We gave it a B-
To commemorate Black History Month, Columbia TriStar is releasing two collections: one featuring movies by black filmmakers or about black historical figures, Black History Collection. The other showcasing Sidney Poitier. Unfortunately, they appear to be culled with little thought, treating the occasion more as a marketing peg than a celebration of black cinema.
Among the best of this bunch, Norman Jewison’s A Soldier’s Story (1984) is a gripping tale of racism and murder on a black World War II army base. Based on Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer-winning play, it stars Howard Rollins, Denzel Washington, Adolph Caesar, and a host of then unknown young actors.
In contrast, 1977’s The Greatest shows that as an actor, Muhammad Ali was a great boxer. Although the champ, who plays himself in this autobiography, had the support of writer Ring Lardner Jr. and actors James Earl Jones and Paul Winfield, the film completely misses the soul of a man who inspired a generation, in and out of the ring.
The surprise of the pack is Wilma, a 1977 TV movie about Olympic medalist Wilma Rudolph’s triumph over polio. It features top stars (Cicely Tyson, Denzel Washington) and clever editing that uses footage from the 1960 summer games, where Rudolph (Shirley Jo Finney) became the first woman to win three consecutive gold medals.
The True Story of ”Glory” Continues is a documentary about the black Civil War regiment on which the award-winning 1989 feature Glory was based. Narrated by Morgan Freeman, it uses period drawings, sketches, paintings, and photos as well as footage from Glory.
Putney Swope (1969), Robert Downey’s irreverent take on Madison Avenue through the eyes of a black adman, and School Daze, Spike Lee’s send-up musical comedy about black college life, are both worth a look.
It’s too bad both of these packages aren’t choosier. But the recent surge of young black filmmakers certainly promises richer options for future video viewing. B-