During a recent visit to AALBC.com, I came across “Kam’s Annual Assessment of the Best (and Worst) in Black Cinema.” This was after my eyes got stuck in roll action while reviewing their top 2008 bestsellers. No need to look, just know that Zane and Karrine Steffans are your people’s top reading choices. I’m not knocking though. I mean, I’ve read a couple of Zane and one of Steffans’ books myself—let’s add back in the day to that statement. And when I can outsell them without the aid of Oprah (or publish ONE book in general), I will be sure to talk big shit. Until then, I will let another blog do the job.

But back to Kam. Noted, I’ve seen most of the films on his 2006-08 lists. Obviously, I occasionally disagreed with some of his categorizing , but then again I’m no film critic and the people who know me often raise an eyebrow at my Blockbuster/Netflix selections. Whatever. What interested me most about Kam’s listing is  the documentary selections. If you’re a black film lover like myself, maybe a few of these titles will eventually be added to your Netflix/Blockbuster queue (I doubt these are in the $1 rental machines). Based on Kam’s list, check out the following:

The Souls of Black GirlsThe name of the documentary film derives from the seminal W.E.B. Dubois book The Souls of Black Folks and examines the relationship between historical and current media images of women of color. The film explores the possibility of whether or not Black women today are suffering from a self-image disorder and features candid interviews with young women discussing their self-image. The documentary also features commentary from actresses Regina King and Jada Pinkett Smith, PBS Washington Week Moderator Gwen Ifill and cultural critic Michaela Angela Davis, among others.

Valerius produced the documentary as a fulfillment of the broadcast journalism graduate program she completed at Emerson College in 2006. It builds upon her undergraduate research as a Ronald McNair Scholar at St. John’s University titled Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence: The Effects of Mass Media on Women of Color…Forgotten [. . .] Valerius said growing up as a young Black girl, she felt “very much like an ugly duckling compared to my peers as a result of not looking a certain way, much like Pecola Breedlove of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. Putting together this documentary allowed me to uncover and examine why I, along with many other women of color, feel the need to manipulate our physical appearances. (summary via Rezaritesri.com)

A Man Named Pearl – Filmmakers Scott Galloway and Brent Pierson collaborate on this documentary about a factory worker and self-taught topiary artist from South Carolina who transformed his once-average yard into a wondrous garden that now draws tourists from across the country. When Pearl Fryar first attempted to move into his South Carolina home, the people of the neighborhood feared that he wouldn’t maintain his yard. But Pearl wasn’t willing to let an obstacle born from racial stereotypes determine the outcome of his life, and vowed to win the “Yard of the Month” award from the Iris Garden Club. Years later, tourists from all 50 states flock to the yard of a man who had no prior gardening experience before creating his masterpiece. More than just a yard, Pearl’s awe-inspiring landscape creates a feeling in visitors that they didn’t have before they set foot on the grounds.

America the Beautiful– The United States of America is known for being one of the wealthiest nations on the planet with the most opportunities for its citizens. In 2004 alone, Americans spent $12.4 billion (yes, billion!) on cosmetic surgery. With such an abundance of wealth, why are Americans so discontent? In almost 40,000 media messages a year, youthful Americas are being told that, unless you look like supermodels and rock stars, you’re not good enough for anyone to love. This is a message that too many people are buying..

Filmmaker Darryl Roberts goes on a two year journey to examine America’s new obsession; physical perfection. In America the Beautiful, we learn secrets, confessions, and strikingly harsh realities as Roberts unearths the origins and deadly risks of our nation’s quest for physical perfection. (via America the Beautiful blog)

Meeting David WilsonMeeting David Wilson tracks Wilson’s journey to North Carolina to meet David B. Wilson, a descendant of the white Southern family that owned his ancestors during the slavery era. Wilson, now 30, a veteran of ABC, CBS and Fox News, said it was “about creating a dialogue for America as a whole.”

“What you have in the two of us is the story of two races and two generations honestly talking about the dark cloud of slavery and its continuing impact on our families and our lives even today,” he said.

For Wilson, the journey was eye-opening. Working with Nancy Carter Moore, a genealogical researcher, he learned that his family had been enslaved for three generations on vast plantations across North Carolina and Virginia belonging to the wealthy Wilson family. (Read more via MSNBC)

One Bad Cat: The Reverend Albert Wagner Story– For the first 50 years of his life, Albert Wagner led an unexceptional, if rather disreputable, existence. He put together a living in a working-class neighborhood of Cleveland, drank to excess and womanized with abandon, siring 16 children with his wife and several more with two mistresses. One of these women had a daughter from a previous marriage whom Mr. Wagner molested. He was arrested, spent five days in jail and, as he tells it in “One Bad Cat: The Reverend Albert Wagner Story,” found himself in his basement one night contemplating the course of his life — and a paint stain on a scrap of wood.

He felt the presence of God within and began to paint his fears and loves: scenes of broken families, lynchings, Biblical tableaus, naked women, dissolute men. Continuing at a prodigious pace, Mr. Wagner, who died in 2006, set aside his vices and amassed a houseful of raw, startling images, as well as a growing reputation as an important folk artist.

Directed by Thomas G. Miller, “One Bad Cat” brings fresh light to the artist profile not only through his choice of subject, but also by his direct confrontation with the discomforting nature of Mr. Wagner’s work and the cultural complexities entailed when a poor black naïf is celebrated and collected by well-to-do whites. (via The New York Times)

Very Young Girls – Very Young Girls is a documentary film that chronicles the journey of young women through the underground world of sexual exploitation in New York City.  A 14-year-old girl is lured from her home, beaten, raped, held captive, and sold for sex in New York City.  The police find her — and arrest her.

A man who has sex with an underage girl should be prosecuted as a criminal rapist.  But there is a loophole: if the child accepts money in exchange for sex, the rapist is now a “john” and rarely is subjected to greater punishment than a fine.  For the very same act, the girl is often prosecuted as a prostitute and sent into detention.  The average age of entry into prostitution today in the Untied States is 13 years old [. . .]

Our double standard arises partly from myths about prostitution, promoted in the movies, song, and reality TV – girls are empowered sex workers, strung-out crack whores, greedy “hos,” or hookers with hearts of gold.  Very Young Girls shows clearly, that with the average age of entry into prostitution in the United States at thirteen, that sexual exploitation is simply a commercial form of child sexual abuse, the effect of which can continue into adulthood and beyond. (Read more via The Fledgling Fund)

Thanks Kam Williams and AALBC for exposing us to these documentaries. Be sure to check out the full lists from 2006- 2008. I know I discovered a few titles I’d previously never heard of. They are definitely now on the wanna see list.

And when you’re done watching, get back to reading y’all!