Black Films Matter: Five Must-see Features
With the continued momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement, I wanted to take a break from the politically-driven posts regarding policy changes.
While those posts and conversations are still very necessary and important in today’s climate, I wanted to write a piece from the perspective of powerful films that both educate, and offer a perspective that most are unfamiliar with.
Streaming services like Amazon Prime Video and Netflix have both made it convenient to better educate viewers on the Black Lives Matter movement through the camera lens by creating specialized lists for subscribers to stream. Whether that be a documentary displaying the facts, or a heartfelt story that educates through powerful storytelling and a unique perspective. Below I’ve decided to make a list of my own, and outlined five films by black directors that need to be added to everyone’s watch list for the unique and informative perspective they possess.
MOONLIGHT (2017) – STREAMING ON NETFLIX
DIRECTOR: BARRY JENKINS
Taking home the title for Best Picture in the 2017 Oscars, Moonlight is a beautiful coming-of-age story following Chiron “Black” Harris as he attempts to find himself. Broken up into three parts, viewers follow Chiron as he attempts to understand his own sexuality in a rough Miami environment that doesn’t understand him. The pacing of the film is damn near perfect, with stellar performances from Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, and Alex Hibbert all portraying Chiron at different moments in his life. There’s never a dull moment, and all of the interactions feel genuine and natural. It’s one of the rare films that paints a powerful message without overemphasizing its point, creating a very heartfelt and authentic experience.
SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (2018) – STREAMING ON HULU
DIRECTOR: BOOTS RILEY
In Boots Riley‘s directional debut, he was able to capture a unique and surrealist atmosphere in the satire Sorry to Bother You. The film is centered around the protagonist Cassius “Cash” Green as he struggles to find success in his professional life. While living in his uncle’s garage, he eventually finds success as a telemarketer. However, Cash doesn’t find success by being himself over the phone. He’s only able to find success after perfecting his ‘white voice’ during sales pitches. Beneath the film’s wacky exterior, it speaks volumes regarding prejudice, capitalism and income inequalities. The film isn’t odd just for the sake of being odd, but rather the ludicrous moments all serve a purpose. The film has a distinct and self-aware tone that’s soft around the edges and visually playful, with animated characters that possess depth beyond their absurd characteristics. Sorry to Bother Youis bold and imaginative, with a lot of truth and meaning beyond the exaggerated exterior.
BOYZ N THE HOOD (1991) – STREAMING ON HULU
DIRECTOR: JOHN SINGLETON
I still find it hard to believe that the late and great John Singleton directed this insightful and authentic film when he was only 23 years old. This coming-of-age cult classic is centered around Tre Styles as he spends a bulk of his adolescence living with his father Jason “Furious” Styles, played by Laurence Fishburne. Fishburne’s performance is nothing short of spectacular, as he teaches Tre valuable life lessons centered around hard work and education, while leading by example. While Boyz n the Hood generally focuses on black on black violence growing up in South Central LA, it sets a tremendous tone that violence only perpetuates more violence. Furious essentially acts as the calming voice of reason during the film, and embodies the central motifs the film was shooting for. However, like Furious, the feature proves its point in a humanitarian way that’s genuine, without being too forceful or trying to convert viewers into a certain frame of thinking, other than showing the value of human life. This honest portrayal of growing up in the hood of Los Angeles is tender yet eye-opening with its messages, with gripping moments that will tug at the heartstrings of viewers in its climax.
DO THE RIGHT THING (1989) – AVAILABLE TO RENT ON AMAZON PRIME VIDEO
DIRECTOR: SPIKE LEE
Spike Lee is a staple name in the film industry, with Do the Right Thingserving as a must-see in his filmography. With the film centered around Mookie (played by Lee), viewers get a glimpse into the dynamics and inner workings of Brooklyn, New York during a heat sweltering summer day. Through Mookie’s job delivering pizzas at Sal’s Famous Pizzeria, viewers get introduced to the many unique characters from a variety of cultural backgrounds that make up the community of the melting pot Brooklyn neighborhood. Like the rising of the temperature, tension can be felt throughout the film’s duration between different groups and individuals as they reach their boilings points, both physically and metaphorically. With a combination of Lee’s vision and fantastic cinematography by Ernest Dickerson, the film gives off the tone of a ticking time bomb. The dutch camera angles make viewers feel a sense of imbalance. The warm color palette of oranges, yellows and reds, combined with seeing the shimmering visuals of a heat wave by placing a heat lamp underneath the camera lens while filming, further accents the blistering heat and makes it feel much more real. With the film now being over 30 years old, it’s wild to see how many parallels can still be drawn from that Brooklyn neighborhood and what’s happening in the rest of the world today in this unapologetically political cult classic.
GET OUT (2017) – AVAILABLE TO RENT ON AMAZON PRIME VIDEO
DIRECTOR: JORDAN PEELE
With a clear appreciation of the horror genre, Jordan Peele takes a very unique and original approach in his directional debut with Get Out. Centered around Chris Washington, who’s in an interracial relationship and meeting his girlfriend’s family for the first time, viewers are taken on the awkward journey that comes with getting to know the family of a significant other that slowly transcends into a psychological nightmare. Peele’s unique voice comes through in the film, shifting from comedic relief to moments of dread in a matter of minutes. The perspective and subject matter breathe a fresh breath of life into the genre, adding a unique vantage point to the horror genre to create an unsettling aura.
Peele’s production company Monkeypaw Productions will be releasing a direct sequel to the 1992 film Candyman on September 25, directed by Nia DaCosta, which will be another film to be on the lookout for in the coming months.