From ‘Menace II Society’ to ‘Poetic Justice': Was 1993 the golden age of black movies?

Opinion

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Whether you love him or hate him, it seems as though Tyler Perry is the only game in town these days when to comes to movies targeted specifically at black audiences.

His melodrama Temptation is set to hit theaters this weekend and will surely do big business, but will its success be a tribute to Perry’s popularity or largely a reflection of a minority movie-going audience that feels underrepresented and under-served?

Director Spike Lee, who once averaged about one film per year, has become far less prolific in lately. And his colleagues like John Singleton and the Hughes Brothers have transitioned from making epic urban films to helming big budget genre pictures with multiracial casts.

What is a “black film”?

Meanwhile the definition of a ‘black film’ has grown more fluid in the age of Obama.

It’s now no longer groundbreaking for an African-American A-lister like Denzel Washington or Halle Berry to anchor a film by themselves. And while the smash hit Django Unchained touched on distinctly black themes with a bevy of African-American stars, its appeal was broader because it reflected the vision of its white director, Quentin Tarantino.

Just twenty years ago, the multiplexes presented a very different picture of black Hollywood.

There were a variety of choices for black film fans: There were star vehicles (Sister Act 2, Philadelphia, The Pelican Brief), biopics (What’s Love Got to Do With It), comedies (CB4, Cool Runnings), action (Demolition Man) and hard-hitting dramas (Poetic Justice, Menace II Society).

In comparison, last year there was the romantic comedy Think Like a Man, the WWII drama Red Tails, and three different Tyler Perry vehicles. Perhaps it’s no wonder that black audiences are frequently nostalgic for the 90s.