Ashley Ratcliff is the assistant editor at Home Media Magazine. She is passionate about faith and urban films, which are the focus of the “Stepping Out” blog. The University of California, Santa Barbara graduate recently co-authored her first book, Stories 4 Women, a collection of true short stories. Ratcliff’s career began at the Palos Verdes Peninsula News, where she developed an affinity for interviewing newsmakers and sharing her perspectives in commentaries. Contact her with faith and urban film tips and inquiries at email@example.com.
It’s officially February, which means it’s Black History Month, a time when we reflect on the accomplishments and positive impacts that African Americans have made throughout the years.
There are a number of films currently available on DVD and Blu-ray Disc that highlight historical African Americans, including Malcolm X, Thurgood Marshall, Josephine Baker, the Tuskegee Airmen and Angela Davis, among others.
While it’s great to pay homage to the civil rights leaders and prominent figures of yesteryear, there are some wonderful things going on within the urban film genre that embody the sentiments of Black History Month.
Allen Blackwell, VP of Entertainment One’s urban film and comedy programming, had this to say: “I think where these films tie in [to Black History Month] is showing our diversity, showing our strengths and our weaknesses, and showing the evolution of us. I think that we have evolved to be very successful in many ways, and we still have two to three hundred years to make up on lost time.”
Here’s a list of some of the Black History Month-related titles that currently are out on home video or are coming soon:
■ ENTERTAINMENT ONE has Church Girl (DVD $14.98), a stage play centering on a pastor’s daughter struggling with her faith. It stars Robin Givens, A’ngela Winbush and Karen Clark Sheard. Arriving on Valentine’s Day is The Marriage Chronicles (DVD $19.98), featuring Vivica A. Fox, Jazsmin Lewis, Mel Jackson and Darren Dewitt Henson. It paints a picture of couples trying to stay together and building strong familial foundations.
■ HBO HOME ENTERTAINMENT offers Thurgood (DVD $26.98, Blu-ray $34.98), a one-man play starring Laurence Fishburne as Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Also making their Blu-ray debuts are The Josephine Baker Story and The Tuskegee Airmen ($14.98 each), a perfect tie-in to Red Tails, currently in theaters.
■ MAGNOLIA HOME ENTERTAINMENT Feb. 7 offers A Mother’s Love (DVD $26.98), a story about three generations of broken women adapted from a gospel stage play. From director Tim Alexander (Diary of a Tired Black Man), starring actress and talk-show host Rolonda Watts and Vanessa A. Williams (“Melrose Place,” “Soul Food”), the film was an official selection at the 2011 Pan African Film Festival.
■ MPI MEDIA GROUP/IFC FILMS sounds off The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (DVD $24.98), chronicling the rise of the Black Power Movement in and prominent activists like Angela Davis, Stokely Carmichael, and Black Panthers founders Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. Talib Kweli and Ahmir Khalib Thompson (Questlove) of the Roots, Erykah Badu, Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover and Melvin Van Peebles, among others, provide commentary.
■ PBS DISTRIBUTION celebrates the 25th anniversary of the landmark Emmy and Peabody award-winning documentary, Eyes on the Prize (three-DVD set $69.99). The six-hour program from the late Henry Hampton documents the history of the civil rights movement, as is narrated by Julian Bond, a social activist, Civil Rights Movement leader, politician, professor and writer.
■ PHASE 4 FILMS has Church: The Movie (DVD $29.99), a Dove Foundation family approved film, starring Darius McCrary (“Family Matters”), Art Evans (Die Hard 2), Joseph Philips (“The District”) and Sam Sarpong (Love Don’t Cost a Thing). The inspirational drama has been characterized as a “musical journey of praise, forgiveness and redemption,” and received the Best Religious Film Award at the 2011 San Diego Black Film Festival.
■ SCREEN MEDIA FILMS offers Dog Jack (DVD $24.98), starring Academy Award winner Louis Gossett Jr., the story of a slave boy and his dog who escape from a plantation, join the Union army and eventually face their former master on the battlefield. The story is based on the true-life adventures of the mascot of the Pennsylvania 102nd. Edward T. McDougal directed the film.
■ WALT DISNEY STUDIOS HOME ENTERTAINMENT provides The Help (three-disc Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy $44.99, Blu-ray/DVD combo pack $39.99, DVD $29.99), about the diverse groups of women who build an unlikely friendship around a secret writing project in the 1960s South. Based on the best-selling book by Kathryn Stockett, the ensemble cast includes Emma Stone, Golden Globe winner Octavia Spencer, Critics’ Choice Award winner Viola Davis and Bryce Dallas Howard. Bonus material includes a making-of featurette, deleted scenes, a music video for Mary J. Blige’s “The Living Proof” and more.
■ WARNER HOME VIDEO presents on Blu-ray ($34.99) for the first time Malcolm X, the biopic of the influential Black Nationalist leader portrayed by Denzel Washington, who earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role for the part. The 20th anniversary release includes hours of special features and a collectible 40-page Blu-ray book with rare images, cast biographies, production notes and more.
I recently had an illuminating conversation with Brett Dismuke, SVP of acquisitions at One Village Entertainment, Image Entertainment’s urban film division, about this quarter’s slate of titles.
I must say, it does my heart proud to see that there are so many films (presently and forthcoming) that portray blacks in a positive, authentic light and relay the various situations that are part of our experience. Whether you enjoy a serious drama (as in All Things Fall Apart, starring Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson), vivid stand-up comedy (see I Ain’t Scared of You: A Tribute to Bernie Mac) or a saucy stage play (a la What My Husband Doesn’t Know), it’s all there for the watching.
It reflects a concerted effort on part of certain studios to provide an assortment of quality urban content.
“It’s been an age-long tale that African Americans in this country have not had the opportunity to see a diverse mix of images that reflect their experience,” Dismuke said. “So it’s important, especially in a day and age where African Americans are only getting four to six major theatrical releases per calendar year, that we (Image/One Village) supply a wealth of content from an independent perspective.”
Urban films are even making their foray into less-chartered genres such as horror. Last year I had the privilege of interviewing Effie T. Brown, the producer of The Inheritance, a horror movie with a predominantly black cast. Image/One Village released it on Blu-ray and DVD in April 2011.
The Inheritance was an excellent film with an intricate yet compelling plot line and persuasive special effects on par with some of the mainstream movies. This, admittedly, came as a surprise to me.
“There’s a misperception in some circles that ‘independent films’ means that they’re bad films, which is not necessarily the case,” Dismuke noted.
I, too, once held that inaccurate belief. That was until I began to explore for myself and found some outstanding movies. The Image/One Village films that I previously mentioned are all examples of great urban storytelling.
By the way, these movies also star talented, respected black actors such as Lynn Whitfield (The Josephine Baker Story), Mario Van Peebles (Ali), Brian White (The Game Plan), Clifton Davis (“Amen”), Golden Brooks (“Girlfriends”), Darrin Dewitt Henson (Stomp the Yard), DB Woodside (“Single Ladies”) and Adriane Lenox (The Blind Side), among others.
My advice to those growing tired of waiting for the next Tyler Perry flick to see our stories on the big screen: Take matters into your own hands and see what’s out there. Like me, you’ll be surprised at the treasure you find.
With all the trials that life’s been throwing our way these days, if ever there was a time we needed encouragement, it’s now. When was the last time you saw a movie that impacted you so much that it made you resolve to change your life, for the better?
Well, for my father, a former Marine and a follower of Christ, it was when he saw faith-based drama Courageous, which hit theaters in September 2011. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released the film Jan. 17 on DVD ($30.99) and Blu-ray Disc ($35.99).
The inspirational film follows four police officers, each in different stages of fatherhood, as they make a pact to maintain a stronger presence within their households. After facing challenges, the men are driven to live lives that honor God and to make love the centerpiece of their relationships with their children and wives.
I see my own dad in star Ken Bevel — also a retired Marine — who plays officer Nathan Hayes. In the gripping opening scene of Courageous, Nathan thwarts a carjacking by risking his life and going after the bad guy. It’s only when the SUV screeches to a halt that we realize why he was so intently trying to get his vehicle back: His baby is in the back seat.
I know my father would have done the same for my brother or me, if put in the same situation. After seeing Courageous, my dad and his friends have pledged to make resolutions to be better men, similar to the ones made in the film.
Courageous has affected me too, however, in a different way. Its title theme song “Courageous,” by Christian rock band Casting Crowns, has provided me with much-needed encouragement while listening to The Fish (KFSH 95.9) on my morning commutes.
In particular, its lyrics resonated with me: “Seek justice/ Love mercy/ Walk humbly with your God” (derived from Micah 6:8), and the stirring plea that lead singer Mark Hall belts out, “Lord, make us courageous.” These are practical affirmations that every believer should strive to embody. It’s something that I’m constantly working on.
The start of the new year presents a time for new endeavors and a fresh outlook. Thus, it is with much enthusiasm that this first month of 2012 I present to you my blog, “Stepping Out: A Conversation About Faith and Urban Films.”
You may be asking yourself, Why the name “Stepping Out”? It means many things to me. For starters, I love Jesus, and I am proud of my heritage. For the faith aspect of the blog, “stepping out” pertains to boldly proclaiming the Christian values that are exhibited in inspirational films. In regard to the urban component, “stepping out” embodies who we (blacks and African Americans) are as a people: bold, confident, self-assured, vibrant and so much more.
Movies about faith and the urban community, in my opinion, could use some additional exposure. With this undertaking, my goal is to shine a light on the positive things that are happening within these two diverse genres, from the backstories of the filmmakers, to the intricacies of the stories being told, and beyond.
You can expect the latest news, interviews with filmmakers, actors and industry insiders, and more. Feel free to share your news via email at .
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I’m ready to step out. Hope you’ll join me.