"Is That Black Enough For You?!?," currently airing on Netflix, is a documentary by writer, director and narrator Elvis Mitchell about Black films. (Courtesy of Netflix)
"Is That Black Enough For You?!?," currently airing on Netflix, is a documentary by writer, director and narrator Elvis Mitchell about Black films. (Courtesy of Netflix)

An explosion of movies with Black topics and Black actors came onto the scene from 1968 to 1978. “Is That Black Enough For You?!?” is a documentary now on Netflix examining practically every film from that era where Black people are seen. Movies such as “Five on the Black-Hand Side,” “Sounder,” “Hell Up in Harlem,” “The Learning Tree,” and “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” are a few of the titles writer, director, and narrator Elvis Mitchell used to create a two-hour and 15-minute graduate school seminar of incomparable film history.

“My grandmother viewed films as the dreams she had,” Mitchell says in the opening of his film. “Movies changed the way she dreamed.”

Mitchell starts with 100 years of how Blacks have been depicted on screen. Throughout the film, he engages some of our most visible talents who comment on the importance of being seen in movies. These commentators were not only in front of the camera, but some were also behind the camera to ensure Black stories were written and produced with intentional care. Harry Belafonte, Laurence Fishburne, Margaret Avery, Whoopi Goldberg, Samuel L. Jackson, and Mario Van Peeples spoke about their hopes for cinema and how they wanted to see themselves and others on screen.

“As a little girl, all I saw in movies were people who didn’t look like me. So, I didn’t ever believe that I could really become an actress until I saw Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones,” said Avery. “When I saw them, I said, ‘Oh wow, maybe I can become an actress.’”

In “Black Enough,” Belafonte speaks strongly about the disregard he and other actors experienced early in their careers. When his friend Sidney Poitier’s career began to gain momentum, Belafonte was candid about the roles Poitier received.

“He was the most popular Black figure in the universe,” Belafonte said. “But he was not Sidney Poitier in a Black environment, in a Black circumstance. He was Sidney Poitier playing a Black person in an all-white movie.”

Belafonte also spoke about how he was offered the role in “Lilies of the Field,” the movie his friend starred in, then won the Academy Award for Best Actor.

“The first thing I asked myself, where does a Black man who came from nothing, going nowhere, is all of a sudden in the middle of seven Nazi nuns?” Belafonte continued. “I turned it down. They offered it to Sidney, and he took it.”

Refusing to appear in movies from 1959-1970, Belafonte felt significant roles were not being offered to Black male actors. For Mitchell, Belafonte, standing firm on his beliefs, held a place in history on the same level as Muhammad Ali.

For the era Mitchell explored, he follows the impact between film and film scores. Soundtracks from “Shaft” and “Superfly” were an example of cross-marketing tactics. For example, Van Peeples was deliberate when he wrote, produced, directed, scored, and acted in “Sweet Sweetback ‘s Baadasssss Song.” The provocative title guaranteed the movie an X-rating. He got Earth, Wind and Fire to record the movie soundtrack. The group took a screeching, avant-garde jazz approach for the soundtrack that went perfectly with the running on foot and car chase scenes in the movie. Van Peeples made every aspect of the production to his liking.

“He used the perks of exploitation and the new liberalism in movie culture to his advantage,” Mitchell said.

More super talents lending their voices to Mitchell’s masterclass are Antonio Fargas, Billy Dee Williams, Suzanne de Passe, Stan Lathan, Roscoe Orman, Billy Dee Williams, Sheila Frazier, and Charles Burnett. True movie buffs will love this film and the movie clips that bring back memories.

The movie trailer for “Is That Black Enough For You?!?” on Netflix will excite you.

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Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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