It is no secret that this Bookish Diva (as well as her fellow members of the Nerd Squad) loves a good book-to-movie adaptation. And with Black History Month coming to a close, what better time to watch some great films highlighting portions of the black experience. But don’t limit them to one month a year—they’re great entertainment anytime.
Lady Sings the Blues (1972; R; 144 min) based on Lady Sings the Blues by Billie Holliday and William Duffy
Glamorous tragedy doggedly followed Billie Holiday, as played by Diana Ross. Not afraid to put the demons that haunted her on display, Lady Sings the Blues captured the triumphs and calamities of one of Black America’s most revered icons.
Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970; R; 97 min) based on Cotton Comes to Harlem by Chester Himes
In his directorial debut, Ossie Davis found success in the urban crime comedy. Coffin Ed and Grave Digger Jones are two detectives tasked with taking down the manipulative preacher Deke O’Malley whose scheme is interrupted when a cotton bale full of his ill-gotten gains is stolen.
The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973, PG; 102 min) based on The Spook Who Sat by the Door by Sam Greenlee
Both a satire of the civil rights struggle and an attempt at tackling militancy among blacks, The Spook Who Sat by the Door, follows Dan Freeman, a black nationalist, as he begins a career as the token black in the Central Intelligence Agency and later trains young Chicago blacks as “Freedom Fighters.”
Malcolm X (1992, PG-13; 202 min) based on The Autobiography of Malcom X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley
Spike Lee directed Denzel Washington in his the Academy Award-nominated performance as the titular character. The film dramatizes key events in Malcolm X’s life from his criminal career to his ministry within the Nation of Islam, including his falling out with the Nation of Islam and his assassination.
Their Eyes Were Watching God (2005, TV; 113 min) based on Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Unlike the rest on this list, this was a TV movie. Nonetheless, there was plenty of star power in Halle Berry, Ruby Dee, Terrence Howard and Michael Ealy. Halle Berry stars as Janie Crawford as she seeks love, excitement and fulfillment in spite of the expectations of a woman of color in the 1920s.