15 African-American Filmmakers and Roger Ebert’s Birthday Retrospective Reviews | Roger Ebert

Baadasssss! (2004), directed by Mario Van Peebles

“Mario Van Peebles was 13 when the movie was being made, and was pressed into service by his father to play Sweetback as a boy. That involved a scene with a hooker in the brothel that still, today, Mario must feel resentment about, since in ‘Baadasssss!’ he makes a point of showing that some of the crew members and his father’s girlfriend, Sandra (Nia Long), objected to it. But Melvin was a force of nature, a cigar-chewing renaissance man who got his own way. Only sheer willpower forced the production ahead, despite cash and personnel emergencies, and ‘Sweet Sweetback’ is like a textbook on guerrilla filmmaking.”

Boys N the Hood (1991), directed by John Singleton

“There is always the possibility that words will lead to insults, that insults will lead to a need to ‘prove their manhood,’ that with guns everywhere, somebody will be shot dead. These are the stark choices in John Singleton’s ‘Boyz N the Hood,’ one of the best American films of recent years. The movie is a thoughtful, realistic look at a young man’s coming of age, and also a human drama of rare power – Academy Award material. Singleton is a director who brings together two attributes not always found in the same film: He has a subject, and he has a style. The film is not only important, but also a joy to watch, because his camera is so confident and he wins such natural performances from his actors.”

Daughters of the Dust (1992), directed by Julie Dash

“The film doesn’t tell a story in any conventional sense. It tells of feelings. At certain moments we are not sure exactly what is being said or signified, but by the end we understand everything that happened – not in an intellectual way, but in an emotional way. We learn of members of the Ibo people who were brought to America in chains, how they survived slavery and kept their family memories and, in their secluded offshore homes, maintained tribal practices from Africa as well. They come to say goodbye to their land and relatives before setting off to a new land, and there is the sense that all of them are going in the journey, and all of them are staying behind, because the family is seen as a single entity.”

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