WE INSIST! MAX RICH’S FREEDOM NOW SUITE WITH COLEMAN HAWKINS AND ABBEY LINCOLN (1960) – The Ultimate Jazz Protest Album
Four years before Nina Simone took off her pageboy wigs and launched her mega-protest anthem “Mississippi Goddamn,” there was Abbey Lincoln, then a lovely, dishy supper club singer, who was first to wipe off her chanteuse cosmetics, slash her hair to sleek Afro, and howl black fury, dissent and hope to the mountains and back with her husband Max Roach, the genius jazz drummer, and lyricist Oscar Brown forWe Insist! (Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite) on Candid Records. With blunt precision, this album tells the story of black people in America from slavery to freedom day, then a return to Africa, concluding with a fearsome, humbling answer to the Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa. Controversial in its day and now-legendary, this album changed music.
THE LANDLORD by Hal Ashby (1970) – The Ultimate Gentrification Comedy
Beau Bridges is a clueless white boy rich kid (is there any other kind?) who rebels against his snooty parents by purchasing a brownstone deep in the “The Wire” –esque war-zone that was 1970 Park Slope, Brooklyn. The twist – he wants to befriend the black folks who already live in the building while also evicting them. Surreal, sly and fierce of political heart, director Hal Ashby – of Harold and Maude– hilariously sympathizes with Bridges’ protracted adolescent while never forgiving him. The black tenants are depicted with equal dramedy fervor, including militant Lou Gossett Jr., sexy Diana Sands, and the commanding Pearl Bailey, whose uproarious afternoon drunk scene with Lee Grant, as Bridges’ loony mother, is among the best Ashby created.
SAY AMEN SOMEBODY (1982) – the Ultimate Gospel documentary
Giants walked this earth, and occasionally a camera captured their splendor. Say Amen Somebody is one of the most ecstatic documentaries ever made – heck, its the most jubilant FILM ever made! It depicts the pioneers of 20th Century black gospel music who sang the songs that, among other things, propelled the Civil Rights Movement; the music that SANG the people through. There’s the Father of Gospel Music, Thomas A. Dorsey, who wrote “Precious Lord Take My Hand,” in one sitting after learning his children and wife were suddenly dead, and his extraordinary peer, Mother Willie May Ford Smith, whose gospel voice and teachings helped define the art form, and pass down lessons for generations of church singers. These are the spiritual Godparents of every soul diva you ever heard from Aretha Franklin and Mariah Carey to Kelly Clarkson and beyond. Look into their eyes as the masters tell their tales and see the history of this country stare back.
SONNY’S BLUES (1957) by James Baldwin – The Ultimate Short Story
It’s certainly the greatest short story I’ve ever read. Set in New York City, Sonny’s Blues is about an unnamed black man, a schoolteacher, who is worried about his brother, Sonny, a jazz musician and user of heroin (with allusions to Charlie Parker). Sonny’s brother wants to swallow his pain, Sonny wants to fill his art with it. Will the world swallow them whole?
For more thought-provoking MLK Day culture,
STORY OF A THREE DAY PASS by Melvin Van Peebles (1967) – The Ultimate Badass Van Peebles Film
A wonderful, high-spirited comedy about a black army man stationed in France who meets a gorgeous, enthusiastic white chick while on his 3 day pass and they try to fall in love without the hell of the war – or racial difference – get in the way. Its the only film of the era directed in the French “New Wave style” by a black director, Melvin Van Peebles, who wrote the script based on his novel, which was also written in French. The film asks you to consider your authenticity to oneself, with the specter “Uncle Tom” hanging over you. Its message of love is wonderful and timely.
Genius Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates Shares A Playlist to Get You in the MLK Day Frame of Mind
Star of ‘Selma’ Caremen Ejogo’s 5 Films Everyone Should Watch Today for MLK Day
Social Justice Writer and Activist Rebecca Carroll’s Cultural To-Do List for MLK Day
Stephen Winter is a film director, writer and producer. His films include Chocolate Babies (1996) and Jason and Shirley (2015). He’s worked with Lee Daniels Precious (2008), Paperboy (2010), Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2012), Jonathan Caouette Tarnation (2004), John Cameron Mitchell Shortbus (2006), Xan Cassavetes Kiss of The Damned (2010), John Krokidas Kill Your Darlings (2013) and David France How To Survive A Plague (2012).