As revival movie theater houses around the country are holding film programs filled with film noir classics (it is Noirvember, after all), we couldn’t help but notice it’s a film genre without a lot of diversity in front of, or behind the camera.
It had us thinking – Are there any hard-boiled, pulp flicks made by and starring people of color?
Well, here are five of them:
Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970) — For his directorial debut, the great, Black actor Ossie Davis took Chester Himes’ 1965 crime fiction novel and turned it into a neo-noir action comedy. Comedian Godfrey Cambridge and veteran character Raymond St. Jacques play no-nonsense Harlem cops who investigate a slick preacher (Calvin Lockhart) and the $87,000 of Harlem residents’ money that gets stolen from him. Look out for a pre-Sanford & Son Redd Foxx as — what else? — a junk collector. BTW, this movie also spawned a sequel, Come Back, Charleston Blue, in 1972.
Shaft (1971) — You know we had to put the iconic private dick who’s a sex machine with all the chicks on the list. Originally created by novelist Ernest Tidyman, Harlem detective John Shaft is the badass, leather coat-wearing equivalent to pale-faced gumshoes like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. Legendary photographer Gordon Parks brought the character to life on the big screen, getting Richard Roundtree to play him and Isaac Hayes to provide his theme song (which he eventually won an Oscar for).
Deep Cover (1992) — After proving he could do noir with the 1991 film A Rage in Harlem (also based on a Chester Himes novel), veteran actor/director Bill Duke (aka the “You know you fucked up, right?” cop from Menace II Society) went neo-noir for his follow-up. Laurence Fishburne stars as a cop who gets recruited by the DEA to go undercover and infiltrate a Los Angeles drug cartel. Jeff Goldblum co-stars as an attorney/drug trafficker Fishburne’s cop forms a partnership with.
One False Move (1992) — Actor-turned-filmmaker Carl Franklin made a big splash with his directorial debut, a moody crime thriller about a trio of criminals (Cynda Williams, Michael Beach and co-writer Billy Bob Thornton) who go on a murder spree while looking for money and cocaine. The late, much-missed Bill Paxton plays a police sheriff who gets involved in the investigation. Originally scheduled to go straight to video, this low-budget film became a critically-acclaimed favorite when it hit theaters.
Devil in a Blue Dress (1995) — Carl Franklin gets another shout-out on this list for following up Move with the one-and-only, movie adaptation of a Walter Mosley Easy Rawlins novel. Denzel Washington plays Rawlins, a working-class, private dick who searches for a mysterious woman (Jennifer Beals). Don Cheadle gives a scene-stealing performance as Rawlins’s murderous pal. In a perfect world, Washington and Franklin would’ve gone on to bring many Easy Rawlins novels to the big screen. Unfortunately, the movie wasn’t that big at the box office.