Book clubs are great, but they’re a long-term commitment. A movie marathon with mom, on the other hand, could be contained to an afternoon or stretched out over a long weekend. If you’re still baffled about how you intend to celebrate Mother’s Day this Sunday, one low-cost, quality time-spending solution would be to sit right in a living room–yours or hers–and catch a flicks together. For a festive viewing experience, prepare creatively themed snacks to coincide with each film, and engage in meaningful discussion about the plot, characters and ideas each work explores.
Here’s a list of great black films, both classic and contemporary, that mothers and daughters can enjoy together:
Diahann Carroll shines in the role of a domestic worker/mother of six, struggling to make ends meet. Complicating things is her reliance on public assistance, which places a strain on her budding relationship with a local garbage man, Roop (James Earl Jones), and necessitates hiding both him and her employment from the case worker who routinely drops by.
Released in 1974, Claudine is still resonant today, particularly in its examination of single-parent relationships with parents and the complexities of maintaining one’s dignity in the face of economic hardship.
And that soundtrack KNOCKS. You can’t go wrong with Curtis Mayfield/Gladys Knight and the Pips. You may’ve already seen Claudine with your mom, but watch it again with new eyes this year.
2. Imitation of Life
You knew this would be on the list, right? I don’t care how many times you’ve seen Juanita Moore’s long-suffering, unconditionally loving performance in this 1959 classic. It’s still heartbreaking and wonderful. This tale of a daughter’s pursuit of white acceptance to her own, and more tragically, her mother’s detriment, is a great addition to any Mother’s Day viewing list.
This indie darling was the toast of 2011, and it’s new to DVD, so you can catch it at home. A rare black-girl bildungsroman,Pariah follows 17-year-old Alike as she comes to terms with her sexual identity, to the protestation of her disapproving mom and reluctantly supportive dad. Alike’s firm but respectful insistence in the face of her her mother’s denial should be familiar to anyone whose made choices her mother had a hard time accepting. For its commentary on self-acceptance, the reception of homosexuality in the black family, and finding/maintaining one’s voice, consider adding it to your queue.
4. Life Support
Nelson George’s 2007 film, about a recovering drug addict who contracted HIV from her formerly incarcerated husband (also a recovering addict), is deeply moving. In the lead, Queen Latifah shines as Ana, whose main regret in life is losing custody of her eldest daughter to her mother, and whose greatest preoccupation is winning back her favor. Though Life Support grapples with many profound social issues, the mother-daughter relationship at its core is the most impacting. Based on the true story of George’s own HIV activist sister, this would be a beautiful, if teary, experience to share with Mom.
5. Lackawanna Blues
This is one of my mother’s absolute favorite films. And while it’s the only one on this list that doesn’t directly feature a mother-daughter relationship, it does speak to a condition to which many black mothers and daughters can relate: Strong Black Woman Syndrome. Nanny (S. Epatha Merkerson) runs a rooming house full of difficult-to-manage personalities. She’s a 24-hour caretaker and leaves very little room for self-care and self-love. Her foster/adopted son is a saving grace, as he constantly worries that she’ll burn out and tries to deter this by offering her love, companionship, conversation and–I kid you not–scalp-greasing (the two scenes that feature the latter are among the most endearing in the film).