Two men. One podcast. Every Black movie.
That’s the tagline for Philadelphia-based movie buffs Len Webb and Vincent Williams’ popular podcast, The Micheaux Mission.
Named after Oscar Micheaux, the early-20th-century Black indie screenwriter considered to be the first Black filmmaker, The Micheaux Mission offers listeners funny and insightful reviews of the acting, directing, plot, and cinematic worthiness of Black movies. Every month, more than 15,000 “missionaries” — from Mount Airy to Australia — download the show.
This week’s podcast takes on the 1995 Will Smith and Martin Lawrence classic, Bad Boys and marks the duo’s 300th show.
But what makes a Black movie?
“Well there is the obvious criteria: movies with a predominantly Black cast or the main antagonist or protagonists are Black,” said Webb, who is a founding member of the Afrofuturist podcast The Black Tribbles.
Yet it’s also about perspective.
“The podcast space is very white and very male, and much of our work doesn’t get addressed at all,” said Williams, who is an English professor at Drexel University. “You might get people talking about The Color Purple, Do the Right Thing, and Blazing Saddles, but they are all coming from the same perspective. Rather than complain about it, we, like Oscar Micheaux, decided to do it for ourselves.”
Over the years, The Micheaux Mission has reviewed 300 films, including four by Micheaux. Williams calls the 1920 silent film, Within Our Gates, which examines Black life in the early-20th-century Jim Crow era, a landmark in early Black filmmaking. “It’s a wonderful example of how Micheaux responded to the negative propaganda of his contemporaries,” Williams said, comparing it to The Birth of a Nation.
Usually Webb and Williams agree, especially when it comes to the legacy of the late Sidney Poitier, the horror of Candyman, and the beauty of Nia Long. But the podcast is at its funniest when they don’t.
Webb says Black filmmakers are still tackling the same themes they did 100 years ago. “We are still talking about police brutality and inequality,” Webb said. “But we also see how the Black experience has evolved over time, and how we deal with happiness and joy are wonderful things to behold.”
Webb and Williams shared the spring and summer movies they can’t wait to see.
‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’
In this next chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) casts a spell that opens a door to the multiverse. Danger, however, ensues. “This looks like it’s going to be a bucket of fun, especially coming off Spider-Man: Far From Home,” Webb said. “Combine that with the incredible visuals of the Spider-Verse and this perfect marriage between the two movie concepts will be pretty, pretty dope.” (In theaters now)
‘Downton Abbey: A New Era’
Julian Fellowes’ Crawleys are back, but this time it’s 1928 and the British aristocrats are embarking on a journey to the south of France to uncover the mystery of the dowager countess’ newly inherited villa. “I love Downton Abbey,” Webb said. “I love a period piece. I love The Gilded Age. This is going to be great.” (May 18, in theaters)
‘Top Gun: Maverick’
After 30 years, Tom Cruise reprises his role as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a fighter pilot who confronts the ghosts of his past and his deepest fears. “I’m an ‘80s kid,” Williams said. “We know he’s going to play by his own rules. Tom Cruise is a part of that ‘80s generation of movie stars who I have a soft spot for.” (May 27, in theaters)
This Rwandan musical and science-fiction film directed by Saul Williams premiered at the 2021 Cannes Music Festival and will be shown in Philadelphia at Bartram’s Garden on Friday, July 8 at 8 p.m. The plot revolves around a group of computer hackers living on the hilltops of Burundi who are fighting colonizers from stealing coltan, a metallic ore used to make electrical devices. Williams is intrigued, he said, “and I’m hit-or-miss on musicals.” (June 3, limited release)
‘Jurassic World Dominion’
In this sixth Jurassic Park installment, the future of humanity hangs in the balance as dinosaurs and people try to coexist after the destruction of the Isla Nublar. “This promises to be a summer popcorn movie where you can turn your brain off and enjoy the spectacle,” Williams said. (June 10, in theaters)
‘Good Luck to You, Leo Grande’
Emma Thompson stars as Nancy Stokes, a widow who hires Leo Grande, (Daryl McCormack) a good-looking sex worker, to help her achieve an orgasm and learn a few new things about herself. “I’m an Emma Thompson fan, so it’s like, ‘I’m in,’ ” Webb said. (June 17, Hulu)
This Disney/Pixar animated flick features beloved astronaut Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) and his robot companion on an intergalactic journey with a crew of new recruits. That’s all we know. “They haven’t let out a lot about this story,” Webb said. “But I trust Pixar and I’m waiting.” (June 17, in theaters)
We don’t know much about what director Jordan Peele will deliver in the forthcoming horror film, Nope. We do know Oscar-winner Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer will star. We also know it will be creepy and feature a ranch, horses, and possibly aliens. “It looks very disturbing and very appealing at the same time,” Williams said. “I also know that Jordan Peele is always trying to show us something about ourselves.” (July 22, in theaters)
‘Thor: Love and Thunder’
This sequel to 2017′s Thor: Ragnarok — and the 29th installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — continues the adventures of the god of war. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is reunited with his old flame, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), and when he tries to retire from the superhero business, mayhem erupts. “It looks like this movie will be as light and frothy and fun as Ragnarok,” Webb said. “But I’m hoping the stories will be a little bit more serious.” (July 8, in theaters)
‘Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.’
Starring Sterling K. Brown as Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs and Regina Hall as his wife, Trinitie, this mockumentary is a spoof on Southern Black mega churches. When the pastor is embroiled in a sexual misconduct scandal, what is a dutiful first lady to do? “This is my dark-horse movie,” Williams said. “I don’t think it’s gonna be a sleeper.” (Sept. 2, in theaters)