Articles: Exploring The Classics Of Color




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Samantha Ofole-Prince

What makes a movie a classic? The age of the flick, which like fine wine matures over time? The quality and content of the movie? Or the integrity of its actors?

One Oxford dictionary definition of the word "classic" is "of lasting importance," and there are thousands of flicks of color that fall within that category.

Take, for example, "The Birth of a Nation," the world’s most famous and highly rated film, made in 1915. With its strong racial overtones, it is an excellent look into the culture and opinions of its creators at that time and formed the foundation of how movies would be made over the years.

"The Homesteader," written by the genius Oscar Micheaux in 1918, was an attempt to break the stereotype of black Americans with its many remarkable scenes and performances. The 1929’s "Hearts in Dixie" and "Hallelujah" were the first Hollywood films to feature an all black cast.

The classic "Imitation of Life" (1934), one of the most important movies of all time, was an exceptional melodrama and even its 1959 remake with Juanita Moore and Lana Turner is considered a classic, with a sophisticated storyline modern enough to be equally powerful today.

Paul Robeson’s "The Emperor Jones," made in 1933 about a train porter who becomes emperor of a Caribbean nation, was proclaimed as one the best films of that year, as was "Song of Freedom" and "Arrowsmith" with Clarence Brooks.

The 1943 Fox classic Stormy Weather introduced the talented Lena Horne to the world. Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte sizzled on screen in 1954’s classic "Carmen Jones," and Dandridge’s portrayal of a slave owner’s mistress in 1957’s "Tamango," about a revolt on a slave ship, was exceptional and earned her many rave reviews.

The autobiographical film "The Learning Tree" (1969) was a great historical, insightful movie at a critically important but harsh period of time in American history with its deep look at a community where racism and prejudice was rife.

A Rasin in the Sun

Sidney Poitier’s "Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner," "The Defiant Ones," "In the Heat of The Night," "To Sir With Love" and the powerful drama "A Raisin in the Sun," were all landmarks in breaking down social and racial barriers. Poitier's talent and likability placed him on equal ground with white actors of his time.

The endless list continues with Diahann Carroll’s "Claudine," "Superfly," "Shaft," "Coffy," "Roots," "Car Wash," "Let’s Do It Again" and "Uptown Saturday Night," movies which actor, director and producer Ice Cube cites as his favorite classics.

"I am a big fan of those movies because they were movies that didn’t have a big budget but still were done with class," Ice Cube says. "They were thought out, very funny and served their purpose.

Actor, Ice Cube

"Those were the blueprints for my movies "All About the Benjamins" and the "Fridays." Those are my favorite classic movies, for that’s the spirit that we do our movies in today."

The literary and automobile world may define classics as ancient but a ‘classic,’ does not necessarily mean old. What indeed makes a movie a classic is a combination of several factors, such as plot, photography, direction, performance, characters, actors, story, sound and a message that has a lasting significance and recognized worth, all which serve as a standard of excellence.


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