For help in my selection of 25 important black films, I asked six of my colleagues in the TIME Art section to name some of their favorites. To my surprise, Cooley High was on three of the lists. Now it’s on mine. Why? Partly because including a flat-out comedy gives us a brief break from the anguish and anger in so many of the other films on this list, but also because there’s what looks like truth in the sassy, nostalgic fun of this film — all scored to the Supremes’s “Baby Love.”
In 1974, the ABC network asked Eric Monte, a writer for Norman Lear’s black sitcom Good Times, to come up with an Afro-American Graffiti. Instead, he reinvented an ancient movie genre (the high-school comedy) by borrowing heavily on his own teen experiences to give us the story of two friends, the Most Likely to Succeed “Cochise” (Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs), and “Preach” (Glynn Turman), class clown and aspiring screenwriter, as they live the last weeks of senior year, 1964. The movie immediately spawned an ABC series, What’s Happening!! — and maybe, in its mix of sexual yearning, career ambition and a couple of run-ins with the law, last year’s Superbad. By today’s debased standard, the comedy is genteel, but not so the incidental epiphanies, like a brief shot of a hearse to show the future that awaited some of Preach’s classmates.
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