Growing up, I watched a ton of movies with my father. Every Saturday was movie day, followed by eating as much Chuck-E-Cheese (rip) pizza that I possibly could until the giant animatronics spooked me too much. We even tried to see another movie on Sunday if anything was good at the dollar theatre.
I think my father always aimed to keep me in the culture. He would often refuse to watch some movies that literally had zero black representation. It always impresses me when you see something based in New York or Los Angeles, and the only black cast is a taxi driver or a waiter. I think for both of us, movies were a great form of escapism and bonding. The problem is it’s hard to escape if the fictional world you escape to doesn’t seem to notice you exist.
Blaxploitation films were built out of necessity and provided comedic relief during some of America’s most racially heated decades.
That frustration we had when heading to the theater and looking for representation really rubbed us the wrong way. These movies put black faces on the screen in almost every role. You’re hard-pressed to see a white face unless it’s for comical relief.
The good thing about these films is that they provided much-needed laughs. During the 60s, 70s, and 80s, America was boiling to the brim with racial tension. The bad thing about many of these films is sometimes they really pushed some stereotypical narratives. Overal most people were happy to see black representation.
Films like Boss Nigger may have been controversial, but they gave us a chance to express our frustration with society and its norms.
Doomscrolling in 2020, I feel like I don’t get a break. We are much more connected to the news than we were 10 or 20 years ago. I feel like I am missing some form of relief.
This all brings me to the 21st century when I’m interchanging between toilet-swiping on Bumble and scrolling on Twitter, I tend to get into racist fatigue. You can’t escape the bad news, every other refresh is just more images of POC being attacked.
That’s why I recently started going back to my roots. I started rewatching some of my favorite predominantly black films. Now not every movie was made equally, and not everything is produced as well as Blazing Saddles or some Spike Lee.
I want to share 8 of my favorite Campy & Woke films, separated by type. You don’t have to be black to enjoy these films by the way, nor do you have to be a POC. Anyone can find these films to be entertaining. Plus, you may even learn a thing or two about Black culture.
Trigger Warning: Sometimes camp & woke can be stuffed to the brim with heavy-handed messages but some are hard to take to seriously. More importantly many have distasteful stereotypes.
The Last Dragon — Campy
If you’re a black kid raised in front of a TV in the 90s, you most definitely watched some anime. If you were lucky, you even got a chance to catch some Jackie Chan.
We got a taste of Asian cultures and turned an inch into a mile.
Let me state that this movie has some… complicated perceptions on Chinese martial arts and culture. Actually, I’ll just say the premise is STOOPID. The poster description is STOOPID. The movie is very much 80’s problematic in the same vein as Big Trouble in Little China. It should just be seen as a goofy parody.
But if you’re looking for something silly to watch with your friends, this is an easy contender.
Leprechaun In the Hood — Mega Campy
I’m 100% sure the executives’ board was higher than Ice-T when they decided on this sequel. Yeah, this is a sequel on a ridiculously long franchise about a demonic leprechaun that travels the world murdering people. This time, the leprechaun gets the chance to smoke dro & get some sugar walls.
Calling this movie corny would be an understatement. You don’t watch a leprechaun sequel to learn anything, you do it to turn off your brain.
If you want the chance to see Ice-T with hair, Warwick Davis as a rapping leprechaun & Coolio being Coolio, give this a shot.
(I hope the ‘PC Police’ don’t cancel me for this one)
White Men Can’t Jump — Endearing & Campy
It’s about time I suggest a movie that won’t offend 80% of Medium readers. Have you ever seen Wesley Snipes with his shirt off? Well, I promise you when you do, you’ll appreciate taking the time to watch this golden nugget.
Two basketball hustlers take on NYC to get bread & try to keep their life from falling into shambles. ‘Billy’ gets schooled on black culture & gets stuck in between chasing the hustle and supporting his girlfriend, who dreams of becoming the next best on ‘Jeopardy!’.
This movie has a surprise ending and is first on the list when I’m trying to introduce a Netflix & Chill date on some black films.
Blazing Saddles — Masterclass in Camp
The closest you’ll ever get to a Black Western if you don’t include Boss Nigger, which is a much less polished film.
Blazing Saddles is one of the first films that mixed black comedy, restructured the world around us, and gave us a hero without cheap stereotypical gags. Instead, we get rich stereotypical gags.
If you ask any obnoxious cafe dwelling film buff what his favorite Gene Wilder film is, before you finish the question, he’ll be quoting, “My name is Jim. But most people call me…Jim.”
This is my favorite Mel Brooks film. He’s by far the king of goofy. He has this devilishly skilled talent for injecting comedic nuance into any situation. You’re sure to impress your film buff friends when you have this movie in your mental Rolodex.
ATL —Georgia Boy Woke
Well, I’m biased. I’m from Atlanta, so obviously, ATL was going to make the list. T.I trying to hustle his way out the hood really hits me in the feels.
Most people from ATL, appreciate ATL. I think much of this movie encompasses our culture quite well. It can be a bit pushy with the messages, but overall it was produced well, and the action doesn’t skip a beat.
This is one of the few movies my dad didn’t fall asleep in mid-way.
SET IT OFF — Black Fem’ Woke
You will be hard-pressed to find a movie with four black women as leading cast, especially if it isn’t a cliche premise like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
Well, Jada, Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox & Kimberly Elise all play characters that reflect on struggles in the hood. More importantly, this movie is surprisingly cinematic. Every time you get a chance to see a shootout or heist scene, your heart starts pumping. You can’t easily predict most of the movie’s plot, rare for a heist film.
Do I really need to convince you to watch a Jada Pinkett film?
HIGHER LEARNING — Campy & Woke
Laurence Fishbourne was born to be black Gandalf. It’s as if the role of a wise father, professor, and Matrix Wiseman were all made for him.
No surprise that he plays the truth bombing professor that tries to educate his pupils on their rich history as they become adults and face the racist realities of their present.
Universities are a microcosm of different politics, culture, and government. This movie follows the path of a few characters from different upbringings, and they all eventually collide.
I didn’t LOVE this movie, but it was a pleasant watch. Also, Tyra Banks is in it? It’s got a hit cast.
Sorry To Bother You — Hilariously Woke
‘Sorry To Bother You’ is the most modern on the list and in my opinion, the most relatable. This isn’t just a black movie, it’s probably one of the only on this list to grow beyond neo-blaxploitation to simply be a relatable film for any audience.
It tackles the absurdity of laissez-faire capitalism and how humans have simply become cattle for corporate gain. You gotta clap for the performance of basically every actor in the flick. More importantly, it’s one of the few black Sci-Fi films you will ever find.
It took about a century from us to go from ‘Gone With The Wind’, celebrating an Aunt Jemima trope to ‘Get Out’, a black man overcoming white people literally trying to steal his body and autonomy.
Neo-Blaxploitation has fewer stereotypes. Usually, the movies are a bit more well rounded. It’s definitely made to fit the politics of the times. Don’t have time to sit down and watch a movie? Of course you do, what else would you be doing? Going to a bar? A restaurant?
Well if you still claim you are actually busy, watch one of my favorite YouTubers inject some hilariousness and summarize black movies in a few minutes.
Check out these flicks and tell me what you think. Have you already seen a few of them? What’s your opinion? How do you escape the news and find time to relax?