The Black Godfather

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
The Black Godfather Movie Poster Image
Excellent docu on showbiz legend, lots of cursing.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 118 minutes

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Positive Messages

Documentary shows the power of friendship, of sticking to your core values, and working hard to get what you want out of life. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

In spite of a difficult childhood, Clarence Avant found a way to succeed in show business by valuing and maintaining friendships, telling the truth, and working hard. 

Violence

Archival photograph of a lynching in the Deep South. Iconic and graphic photograph of Emmet Till in his open casket. Avant talks of how he and his mother were physically abused by his stepfather. Avant attempted to put rat poison in his stepfather's food.

Sex

Some passing mention of sex, and how Avant's record label, Sussex Records, was a combination of the words "success" and "sex." 

Language

Constant profanity. "N" word used a few times. "F--k" and "motherf---er" used several times. Also: "bulls--t," "s--t," "a--holes," "son of a bitch," "goddamn," "ass," "crap." 

Consumerism

Documentary centers on Avant's relationships with a wide array of music industry insiders, performers, and bands. Talk of how Avant worked to get a sponsorship deal from Coca-Cola for baseball great Hank Aaron. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Wine drinking. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Black Godfather is a 2019 documentary about music industry executive Clarence Avant and the countless Black artists and politicians he helped over the years. There's constant profanity, as Avant is legendary for not mincing words. The "N" word is used a few times, as well as "f--k," "motherf--er," and other curse words. Avant discusses the physical abuse he and his mother suffered at the hands of his stepfather while growing up, and how Avant's attempt to put rat poison in his stepfather's food led to him leaving home. Archival photographs of a lynching, and the iconic and horrific photograph of Emmet Till in his open casket. There are positive messages about the power of keeping and maintaining friendships, of being direct and assertive in what you want out of life, and how Avant's work behind the scenes was crucial in helping the careers of so many Black artists, and, directly and by extension, the civil rights movement. 

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What's the story?

THE BLACK GODFATHER chronicles the life and career of music industry legend Clarence Avant and the countless Black artists, activists, and politicians he helped over the years. It shows how Avant got his start working in the New Jersey jazz clubs, and how that led to his mentorship under Joe Glaser, the legendary manager of Louis Armstrong. Avant also helped fulfill Lalo Schifrin's (at the time the pianist in Dizzy Gillespie's band) dream of working in Hollywood composing film scores. Avant's representation of Schifrin, at a time when a Black man representing a White performer was unheard of, led to further success, and the start of Avant's reputation as a "mover and shaker" and someone a Black performer could turn to when negotiating contracts with a music industry notorious for ripping off Black artists for decades. The documentary shows how the label Avant launched, Sussex Records, found an international audience for the music of Bill Withers, one-hit wonders, and a now-legendary artist who remained obscure for four decades named Rodriguez. Throughout this time, Avant helped Black politicians get elected, and worked to get a lucrative Coca-Cola sponsorship deal for Hank Aaron as he was breaking Babe Ruth's homerun record. When his record label and radio station went bankrupt, Avant's career was resurrected by friends and music industry associates, and Avant went on to further the careers of countless musical artists, work on Michael Jackson's "Bad" tour, advise President Bill Clinton at the height of his impeachment trial, and demand that John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign give a prime-time slot during the Democratic National Convention for a speech given by a somewhat obscure Illinois state senator named Barack Obama. 

Is it any good?

It's nearly impossible to chronicle succinctly everything Clarence Avant has done and all the people he has helped over his decades-long career as a music executive. If the stories and anecdotes weren't so good, and if the performers, athletes, politicians, and activists Avant has helped over the years hadn't been so legendary, The Black Godfather would come across as nearly two hours of redundant tales that belabor the point of Avant's role as a behind-the-scenes mover and shaker. But when the stories involve people like Barack Obama, Muhammad Ali, Quincy Jones, Bill Withers, Janet Jackson, Sixto Rodriguez, and Hank Aaron, the sheer scope of Avant's influence is profoundly impressive. 

Somehow, this documentary manages to convey Avant's massive influence on so many careers over so many years, and any response of "OK, we get it, Avant is a big deal" is countered with just how much of a big deal he was. And the love so many of these luminaries clearly have for Avant shines through as they imitate Avant's gruff manner, and how they considered it a badge of honor to have been cursed out by Avant when Avant thought they were making a mistake in their lives or careers. In a way, it's a documentary reminiscent of 2013's Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon as both men seem to be universally beloved in show business but still manage to be the person working on behalf of so many legendary entertainers while attaining success that most people only dream about. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about role models in movies. In what ways can Clarence Avant be viewed as a positive role model

  • How does The Black Godfather show how important Avant was in show business, particularly for Black artists and music industry executives? 

  • What does the documentary teach about the importance of maintaining good relationships, in both one's personal and business life? 

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love African American stories

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