The history of African-American cinema is a long, winding road. 

Since the days of Oscar Micheaux and Paul Robeson, black actors, actresses, writers, directors, and producers have been fighting for respect. The black nationalism of films like Carmen Jones and A Raisin in the Sun fueled the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and 1960s, while blaxploitation films like Shaft and Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song echoed the revolutionary sentiments of the 1970s.

During the 1980s, black film earned mainstream respect thanks to the bravery of directors like Spike Lee and Robert Townsend. The scene exploded during the ‘90s, with everything from comedies to brutally honest depictions of urban life finding critical acclaim. Since then, black film has been largely unpredictable and difficult to classify.

In putting this feature together, we spoke at length about what makes a black film. Note that a black film doesn’t have to have a black director. For example, take Eddie Murphy’s triumphant comedy Coming to America. The film is directed by John Landis, the same man responsible for Animal House and The Blues Brothers. Even with a white director, Coming to America is a distinct piece of black cinema thanks to its casting and themes.

Speaking of Coming to America, tomorrow marks the 25th anniversary of its release. In the quarter of a century since Eddie Murphy first dominated Hollywood, black film has seen ups and downs, but some amazing work has been created during that time frame. On the eve of Coming to America’s 25th birthday, we look back at the 25 best black movies of the last 25 years.

Written by Julian Kimble (@JRK316)

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