out of Five
Running time: 90
Engaging, well researched documentary that offers a fascinating glimpse into a more than 40 year marriage and paints an intriguing portrait of the socio-political climate in 1970s America, all to a terrific soul soundtrack.
What's it all about?
Directed by Swedish filmmaker Goran Hugo Olsson, Am I Black Enough For You focuses on Philadelphia soul singer Billy Paul, who had a massive hit in 1972 with Me and Mrs Jones and then followed it up with the titular song, Am I Black Enough For You, which nearly killed his career.
The film mixes a wealth of archive material (including footage and photographs) alongside extensive interviews with Paul, his manager, his wife of 44 years, Blanche Williams, and songwriter, record executive and Black Power activist Kenny Gamble, who masterminded Paul's career in the 1970s and was responsible for releasing the song when everyone else thought it was a bad idea.
Aside from building towards a performance of the eponymous song, the film isn't particularly well structured, but Olsson does capture a number of great scenes. Highlights include: Blanche sitting in the back of a car, telling the story of how she and Billy met, while Billy silently eats a sandwich beside her; the look on Blanche's face, later on, when Billy confesses that his feelings for Am I Black Enough For You have changed over the years; and a superb duet with rapper Schoolly D, who recorded his own version of the song in the 1990s.
The film also contains several genuinely shocking images of lynchings that serve as a powerful reminder of just what was at stake for activists like Gamble at the time. Similarly, the film paints an intriguing portrait of the socio-political climate in the 1970s and Paul's complex relationship with the song is genuinely fascinating, not least given the double message in the lyrics (the song could be addressed both to whites and to militant blacks).
Despite a few structural problems, Am I Black Enough For You is an engaging and ultimately uplifting film that will have you idly searching for Billy Paul CDs the next time you're shopping for music.