“I’m headed to Paris,” Harry Belafonte declares in Elvis Mitchell’s directorial debut “Is That Black Enough For You?!?” Mitchell, a film critic, directs a fascinating documentary on Blaxploitation and his own moviegoing experiences. Its burning sensitivity keeps it on track despite covering so much Black filmmaking history.
‘Is That Black Enough For You?!?’ isn’t blind. Mitchell consistently draws logical conclusions, whether addressing the revolutionary vision in these films or how they influenced white contemporaries. Mitchell’s inquisitiveness and non-linear editing give his picture a freewheeling rhythm. He discusses the detrimental Mammy and cowardly butler tropes in early Black Hollywood movies. Mitchell’s comment that black men in movies were represented as servants when they wore bow ties and coattails and white guys as having fun when they wore eveningwear is spot-on.
Mitchell takes more detours as Blaxploitation approaches. These side trips are regular, not bugs. Mitchell’s narrative and early subject shifts give the documentary a conversational rather than scholarly tone.
Mitchell also collects likeable talking heads to recall their first moviegoing experiences. Whoopi Goldberg and Samuel L. Jackson are particularly funny and sharp in their Hollywood criticisms: The critical need for Black roles or people on TV. Jackson recalls how he and his white peers could include Buckwheat as close friends.
Belafonte, Margaret Avery, Billy Dee Williams, Laurence Fishburne, and Charles Burnett are other significant voices. Anyone may share inspiring movie experiences. Belafonte’s candid discussion of his choice to quit Hollywood rather than take degrading employment yields some of the film’s most memorable lines. Mitchell likens Belafonte to Muhammad Ali because both men left successful jobs to fight for a cause they believed in.
If Mitchell returns to documentaries, you hope he would contextualise and experiment with this amazing throughline. The only odd voice is Zendaya. She contributes a thin, broad, and not very crisp content, but she makes sense to include since you want a younger perspective, particularly from a movie star.
After Reginald Hudlund’s “Sidney,” a documentary about Sidney Poitier, Mitchell’s film is the second Black 1970s film to neglect Bill Cosby. Pandora’s box can never be closed again, it appears. W. Kamau Bell’s docuseries “We Need To Talk About Cosby” attempts to reconcile Cosby’s ugliness with his impact on Black movies. Mitchell’s documentary won’t address such topics.
‘Is That Black Enough You?!?’ isn’t flawless, but its throbbing references to historical figures and future movie stars make it enjoyable to watch. It’s fantastic to see a brilliant actor like Rupert Crosse, who died too young, get global praise for his incomparable ability. Diana Sands also fits. I noted some strange titles. This documentary successfully sparks interest in these significant works.
Mitchell’s lyrical narrative and insights enhance the documentary. He explores Blaxploitation’s use of soundtracks to market movies and draws a striking parallel between Gordon Parks’ “Shaft” and John Badham’s “Saturday Night Fever.” You often think, “What about that person?” Mitchell seamlessly integrates these performers and films into the larger cinematic tapestry in response to the request. And elevated Blaxploitation to mainstream culture.
‘Is That Black Enough for You?!?’ is blatantly Black. Instead of drawing a basic outline, it shows the numerous subtleties of Blackness. We see these works with Mitchell’s reverence. “Is That Black Plenty for You?!?” is more than enough, and it makes one hope Mitchell would keep releasing documentaries at a constant rate (and soon).
Netflix releases ‘Is That Black Enough For You?’ on November 11.