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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

African American Performances Explored on TCM in February

In celebration of Black History Month, author and film historian Donald Bogle joins TCM host Ben Mankiewicz in paying tribute to a number of groundbreaking performances by African Americans in the movies. The classic film channel and a the esteemed professor of African Studies will explore the varied perfermances and characters of landmark films depicting African Americans.

Bogle, an expert on the Black experience in the entertainment world, has been a frequent contributor to TCM. He was an inportant part of a previous TCM special series, Race & Hollywood: Black Images In Film. The compilation of films in 2006 provided an examination of the concepts, stereotypes and imagery of African-Americans in Hollywood cinema. Mr. Bogle presented informative and interesting intro's and outro's that added depth to the films in review. I was fortunate to catch an in-person presentation by the professor at the first TCM Festival in 2010. His bredth of knowledge is extraordinary. Combined with his eloquent speaking and authoritive presence, Bogle is an ideal host for TCM. He seemlessly integrates a film with the events of the day in which it was made, providing much needed context for the audiences of today. This approach provides multiple perspectives on the work of yester years and its significance today. Without such introspection old movies can profoundly lose their meaning.

Several films in the retrospective trace the career of Sidney Poitier, the first African American actor to emerge as a mainstream superstar and the first to win an Academy Award as Best Actor (1963's Lilies of the Field). There's Poitier’s breakout film Blackboard Jungle (1955), in which he plays a student in an inner-city school who clashes with an idealistic teacher. Another must-see, Cry, the Beloved Country (1951), is a striking early role for Poitier. A Raisin in the Sun (1961) shows Poitier in his prime in an adaptation of the Lorraine Hansberry play. And the 1967 Best Picture Oscar winner In the Heat of the Night was filmed during Poitier’s time as one of the most poplar leading man in Hollywood. It's a particular favorite of mine, and one that really stands the test of time.

Beyond the films featuring Poitier are the 1939 classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the blaxplotation film, Super Fly (1972), a film adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, A Soldier’s Story (1984), In This Our Life (1942) featuring Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel, Stars in My Crown (1950), with one of my favorite actors, Juano Hernandez; The Pawnbroker (1965), featuring Morgan Freeman in his film debut, and Take a Giant Step (1959), starring Johnny Nash, Estelle Hemsley (Golden Globe Best Supporting Actress nominee). Also showing is A Man Called Adam (1966) starring Sammy Davis Jr., Ossie Davis, Cicely Tyson, and Louis Armstrong.


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