The mission of The Department of Afro-American Research Arts and Culture to identify the global significance of the creative contributions pioneered by an international diaspora of Blackness
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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Mo' Better Blues (1990)

"Mo' Better Blues" (1990) is a film written, directed, and produced by Spike Lee. The movie features an excellent cast consisting of Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes, Giancarlo Esposito, Cynda Williams, Joi Lee, and Bill Nunn. Branford Marsalis Quartet and Terence Blanchard are responsible for the film's score, with Bill Lee assisting in production. Ernest R. Dickerson is the cinematographer for the film. The movie had an estimated budget of $10 million and grossed over $16 million worldwide. It was Lee's fourth major production, while the previous three films were "Do the Right Thing" (1989), "School Daze" (1988), and "She's Gotta Have It" (1986).

By 1990, Spike Lee was pioneering a new wave of African-American filmmaking. However, the black film market had a prolonged period during the 1980s when Hollywood wasn't producing black movies as it did in the 1970s. Robert Townsend and Keenen Wayans were the few Black filmmakers that existed alongside Lee, but the industry was quiet overall. After his commercial success for "Do the Right Thing," Lee explored a music genre influential to him as an artist and filmmaker in "Mo' Better Blues." The jazz piece from the film was Lee's exploration of black jazz musicians in a tight NYC community and an attempt to introduce younger audiences to the richness of the genre. Films such as "St. Lous Blues" (1929, 1958), "A Man Called Adam" (1966), and "Lady Sings the Blues" (1972) are all excellent films that explore the genre, and "Mo' Better Blues" falls into the class.

Denzel Washington won an Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in the film "Cry Freedom" in 1988, which ignited his career to another level. Following the Oscar win, Washington starred in four movies, including "Glory" and "The Mighty Quinn," both released in 1989. Washington and Lee have worked with each other several times in films such as "Malcolm X" (1992) and "He Got Game" (1996), but "Mo' Better Blues" was their first project together. Wesley Snipes' career was also starting to excel at the same time. He finished filming "Major League" in 1989 and "King of New York" a year after with "Mo' Better Blues." After that, Snipes and Lee worked together again in "Jungle Fever" (1991), and afterward, Snipes' career reached incredible heights quickly. Denzel Washington and Wesley Snipes were two of the most prolific actors during the 90s, especially between 1990 and 1995.

Actors such as Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn, Samuel L. Jackson, Joi Lee, and Leonard L. Thomas appeared in previous Spike Lee movies, so they were familiar with Lee's filming style. In addition, this film was Cynda Williams' first motion picture, so this was a new experience compared to the other cast members. Dick Anthony Williams brought his immense expertise to the set providing the movie with a supplementary layer of class. Finally, Robin Harris blessed the screen with comedic gifts by performing standup routines. When reflecting on Robin Harris' career, he only appeared in a few films, and "Mo 'Better Blues" is often not mentioned among "Bebe's Kids" and "House Party." And like many Spike Lee films, there are several cameo appearances in "Mo' Better Blues."

I recommend this film, as it perfectly represents Lee's brilliance as a filmmaker. While it's not his best film, it's still one of his better ones. Denzel stepped out of his usual character portrayals and explored his sensual and sexual traits as an actor. Plus, Lee knew how to present his actors with roles that would have them step outside themselves. 

Director: Spike Lee
Writer: Spike Lee

Starring Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes, Spike Lee, Joi Lee, Cynda Williams, Bill Nunn, Giancarlo Esposito, Samuel L. Jackson, Leonard L. Thomas, Robin Harris, Jeff 'Tain' Watts, Dick Anthony Williams, Charlie Murphy, John Turturro, Nicholas Turturro, Steve White, Abbey Lincoln

Financially irresponsible Giant (Spike Lee) manages a jazz group, but his sax player, Shadow (Wesley Snipes), wants to replace him with a better business person. Bleak (Denzel Washington), the band's trumpeter, then tries to defend his close pal Giant, leading to a power struggle between the two musicians. Meanwhile, as Bleak tries to straighten things out with his bandmates and manager, he also must choose to be with either sweet teacher Indigo (Joie Lee) or sultry singer Clarke (Cynda Williams).