There have been many black films that inspire, enrage, encourage and invigorate. And several of those have reflected real-life scenarios that we all have seen in our own lives — especially when it comes to the workplace.
Here are six films with black actors that feature career issues and have taught all of us lessons about art reflecting life. —Janell Hazelwood
A ’90s classic, this film showcases the rise of mailroom clerk Bobby Johnson (played by Tommy Davidson) from low-level worker to junior executive. Under the tutelage of a real estate mogul with his sights on making partner (played by Joseph C. Phillips), Johnson uses his link to a beautiful club host (played by Halle Berry) to get the chance to close a major deal that will put him among the C-suiters. A combination of creativity, good networking, humility, and ingenuity makes for a win-win situation in the end— all real-life qualities that help spark success for the everyday professional.
The Pursuit of Happyness
Box-office heavyweight Will Smith plays stockbroker Chris Gardner in this biopic about a man determined to overcome homelessness. Gardner’s love for his son and strong desire to build a better life leads to an inspiring journey in beating unemployment odds and taking unconventional routes to career success.
One of the first mainstream films to address issues of homosexuality and AIDS in the workplace, this film stars Denzel Washington as lawyer Joe Smith, who takes on the case of Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks), a man fired because of his HIV status. Based on the true story of how a man successfully takes on a powerhouse law firm on allegations of AIDS discrimination, Philadelphia is a landmark drama highlighting a major change in workers’ rights laws and teaching lessons of humility, fearlessness, understanding and professionalism.
Loosely based on the life of hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, this film tells the story of the early days of Def Jam Recordings and includes cameos from music legends LL Cool J and Run DMC. Depicting black pop culture at its best, Krush Groove follows the struggle — and fun — of creating a record-label empire built on a music genre that had been unheard of and doubted. Starring a young Blair Underwood in his feature-film debut, this cult classic examines the no-holds-barred approach to making something out of nothing, providing inspiration for today’s job seekers or entrepreneurs.
Once you get past that first steamy, on-the-desktop love scene between main character Flipper Purify (played by Wesley Snipes) and Angela Tucci (Annabella Sciorra), there are several workplace issues evident in this Spike Lee classic. Lee’s films always leave one with thoughts of uber-eye-opening awareness, and this one is no exception, exploring not only the dynamics of interracial relationships, drug addiction, and infidelity, but also the frustration of the glass ceiling. Flipper, the only black architect at his firm, makes requests for an African American employee, only to be ignored. And when he isn’t made partner by his white counterparts, he leaves the company with plans to start his own. His workplace frustration makes room for exploration of an extramarital affair— a common occurrence in cases of career unfulfillment.
This classic — starring the who’s who in black Hollywood, including Halle Berry, Eartha Kitt, Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, Tisha Campbell, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Givens and Grace Jones — featured various scenarios all too common on the job: office affairs; battle of the sexes; culture conflicts; and workplace politics. And to top it off, the film was set in an office with nothing but black professionals in the best of ’90s office fashion, portraying for the first time a black-owned company that took pride in being dressed to the nines.