Retrospective: Black Films Of The 90s and Early 2000s

In the 90s and the early 2000s, we saw a number of films, mostly romantic comedies, that depicted our people in a different light. While the early 90s was mostly centered around gangsta movies and street related films for blacks, as the decade reached a close, we began to see films showing us as lawyers, doctors, athletes, poets, etc.... all just trying to stay afloat and find that special someone or maintain our family. Today, we reflect on some of the most solid films of the 90s and the early 2000s. Let's get into it.

The late 90s and early 2000s were a great time for black films. We were blessed with originality and the ability to see our favorite TV personalities on the big screen.

One of my favorites moves from that time was Set It Off. How often do you see women coming together in a crime setting? Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Vivica Fox, and Kimberly Elise portrayed characters who all had a different chip on their shoulders.

These women decided one of the best and easiest ways to get out of their less than favorable situations was to rob a bank. From family issues to being laid off to just wanting better, they stuck together to see the plan through.

The story also shed light on the value of friendship. These women didn't always get along but they knew they had each other. Being friends for years beforehand, they knew each other's strengths and weaknesses. I can still watch this classic unbothered to this day.

Another one of my absolute favorites is the movie The Wood. Again, we see the story of friendship but this time through the eyes of men. Omar Epps, Taye Diggs, and Richard Jones played their roles to perfection.

The movie begins with the trio as teenagers. Omar Epps's character Mike just moved to the neighborhood and was instantly brought into the circle.

While there was no crime involved, we did get the chance to see the challenges young men have to face growing up. From peer pressure to police to weddings, we laughed every step on the way. This movie also provides quotes that stick and that's a key factor for me. When you hear one line, you automatically know where it comes from.

Unfortunately, we don't get many movies like these anymore. The beauty is being able to recollect on their timelessness and their raw stories.

How could I resist talking about two of my favorite hood classics, Poetic Justice and Love Jones?

Love Jones from start to finish captivates your attention with the neosoul vibe the soundtrack gives from the opening credits. It is a timeless film that I'm ashamed to admit I did not get the chance to enjoy until my mid 20s. What had I been engaging in before that? No clue, but it instantly became my top choice in 'rainy night cuddle' affairs. I believe I love this movie so much because of how realistic the plot is. Many romance movies tend to misguide you into an unrealistic scenario that could spiral you into a bout of damn near depression, if you do not experience it, I.e 'The Notebook'. But when Nina met Darius on that cool night in that smoke-filled poetry factory in Chi-town only to go on two dates which lead to unexpected great sex?! That's when I knew this was my kind of movie. Their chemistry was undeniable from the beginning; so when she gave it up accidentally-on-purpose so soon, I completely understood (it happens). Another relatable scenario, was Nina's ex-fiancée trying to creep back into the picture when she found herself engulfed in the love of Darius---AS THEY ALWAYS DO! She found herself back in her exes bed only to realize that the grass was still rotted on that side, or however that saying goes. She did a classic airhead move by going to dinner with one of his boys after spotting him out with another girl, which he blew out of proportion, as men always do. Honestly, This is one movie where I wouldn't mind a sequel too. Never mind the time lapse, movie production companies care nothing about that nowadays anyway.

The epic coming together of Lucky & Justice falls within my top 90s classics as well. With an all-star cast, Poetic Justice was set in the hood of Cali and tells the tale of a young hairstylist by day and poet by night that's merely trying to find her way. This movie's family reunion scene paved the way for Madea and all others because niggas still today know what is meant when you say 'COUSINNNNNNNN' && everybody knows who 'Cuddin' Pete' is! This movie touched base on many issues including the growing epidemic in the black community at the time: AIDS, as one of the characters contracted the disease. I remember reading that Janet made 2Pac take an AIDS test before shooting with him because they had a kissing scene, which is not funny but I laughed. Also goes to show how little we knew about the disease and how it's contracted. This film is singlehandedly responsible for so many ageless one liners: 'Wanna Smell my Punaniiiiii?', 'Brush that weak ass fade!' and my personal favorite 'Yawl ain got no 8Ball??? Yawl ain got no Olde E??'---The hoodrat catcall. If there's ever a time where you become undecided on the Netflix & Chill sesh, pop one of these hood classics might not get through once the sex scene kicks in on Love Jones or the back of the mail truck scene in Poetic Justice... but isn't that the point of 'Netflix & Chill' anyway???  Enjoy!


I like quick witted black romantic comedies and the best one that often goes so far under the radar that it might as well be stealth is Hav Plenty (1997). Based on the relationship the director of the movie (who also plays the lead male) had with a Def Jam exec, this movie delivers some of the best witty banter and exchanges in the black romantic comedy genre. Hav Plenty, the story of starving novelist Lee Plenty and his "well to do" college friend Havilland Savage, who is currently engaged to the next "Marvin Gaye", begin to develop a romance after spending New Years Eve with her family. After a while, its hard to not get tired of Lee Plenty's self deprecation, but the increasing possibility of his relationship with Havilland growing is more than enough to forgive the suffering through it you'll do. You just begin to sort of root for the poor guy, eventually realizing she may actually need the relationship more than he. Hav Plenty is probably one of those movies you didn't see a trailer for or heard about from movie critics, but rather most likely found while flipping channels late night on Starz or Encore or perhaps BET if you don't have premium channels. In fact, I'm almost certain it was BET where I first saw it. The acting is what you would expect from a low budget black movie, but its still charming nonetheless.


Soul Food to me was just meant to be great from the beginning. When Babyface has a hand in production you can be sure of 2 things: 1) the soundtrack will be amazing (which it was) and 2) it's going to make you feel some (if not all) emotions throughout...and of course it did just that. This movie, in my opinion, has one of the best soundtracks ever. Each song seems to be made specifically and solely for this movie, they are just that perfectly fitting. The soundtrack has all the legends: Outkast, Jay-Z, Total, Dru Hill, Xcape, Usher, Lil Kim and so's stacked and definitely feels like an extension to the script.

I also have to give credit to George Tillman Jr. for the writing and directing of this, because one of the best things about this movie is the dialogue, intensity of the scenes and the cast. It was great to see Nia Long, Mekhi Phifer, Vivica Fox, Michael Beach, Brandon Hammond and of course Irma P. Hall. They each played their role well and the chemistry was evident. They all truly added to a great family dynamic and were believable, which I feel is needed for a movie to be great. I loved that the family was big, they had regular Sunday dinners and connected with each other during this "family time". As a viewer you get love, betrayal, ambition, happiness and ultimately sadness. It really does take you through every emotion and an array of somewhat realistic family issues. Like I said earlier, intense scenes, with the most difficult to watch being the infamous cheating scene where Teri catches her husband cheating with her cousin. Vanessa Williams does a perfect job with her acting and really does add a tremendous amount of realism in that scene. On a more positive note, one of my favorite scenes is early on at Bird and Lem's wedding, because they truly are the best couple! Again, the execution of the movie as a whole was done very well. I really feel like Soul Food is one of those movies that will be timeless and will always be on "must see" lists, not to mention the soundtrack should be in every music library!

The Best Man is one of the few movies I can watch from beginning to end repeatedly without getting sick of it. I don't even know where to start as the cast is absolutely perfect with Morris Chestnut, Terrence Howard, Taye Diggs and Harold Perrineau displaying the best "bro-chemistry" I've seen on film. These guys convinced me they were real life best friends living a reality show. Each actor suited their character and executed well. Personally I don't think they could have done anything better. It was flawless. The women were equally brilliant. Sanaa Lathan, Nia Long, Monica Calhoun, Melissa De Sousa all had the same chemistry with each other and with the fellas. Fantastic dialogue that seemed natural and not so "script-like". Again, they make me think they were a real life group of friends and I was just watching them live life; thus making it an easy and enjoyable movie.

The storyline in this one is fun, it's a good angle that played out well. Ironically the "best man" publishes a book about his friends and secrets unravel and naturally creates a ton of drama which is definitely fun. Believable and realistic? Not really, but who cares, it's so engaging and has so much humor and drama along the way it really doesn't matter. It has a suspenseful element, it has deception, several romantic storylines and of course a portrayal of solid friendships. All of these characters go through so much but ultimately come out tightly knit. It doesn't get better than that.

If I had to pick my favorite scenes they would be: the closing dance ensemble at the wedding, when Lance beats the crap out of Harper, when Lance goes back to the church to call off the wedding and the very best one being Harper showing up to Jordan's house after being beat up. It's in these scenes I find the balance of drama/humor/sadness exists. It's great.
Again this movie was just so well put together, with a good balance of drama, comedy and romance. It's one movie that might seem like a chick flick at first, but it really isn't. It speaks to the fellas as well as the ladies and comes as no surprise that it ranks among the very best movies of the 90s.


It falls on me to discuss some of the movies from the 2000s, one of which being Love And Basketball. I am admittedly not a huge fan of this film, but it has achieved cult like status almost in our community as an amazing love story. While the movie is a bit campy at times and the dialogue tends to be slightly ridiculous, I think the reality of the situation for a young athlete in love is very prevalent here and it details the story perfectly. The best thing I could say here about the film is the chemistry between Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan who were dating in real life from what I understand, which is probably why the movie felt so real. It is a black cinema classic in many ways.

Now, in this film, The Brothers, I was interested and intrigued to see how this story would play out. At the time I believe I was slightly tired of all the standard films with either Morris Chestnut or Taye Diggs in it, but this was nothing different than how most white films are, so as a youth/teenager, I went to see all of them, this one included. D.L. Hughley, Shemar Moore, Bill Bellamy and Morris start as four close friends who are just trying to love and live life to the fullest. The combination of these four may seem to be odd at first, but they make for an interesting group, as all four seemed to have comedic chemistry. Bill Bellamy as the brother who leaves black women alone due to his issues with his mom and some other underlying factors, D.L. as the husband who can't seem to get the sex he wants from his wife, Morris as the guy who seems slightly afraid of commitment and Shemar as an engaged man who is having second thoughts. The director of this film dubbed it as the male version of Waiting to Exhale, and while that's a disturbing comparison, there is a small similarity between the two. However, The Brothers is a pretty good film overall and one of the most well rounded.

The film Two Can Play the Game wasn't as significant as the others in some way, but it was still a viable film. Based around ridiculous rules of dating, the film drags on a bit at times but the comedic chemistry between Morris Chestnut (brother cleaned up on paychecks in the 1990s and 2000s) and Anthony Anderson made this one worthwhile. The lesson learned at the end of this film was that love doesn't need rules or silly limitations and that message was quite a strong to send through film.

Finally, the hip hop inspired film Brown Sugar is easily my favorite black film of its kind in the early 2000s. This film is a classic to me. Another coming of age love film in a similar tone to Love and Basketball, Sanaa Lathan stars in this one as well, this time alongside Taye Diggs. Sanaa plays an editor in chief at a popular magazine for hip hop, while Taye plays an A&R for a record label. Queen Latifah plays a friend to Sanaa while Mos Def plays the role of an upcoming rapper/cab driver who wants to get on and still keep his music pure. Armed with some big name cameos from a number of rap stars, this film is quite authentic in every way. The only thing that wasn't authentic: The Hip Hop Dalmatians. Just no. Never. While this film wasn't a huge box office success, it did what it needed to do and was truly one of the top films during this period of time.

Have any opinions or more films to add? Post them below in the comments.



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