Remember when Hollywood used to care about the black college experience? We do.
In fact, there used to be many films that detailed the lives of black college students. Films that made you think. Others that made you want to get up and clap. In these films, we weren’t just the “best friend” or “sidekick” of a white character. We had our own stories.
As students across the country prepare for the new school year, we look back at some of the great films that honored that time in our lives filled with tests, parties and melodrama:
5. Drumline (2002): Whoever says that music isn’t an important part of a good education doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Nick Cannon’s breakout performance as Devon, a young Harlem drummer who gets the chance of a lifetime to be a part of an Atlanta college band is as inspiring as it is entertaining. Zoe Saldana and Orlando Jones as the inspiring band leader rounds out an impressive cast in this unforgettable film that proves great music is much more than a catchy beat.
4. Higher Learning (1995): Director John Singleton tackles what it means to be a Black student at the precipice of self-awareness on a college campus. Starring Omar Epps, Tyra Banks and Michael Rappaport, “Higher Learning” offers a fascinating look at the internal conflicts of both Black and White power, and the ongoing challenge to manipulate the system.
3. School Daze (1988): Wake up! Spike Lee’s “School Daze”, starring Laurence Fishburne Giancarlo Esposito, Kyme and Tisha Campbell-Martin is easily one of the most provocative college films of all time. The musical dramedy turns the mirror on ourselves and confronts the issues of self-identity, colorism, and social class differences. Plus, no other fictional sorority or fraternity has ever been more fun to watch than the Gamma Rays and Gamma Phi Gamma.
2. The Nutty Professor (1996): Usually when we hear news of yet another remake in the works, our eyes start to roll. But Eddie Murphy put all doubts to rest when he stepped into the role of Sherman Klump, an obese college professor who went through great lengths to change himself to fit a society standard, a role once immortalized by Jerry Lewis in 1963. Not only did Murphy play SEVEN characters in the movie, including most of Sherman’s family (who often appear together in one scene), he captured the humanity of a vastly ignored character in this endearing laugh-out-loud comedy.
1. The Great Debaters (2007): Denzel Washington’s second directorial effort chronicled the type of event Hollywood rarely embraces—the groundbreaking 1930s debate between Wiley College, a prestigious Black school, and Harvard University. The movie not only used stimulating dialogue to capture the inspiring intellectual battle (which Wiley won), but it also employed the time period at the height of Jim.
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