It is a well-documented fact that black people have made some of the best movie musicals known to mankind. Don’t believe me, watch a split screen of The Wiz and The Wizard of Oz and tell me which yellow brick road you’d like to swag and surf down.
Yes, Mary Poppins, Grease and all those other mainstream classics are great, but there’s just something about seeing a handful of chocolate faces singing and dancing like nobody’s business that smittens my spirit.
So, in honor of every black brother or sister that had the stamina to dance for 5-minutes straight while singing mile-long runs, AND managed not to sweat out their press, texturizer or curl, this right here is for you.
Disclaimer: No shade to Stormy Weather, Porgy and Bess or the slew of other classic black musicals — they’re great and will always be great. But I was born in 1987 and there are key movies I kept next to the VCR whenever I was in need of quick two-step or four-part harmony. The adult me will always appreciate the vocal cadence of Dorothy Dandridge and company doo-woopin’ about whizzin’ away, but the millennial me is humble enough to appreciate the truth Timon was spitting when he preached his problem free philosophy.
If you know black people, then you know we basically invented the remix. Anything white people can do, we will slap on an autotune, pre-light skinned Michael Jackson, a Quincy Jones infused beat and do it better (or at minimum give it a much better soundtrack) and revamp the ish out of it. And that’s just what happened with The Wiz. Not in Kansas anymore, but rather an NYC backdrop complete with the always comforting (and huggable) black auntie, Alvin Ailey choreography and enough Afro sheen to glisten Wesley Snipes’ knuckles, life just feels right when I’m watching this movie. This movie is also a great way to test your friend’s or any racially suspect person’s level of blackness, specifically whether or not they can mimic Michael Jackson’s final vocal riff in “You Can’t Win.” Bottom Line, I will always consider the day a win if I stumble across The Wiz on Centric or BET on a Sunday afternoon.
Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit
Depending on the decade I go back and fourth on Whoopi. Takeaway the whole Ted Danson, let’s dress bae up in blackface thing, it’s safe to say the ‘90s were pretty good to Ms. Goldberg. I mean, you really can’t go wrong with Lauryn Hill, that one guy from City High, pre Players Club Ebony and a hard-working, single mom who views singing in a Catholic choir and gang violence as one in the same (in her defense, for most of us, singing really does not put food on the table). While I doubt this movie was saving souls, at minimum it had teenage girls nationwide singing either the low or high part of “His Eye is on the Sparrow” — and for that, it will forever be a hit. Oh, and for the record, I still mess up on that part every time.
The Five Heartbeats
This movie confirms Leon is in fact the perfect movie musical accessory. For a good 5-6 years you couldn’t tell me The Five Heartbeats weren’t an actual group. Yes, we’ve all saw the movies chronicling the rise, fall and rebound of the ‘60s boy band but this one will always take top honors. The music, the rip-off suits, the perms and of course Mr. Eddie Cain himself — I mean, it really doesn’t get any better. This movie, courtesy of Big Red, also set the universal standard for office hours everywhere (break it if you dare). Bonus points go to Doug’s little sister who is truly the real MVP.
The Fighting Temptations
Ok, so no Oscars are being given out here. But, if you’re ever in need of a good laugh and proof that Bey was once a mere mortal who too rocked linen maxi skirts for recreational use and Senegalese twists, this is the movie.
The Lion King
First of all, that GIF gets me every time.
We all know our brothers and sisters from the Motherland have the best harmonies and with this one, it was love at first note. As a fourth grader whose biggest worry was whether or not anyone left me any Captain Crunch, this movie was deep as ish. A kid framed for murder by his uncle, lion jungle sex and cross-dressing — it was a lot. And if you didn’t at least blink back a tear when Mufasa died, you’re f’ing heartless and I refuse to associate myself with you.
Is it weird that secretly (and now publicly) I’ve always fantasized about an alternate life with Phylicia Rashad as my mother? Ok, back to the movie at hand. We all know anything Debbie Allen touches is basically bible and this right here is no different (this is also the reason why I’ve tried to get over the fact that the DVD is $30 on Amazon). Polly is the type of Southern living I dream about. Petticoats and tiered dresses in 100 degree weather with not a drop of sweat in site, hand jiving on the church steps, maxing and relaxing under a weeping willow at my rich aunt’s house, and ending racism by literally building a bridge and hooking the town bigot up with old man Joe. The church scene also goes down in movie history as one of the best scenes ever.
When I need sunshine on a cloudy day this is where do I go. A little Motown sound mixed with the ups and downs of one of the best male groups to ever take the stage. No offense to Fetty Wap and his trap queen, but this movie is a breath of fresh air. A friendly reminder that long, long ago it was possible to make a hit sans autotune, the nae nae and Chris Brown. Yes, with commercial breaks this is a 4-hour date with your couch, but for the love of music it’s worth it. Oh, and is it just me or was Leon born to play everything wrong in this world? Take 10 seconds and name a movie where he was anything reminiscent of heroic…I know right.
I’m convinced if I were a teen growing up in 1960’s Detroit, my life would mimic Deena Jones’. There are not many musicals I can sing the soprano, alto and tenor parts simultaneously but here, my vocals have no limits. We all know acting is not Bey’s forte, but give the girl a mic and a wig and she can do no wrong. Same with J-Hud who literally sang her a$$ off (Random: I get it that J-Hud was the quintessential sangin’ big black girl, but it would it have killed a PA on set to grab a pair of Spanx?).
Prince on a motorcycle with a ruffled shirt and leather suit, I’m in.