Purple Rain and She’s Gotta Have It Among 5 African American Films Added to National Film Registry

(L-R) Purple Rain; She’s Gotta Have It
Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures, 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks, Island Pictures

The Library of Congress has announced 25 new films to add to its National Film Registry for 2019. Of the 25 films that are “selected because of their cultural, historic and aesthetic importance to the nation’s film heritage,” five of them are created by and/or centered around African Americans. Those black films are Purple Rain, She’s Gotta Have It, George Washington Carver at Tuskegee Institute, Oscar Mischeaux’s Body and Soul and I Am Somebody.

“The National Film Registry has become an important record of American history, culture and creativity,” Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said in a statement. “Unlike many other honors, the registry is not restricted to a time, place or genre. It encompasses 130 years of the full American cinematic experience—a virtual Olympiad of motion pictures. With the support of Congress, the studios and other archives, we are ensuring that the nation’s cinematic history will be around for generations to come.”

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In addition to conferring with the National Film Preservation Board (NFPB), the Librarian of Congress also takes more than 6,000 titles nominated by the public into account. With the new class of 2019, there are now 775 total films in the registry.

Per the Library of Congress’ press release:

Purple Rain (1984)

By 1984, Prince was already being hailed by critics and fans as one of the greatest musical geniuses of his generation. This post-modern musical secured his place as a movie star and entertainment legend. Largely autobiographical, “Purple Rain” showcased the late, great showman as a young Minneapolis musician struggling to bring his revolutionary brand of provocative funk rock to the masses. The film’s soundtrack includes such decade-defining tracks as “When Doves Cry” and the title song. The film’s multi-platinum soundtrack previously was named to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry.

“I am deeply honored that Purple Rain has been selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry in 2019,” director Albert Magnoli said in a statement. “All of us strived to create a film that would capture the attention of what we believed at the time was a small audience. None of us expected this longevity. We simply worked hard every day to get it right, and this honor is a testament to the music, story and characters that were created by all of us so many years ago.”

Prince’s love interest co-star in the film, Apollonia Kotero also reminisced on the experience of filming Purple Rain with the late artist. “As a young Latina actress, being cast in ‘Purple Rain’ was the opportunity of a lifetime,” Kotero added in a statement. “Roles for women that looked like me were scarce in the ’80s. Prince was never afraid of taking risks. He created a melting pot of cultures and racial interactions within his purple worlds. [...] Prince would be thrilled.”

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Descriptions of the other selected African-American centered films from the Library of Congress press release:

She’s Gotta Have It (1986)

The distinct voice and cinematic talent of Spike Lee first became evident thanks to this indie classic. “She’s Gotta Have It” tells the story of a confident, single black woman (in itself something of a breakthrough) pursued by three different African-American men —and who isn’t sure she wants any of them. More than 30 years later, this landmark work remains as vital, vibrant, charming and streetwise as it was at first release, a harbinger of Lee’s enduring and visionary career as filmmaker. Lee also appears in the film as the memorable Mars.

Body and Soul (1925)

One of the truly unique pioneers of cinema, African-American producer/director/writer/distributor Oscar Micheaux somehow managed to get nearly 40 films made and seen despite facing racism, lack of funding, the capricious whims of local film censors and the independent nature of his work. Most of Micheaux’s films are lost to time or available only in incomplete versions, with the only extant copies of some having been located in foreign archives. Nevertheless, what remains shows a fearless director with an original, daring and creative vision. Film historian Jacqueline Stewart says Micheaux’s films, though sometimes unpolished and rough in terms of acting, pacing and editing, brought relevant issues to the black community including “the politics of skin color within the black community, gender differences, class differences, regional differences especially during this period of the Great Migration.” For “Body and Soul,” renaissance man Paul Robeson, who had gained some fame on the stage, makes his film debut displaying a blazing screen presence in dual roles as a charismatic escaped convict masquerading as a preacher and his pious brother. The George Eastman Museum has restored the film from a nitrate print, producing black-and-white-preservation elements and later restoring color tinting using the Desmet method.

I Am Somebody (1970)

Madeline Anderson’s documentary brings viewers to the front lines of the civil rights movement during the 1969 Charleston hospital workers’ strike, when black female workers marched for fair pay and union recognition. Anderson personally participated in the strike, along with such notable figures as Coretta Scott King, Ralph Abernathy and Andrew Young, all affiliated with Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Anderson’s film shows the courage and resiliency of the strikers and the support they received from the local black community. It is an essential filmed record of this important moment in the history of civil and women’s rights. The film is also notable as arguably the first documentary on civil rights directed by a woman of color, solidifying its place in American film history.

George Washington Carver at Tuskegee Institute (1937)

C. Allen Alexander, an African American surgeon from Michigan, convinced George Washington Carver to allow him to shoot 16 mm color footage of the famed botanist and inventor at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Alexander wisely shot the film using gloriously resilient Kodachrome, ensuring the colors remain stunningly vibrant and rich. The 12 minutes of fascinating amateur footage include scenes of Carver in his apartment, office and laboratory, as well as images of him tending flowers and displaying his paintings. Also included is footage of a Tuskegee Institute football game and the school’s marching band and majorettes. The National Archives has digitized the film as part of its multi-year effort to preserve and make available the historically significant film collections of the National Park Service. The footage can be seen on NARA’s YouTube channel.

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For my fellow cinephiles, select titles from the National Film Registry are currently available to view for free in the registry’s screening room. The films selected for the 2019 National Film Registry are listed below:

Amadeus (1984)

Becky Sharp (1935)

Before Stonewall (1984)

Body and Soul (1925)

Boys Don’t Cry (1999)

Clerks (1994)

Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980)

Emigrants Landing at Ellis Island (1903)

Employees Entrance (1933)

Fog of War (2003)

Gaslight (1944)

George Washington Carver at Tuskegee Institute (1937)

Girlfriends (1978)

I Am Somebody (1970)

The Last Waltz (1978)

My Name Is Oona (1969)

A New Leaf (1971)

Old Yeller (1957)

The Phenix City Story (1955)

Platoon (1986)

Purple Rain (1984)

Real Women Have Curves (2002)

She’s Gotta Have It (1986)

Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Zoot Suit (1981)

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Tonja Renée Stidhum

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.