‘Sounder’ and ‘Cooley High’ selected for National Film Registry

Some classic Black films are being added to the National Film Registry this year, including Richard Pryor's acclaimed 1979 stand-up set.

Some classic Black films have been selected for addition to the National Film Registry. 

Sounder, the iconic 1972 movie starring Cecily Tyson and Paul Winfield that captures a Black family living in the Deep South during the Great Depression, earned widespread critical acclaim and box office success that would change the landscape for Blacks on screen and in the industry. It has been selected by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” according to Deadline

Top-notch acting courtesy of (from left) Yvonne Jarrell and Cicely Tyson in “Sounder” and Glynn Thurman and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs in “Cooley High” have landed those Black film classics in the National Film Registry. (Photos: 20th Century Fox/AIP)

Additionally, the illustrious 1975 coming-of-age film Cooley High will be added to the registry, per NPR. The Michael Schultz-directed drama follows a pair of Black high school seniors, played by Glynn Turman and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, as they navigate life and consider what comes next as adults. Cooley High has an 83% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and was listed among director Spike Lee‘s “List of Films All Aspiring Filmmakers Must See,” according to IndieWire

The Murder of Fred Hampton, from 1971, as well as the legendary 1979 stand-up comedy set Richard Pryor: Live in Concert, are among the other African American films on the list of 25 to be included this year.

In addition to these movies, a three-minute clip of a Ringling Bros. Circus traveling through a Black neighborhood in 1902 will become the oldest clip added to the registry, a rare glimpse at a real African American community during that period. Full-length Black films from those years being added include The Flying Ace, an aviation romance from 1926, now believed to be the inspiration for Alabama’s famous Tuskegee Airmen, and Hellbound Train, a recently recognized and restored Christian project from 1930 depicting the travels of Satan himself.

The Librarian of Congress’ Carla Hayden notes, “African Americans were rarely shown in films of that era and then only in caricature or mocking depictions.” Hayden was nominated as the first African American woman to lead the Library of Congress by former President Barack Obama in 2016.

The National Film Registry selects 25 films annually that showcase the range and diversity of American film heritage to increase awareness for its preservation, per the Library of Congress website. Films can be added by nomination and are ultimately chosen for admission by the librarian of Congress and the National Film Preservation Board. 

Other films to be added to the registry this year include Wall-E, by Pixar, an animated film that depicts Earth after an environmental disaster caused by litter. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, and the 1997 biopic Selena, which stars Jennifer Lopez, have also been selected. 

There are 825 films on the official registry and more than 1.7 million movies in the collection of the Library of Congress. Other African American films of note on the registry include Imitation of Life, Purple Rain and She’s Gotta Have It

Hayden told Variety this year’s list reflects the diversity of American film.

“Films help reflect our cultural history and creativity — and show us new ways of looking at ourselves — though movies haven’t always been deemed worthy of preservation. The National Film Registry will preserve our cinematic heritage, and we are proud to add 25 more films this year,” she said. “The Library of Congress will work with our partners in the film community to ensure these films are preserved for generations to come.”

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