishburne in leading man mode make this an all-timer and a great way to wrap things up. I like that Bill Duke stars in our first movie of the marathon and directs our last.


  1. I love Us. It's such a weird concept. It doesn't quite stick the landing, but I don't care. The ride is scary enough

  2. My brother and I still quote Hollywood Shuffle to this day. One of our childhood favs and a top ten comedy for me.

    1. You know, there’s always work at the post office…

  3. What are the odds, I just watched Ganja and Hess for the first time last week after having it on my To-Watch list for probably 20 years. I couldn't stop thinking about it for the entire next day, and watched it again the next night. That's only happened maybe twice in my life. It's quite an amazing and special movie.

  4. Awesome marathon as always, Patrick! I have a few to see on this list, and happy to see some love for faves like Set It Off, Deep Cover, Buck & the Preacher, Hollywood Shuffle, and Ganja & Hess.

    In particular, I've been wanting to revisit Hollywood Shuffle after recently catching up with American Fiction--seems like they'd make a good double!