Since the month of June is over, lets look back at what the month represents. June marks the month-long celebration of African-American Music Appreciation Month in the United States, which focuses on the musical contributions of African-Americans.
In honor of that, I put together a list… The 4 Best Black Music Movies list, that is. I mean…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? Not a problem if you haven’t… That’s what I’m here for… Let’s begin, shall we?!
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.
PURPLE RAIN (1984)
The poor showing of The Wiz was at the time considered to be the death knell for Black movies after the blaxploitation era. Yet six years later, along came a short guy from Minneapolis, Minnesota who would use a musical loosely based on his life to become an international superstar.
Surprisingly, although Warner Brothers considered the movie “outrageous” it got made, grossing $80 million dollars and giving Prince a #1 soundtrack, an Oscar and his signature hit. Vanity, Prince’s girlfriend at the time, was initially supposed to star, but they broke up. He replaced her with Apollonia Kotero after Flashdance star Jennifer Beals turned him down to focus on her studies at Yale University. (Good luck trying to find Purple Rain clips on YouTube, but here’s Prince’s Oscar acceptance speech for the movie.)
It took director Tyler Hackford 15 years to get the true story of Ray Charles’ life and career made. That worked out well for Jamie Foxx, who starred in the film and won an Oscar for the role. Ray is the second highest grossing Black musical on this list, earning over $125 million. Reviews were mostly positive and co-star Regina King was singled out for her performance as one of Ray’s paramours from the Raelettes. His long-suffering second wife, Della, was married to him for 22 years. In the movie, she’s played by current Scandal star Kerry Washington.
The film version of the acclaimed stage play that originated with Sheryl Lee Ralph, Jennifer Holliday and Loretta Devine, the film was expected to be Beyonce’s Oscar bid. Instead the Best Supporting Actress Oscar went to Jennifer Hudson, the American Idol finalist who was the movie’s breakout star. The movie, which included stars Eddie Murphy and Jamie Foxx, was the highest budgeted All-Black film in movie history. It would go on to make $154 million. The film and the play, widely believed to be based on the Supremes rise to stardom at Motown was a critical and commercial success, except with the Motown figures it was purportedly based on. Diana Ross, who didn’t like the Broadway version, claimed to have never seen the movie. Smokey Robinson asked for an apology to Berry Gordy, whom he says was misrepresented by the Curtis Taylor, Jr. character. But Supreme Mary Wilson said she was moved by the movie, saying it was “closer to the truth than they even know.”