The Black List: Vol. 1

Movie review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
The Black List: Vol. 1 Movie Poster Image
Profound docu explores African-American racial identity.
  • NR
  • 2008
  • 92 minutes

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age 12+
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Positive Messages

Positive message about self-acceptance and empowerment and the strength of your community. The movie also raises some very interesting (and at times controversial) issues about race and racial identity. Topics like racial discrimination are discussed -- in the context of being part of the reason people were empowered to succeed.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Participants pay homage to their ancestors, parents, and mentors.


Brief conversations about shootings, fears about violent racists, and the Ku Klux Klan.


Writer Toni Morrison and renowned erotica author Zane discuss sexuality and female gratification. Interviewee Faye Wattleton is a former president of Planned Parenthood and briefly discusses unwanted pregnancy.


Language includes racial epithets like the "N" word and "faggot," but they're mostly used within the context of personal stories. Other language includes words like "pissed" and the occasional use of expletives like "f--k".


Some of the interviewees briefly discuss projects that they've written and/or produced over the years, but it's not in the context of advertising or promoting them.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some photographs show artists/performers smoking cigarettes or cigars. Discussions about African Americans dealing drugs and engaging in other related behaviors are offered in the context of what some of them had to overcome and what needs to be improved in African-American communities.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this thought-provoking documentary -- which features prominent African Americans talking about how they feel about their race and racial identity within a predominantly white culture -- is one to watch and discuss with your teens. There are some strong positive messages about self-acceptance, empowerment, and community, but the film also addresses heavy topics like discrimination, sexism, and sexuality. Expect some strong language, from terms like the "N" word and "faggot" to occasional profanity (including "f—k"). That said, many of these words aren't used gratuitously but are instead offered within the context of the interviewees' personal stories.

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Teen, 14 years old Written byKhayla Lewis February 14, 2013

What's the story?

THE BLACK LIST: VOL. 1 is the first in a series of documentaries produced as part of "The Black List Project," which has reclaimed the term "black list" and redefined it to mean "an assembly of short stories about race, struggle, and achievement." The film features excerpts from 21 interviews with notable African-American writers, performers, athletes, activists, and community leaders, including former Guns n' Roses guitarist Slash, tennis champion Serena Williams, former Negro League Baseball star Mahlon Duckett, Civil Rights activist Vernon Jordan, actor/mogul Sean Combs, comedian Chris Rock, Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison, and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell. The interviewees share thoughts and personal stories that reflect what being black means to them -- and how their race impacts their overall lives. They also talk about the role that their families, ancestors, and mentors have had in their attempts to succeed in a predominantly white Western culture.

Is it any good?

This film offers interesting and at times unique insights into how different African Americans think about the role that race plays in their lives. It also introduces viewers to African-American leaders who may not be household names but who have built successful careers in fields where few African Americans have succeeded in the past. The Black List also introduces a new generation of viewers to some of the people whose life's work opened the doors and paved the way for all people of color in America.

While the edited interviews sometimes seem a little on the short side, they're actually just long enough to allow viewers to get a sense of each person's individual journey -- and to create an interesting collage of ideas about what being black really means to African Americans. And although the film focuses on the African-American experience, many of the issues it raises could inspire people from other racial/ethnic groups to look to their own communities to explore their own identities and seek mentorship and inspiration. Overall, The Black List offers a profound viewing experience to anyone who has questioned -- or been questioned about -- the role that race has played in their lives.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the African-American experience in the United States. What can African Americans' history in this country teach us? How has the media reflected this experience? Families can also discuss the unique experiences that people from various ethnic backgrounds have in the United States. How does someone's race and/or ethnicity impact their life? Do you think people from different races and/or ethnic backgrounds are treated equally? Why or why not? Parents: Check out our tips on media and stereotypes.

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