There are things in life that unfortunately hold true if you are a black person in America. Among them is feeling as if you don't get the same opportunities because of the color of your skin (which is true is certain circumstances). Despite how true that may be, there have been a plethora of successful African-Americans who have found a way to turn a bad situation into a winning one. Great role models in the form of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr, Thurgood Marshall and Harriet Tubman paved the way and remind us that there will always be struggle, but there is also a light at the end of the tunnel.
In honor of #BlackHistoryMonth, here are four positive movies featuring African-American characters that offer motivation whenever things look bleak. While some of these movies are fictional, they each gift us with a story of triumph. Even if you're not black, you could be having a difficult time finding the right kind of motivation when life is attempting to beat you down, and these films may offer you the boost you need.
1. Dope (2015)
How this movie wasn't nominated for an #Oscar is beyond me. Dope is about high school senior Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and his two friends who are unlike the rest of the people in their community. Because they're nerdy and heavily into 1980s hip-hop culture and comic books more so than anything that's popular among their peers, they are considered outcasts. It also doesn't help that this trio lives in a part of Los Angeles where they could get shot or robbed on their way to school.
The plot of Dope sees Malcolm getting put in an impossible situation and finding a way to turn it into a story that sets him on the path to his dreams of a Harvard education.
What makes this movie so great is that this could be any of us. The things that we enjoy in life can make us outcasts, but we always have options. No matter how bad the situation may get, there is a way to turn it around and come out on top. And sometimes, you even come out better than when you first started.
2. Higher Learning (1995)
This is one of the movies from back in the day that showed rapper Ice Cube's range as an actor. The younger generation might not know him as Doughboy from Boyz N The Hood; he's mostly known for his comedic performances in the likes of Friday, Ride Along and Barbershop. For me, Higher Learning was #IceCube's best role as an actor. He plays a college student who has a very prejudiced view of the world. On the flip side, Michael Rapaport plays a college student who gets involved with a group of white supremacists because of his insecurities. Meanwhile, Tyra Banks and Kristy Swanson are caught in the middle, while Omar Epps isn't sure if he wants to follow what Cube is preaching or live a peaceful lifestyle that his professor (Laurence Fishburne) advocates for.
So how does a movie about a prejudiced black group and a white hate group equal positivity? By showing something that people tend to not see. Their hate for each other leads to destruction, missed opportunities and death. We can all learn to not judge people because of the color of their skin, their sexual preference, or because you once had a bad experience with a certain group. Everyone should be seen for the content of their character.
3. Finding Forrester (2000)
This drama offers what might appear to be a very clichéd story, if all you did was watch the previews. Kid in the ghetto learns from an older white guy about how to write. In actuality, it was William that learned from Jamal. Jamal was a talented writer before he met William. William just helped him fine-tune his skills as a writer and put him on the right path. In return, Jamal helps William become a more open-minded person and even gets him to leave his comfort zone.
For years, my grandmother and I would go to the movies together and make a full day of it. And we didn't just go see Disney movies and cartoons every week. We made a point to enjoy everything, from the South Park movie to Demolition Man. The first movie we saw together was Serial Mom.
But there was one Sunday she told me there was one movie in particular that we needed to see. I had never heard of Finding Forrester, but I left that theater having never felt so emotionally charged. My grandmother knew that I used to love to write and that while I loved basketball, it was my way to be accepted by my peers. Whenever I need a reminder that someone's bigoted opinion means nothing or when I have to remember that I am not defined by anyone but myself, I put this movie on and lose myself in it. When the end credits roll, I'm ready to take on the world.
4. Straight Outta Compton (2015)
Fans of rap and hip-hop know about N.W.A. and their contribution to the genre. Without N.W.A., #hiphop might not have birthed so many rappers with the courage to speak their minds and tell stories of what it was like growing up in neighborhoods that some people won't even drive through. The story of N.W.A. may have been long overdue for a cinematic telling, but the good thing is that the time taken to make the film meant it was as close to the truth as possible without sacrificing the story.
If you see Straight Outta Compton and think that the group is nothing but a bunch of thugs and gangsters, then you clearly missed the point. The movie is about a group of men who fought for their right to freedom of speech in their art. A group of men who didn't back down, no matter what obstacle was placed before them.
While some within their group met with unfortunate, untimely ends, two founding members went on to become powerful men within the entertainment industry. Dr. Dre went from a local DJ to a producer of some of the most iconic rappers (Snoop Dogg and Eminem) and creating a product — Beats by Dr. Dre — that sold to Apple for $3 billion in cash and stock options. And Ice Cube continued to put out music and act in multiple box office hits and cult classics, year after year. Seeing where N.W.A came from and what they went through to achieve success is a joy to behold, and teaches us that where you were born and how much you have doesn't matter. What matters most is your drive to succeed.
What movies motivate you? Let me know in the comments below.