New movies feature black actors and showcase African-American culture

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Several new films featuring predominantly black actors are coming out in February, as we celebrate Black History Month.

One researcher calls the current slate of films with African American actors “a gift…a commitment to black freedom that couldn’t have happened just a few years ago.”

Indeed, the scope of black history depicted in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”, “The United States vs. Billie Holiday”, “Judas And the Black Messiah”, “One Night in Miami” and “Da 5 Bloods” is remarkable, even unique.

“They want to call me the mother of the blues, that’s fine with me, that doesn’t hurt me,” says Viola Davis as Ma Rainey, who sang the blues in the 1920s.

Billie Holiday performed in the 1940s and 50s, when she was harassed by the government for performing her song, “Strange Fruit,” about lynching in the South.

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In the 1960s, the Black Panther Party was in the crosshairs of the government. “Judas” was a band member who was pressured into becoming an informant, while “The Black Messiah” was a leader named Fred Hampton.

“One Night in Miami” features four icons: Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, NFL great Jim Brown and singer Sam Cooke, who spent one historic night together.

“Da 5 Bloods,” directed by Spike Lee, is about veterans grappling with Vietnam’s torturous legacy.

“This is a new version of Blackness,” said Hunter College professor Eisa Nefertari Ulen.

She says we now have a convergence of film noir because of what is happening in the political realm.

The Black Lives Matter movement has opened up greater opportunities for filmmakers, like NYU graduate Shaka King mentored by Spike Lee.

“I just think the culture right now is such that people are a little more curious and interested and ready to digest some of this information than they were before,” he said.

His film, “Judas and the Black Messiah,” came to fruition quickly after other directors spent more than a decade trying unsuccessfully to bring this story to the big screen.

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It’s a win for cast members like Dominque Fishback, who plays Hampton’s wife.

“We learn that our heroes are human,” she said. “And if we start to see that they’re human, we can start to identify. And when we start to identify, we see ourselves as bigger.”

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