We know you love them. Black music movies, that is. Who hasn’t watched the true stories of some of the greatest musicians of all time in one of several musically based Black films, many of which have become beloved parts of the culture?
We see you, Five Heartbeats fans and Purple Rain junkies who’ve seen the movie multiple times. (*raises hand*). We compiled a list of the best of Black music’s movies, whether the movie was great because of a stellar soundtrack, or was just a great movie musical, or both.
SUPERFLY (1972) Technically, Superfly is not a music movie. It’s the story of a Priest, an unlikely named drug dealer who runs Harlem. But Curtis Mayfield’s classic soundtrack for has become as popular if not more than the film it was created for. Superfly’s title track, as well as the songs “Freddie’s Dead” were big hits, selling more than 2 million copies apiece. It remains one of the few movies where the soundtrack made more money than the film did. Superfly and other blaxplotiation films regained popularity in the hip-hop era. Superfly was released on DVD on January 14, 2004, the exact day its star, Ron O’Neal, died.
SPARKLE (1976) Although the 2012 remake would be Whitney Houston’s last film, it’s the 1976 version that most people hold dear. In that version, Sparkle (Irene Cara), Sister (Lonette McKee) and (Dolores) Dwan Smith are three 50’s era Harlem sisters who want to sing, but face all kinds of obstacles in the music business.
One of them is Satin, who Sister, the oldest and wildest of the three siblings, falls in love with. Stix, an aspiring songwriter has eyes for Sparkle and becomes the group’s manager, but predictably, with success comes more problems. When it came out, Sparkle was a box office flop, but grew in stature later on due to VHS and DVD, as well as its amazing soundtrack, sung wholly by Aretha Franklin. It includes the song “Giving Him Something He Can Feel,” which went #1 when remade by En Vogue in 1992.
THE WIZ (1978) An all-Black remake of The Wizard of Oz that was first a Broadway musical, the movie was deemed controversial at the time because an adult Diana Ross starred as Dorothy, a child in the original. With Michael Jackson as The Scarecrow, Richard Pryor as the Wiz, Nipsey Russell as the Tin Man and Lena Horne as Glinda the Good Witch, how could you lose?
Well, at first it did lose, losing over $10 million for Motown Productions and Universal Pictures as it was then the most expensive movie musical ever made. But through TV replays and DVD sales, it became profitable and it’s now among the most beloved Black movie musicals ever made. Though Jackson said it was one of his greatest experiences, it was the last theatrical film Diana Ross ever made.
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