Black History Month Film Festival Reading List

The films featured in our BHM Film Festival are based on books of fiction and historical events.  By coincidence, I have read all of the books at one time (I’m not able to write my Book vs. Movie articles on them at this time, however), and can recommend all of them.  Needless to say, the films differ from the books in varying degrees, and I recommend reading the original source to gain a true perspective of the subjects and/or the story.

Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored is Clifton Taulbert’s tribute to his family as he grew up in rural Mississippi.  The film builds on a theme of hope that’s not explicit in the book, but the short memoir relates the love of his home and community as well as the dignity of the people.  Taulbert wrote several more books about and based on his childhood experiences.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X remains an important and controversial book in American literature, over 40 years after its publication in 1965.  The book was written by journalist Alex Haley – a few years before he embarked on his own book Roots – as told to him by Malcolm X.  X describes his life from childhood to his trip to Mecca following his break with the Nation of Islam.  Like the movie, the writing reflects his transformation in his lifestyle, his insights on the plight of African-America and his philosophies of life in America.  The book as been criticized for certain parts being fictionalized by Haley, or exaggerated by X.  Most editions include Haley’s account of his interviews with X, which gives an interesting perspective of X apart from the main work.

Glory is based on the books One Gallant Rush and Lay this Laurel, and the letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw.  (Of the three, I’ve only read One Gallant Rush.)  Shaw was commander of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment from its inception in 1863 to his death on the ramparts of Battery Wagner.  One Gallant Rush is a complete detail of Shaw’s life and his leadership of the 54th, and also gives some insight into the men who fought in the regiment (the film shows fictional soldiers who are composites of differing mindsets of the time).  Lay this Laurel offers a biographical sketch of Shaw, but is chiefly a commemorative album of the 54th Massachusetts Memorial in Boston.  Shaw’s letters are collected in a book Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune.

The Color Purple won Alice Walker the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for Literature, and is the best known of her works to date.  The novel’s power lies in its first person narrative:  Celie telling her story through her diary, and letters from her sister Nettie.  (The movie is fairly faithful to the novel, but its style allows it to stand on its own.) 

All of these books are available at CCLS or through PINES.  Click on the title above to link to the PINES website, or ask your library staff for assistance.

The Black History Month Film Festival at the Forest Park Branch Library runs from February 19 – 22.  See the article above for more information.

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When I posted the above list, I neglected to include to a couple of books that explore the experiences of director Spike Lee and author Alice Walker during the making of the films Malcolm X and The Color Purple, respectively.

Lee was determined to make Malcolm X, by any means necessary.  From his bogart tactic to get the directing assignment to his appeal to wealthy African-Americans to help finance post-production, Lee’s book By Any Means Necessary: The Trials and Tribulations of the Making of Malcolm X chronicles his struggles to make a biopic of Malcolm X that did justice to the complexities of the man and his life.  Lee felt that an epic film would accomplish this, but the heads of Warner Bros., who financed and distributed the film, disagreed, believing that a one and a half hour film made on a modest budget would be sufficient.  The process from pre- to post-production is quite a drama in itself.  This book is available through PINES.

I came across The Same River Twice : Honoring the Difficult while checking our holding for The Color Purple.  Written ten years after the premiere and success of the film version of The Color Purple, Walker wrote about her experiences dealing with the choices, criticisms and her sudden fame resulting from the film.  Included is her screenplay for the movie (Steven Spielberg used another version instead of Walker’s). 

Books like these always interest me because of they give insight into the filmmaking process from the creator’s point of view.  I think they will interest the non-filmmaker, too:  A lot goes into making movies before and after the lights, camera, action!  I’ll write more about this at a later time.

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Published in: on February 14, 2008 at 8:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

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