Arts / TV

Weekend watching: favourite films by black directors

Movies by black directors

Film is such a wonderful medium. It can bring joy and it can bring sorrow. And it is also a vehicle for education.

In light of the current social context, it's very clear that all of us need to learn more about race relations. We've written about educational and anti-racist films to help grow a deeper understanding of the social issues plaguing our system and society.

But another part of the process is championing black director and creators. In addition to our other list of educational films, here is list of must-watch movies from black directors.

These are the critically-acclaimed favourites that will make for perfect weekend watching - in this journalist and film major's opinion at least. Of course, there are plenty of other films that could be added to this list - but we'll start here for now.

 

The Butler

The Butler Movie

This movie is heartwarming, gripping, sad and hopeful all at the same time. It's a total rewatchable and a perfect movie night pick for any occasion. Just wait until you hear this  superstar cast which includes Forrest Whittaker, Oprah, David Oyelowo, Cuba Gooding Jnr, Lenny Kravitz, Terrance Howard, Robin Williams and Mariah Carey to name just a few - I could go on.

Director Lee Daniels imagines the life of Cecil Gaines - a story loosely based on the life of Eugene Allen. After a horrific incident involving the assault of his mother and the death of his father at the hands of a brutal slave owner, Cecil is orphaned and trained to be a house servant. Through a series of unusual events, Cecil ends up as a butler in the White House. We follow Cecil on his journey through life as he witnesses racism, change and some of the most important event in history.

The movie has received criticism for its flat portrayal of the Black Panthers but has been praised for the many elements of history it gets right.

 

Harriet

Harriet Movie

I am a little obsessed with Harriet Tubman. If you've heard about her, you probably are too. Her story is simultaneously one of the most inspiring and terrible stories you'll hear. After Harriet escaped oppressive slavery conditions, she became a key member of the Underground Railroad and made 13 missions to rescue over 70 other people from slavery. Later she became a member of the women's suffrage movement. She was a force to be reckoned with. In fact, a new design for the US $20 bill featuring her image was due for release in 2020 - but it was pushed back. But US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has announced that we sadly won't see it until 2028.

With all that in mind, let me introduce you to the Harriet Tubman biopic titled Harriet. Lead actor, Cynthia Erivo received a Best Actress Academy Award nomination for her role - it's an incredible performance. Overall the film received mixed reviews, but it's still absolutely worth watching - I thought it was great. It's hard to make such an epic tale anything short of - well, epic.

It's directed by the wonderful Kasi Lemmons - who is also the name behind the Octavia Spencer series on NetflixSelf Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker. 

 

Love & Basketball

Love & Basketball movie

Okay, so this one isn't exactly an award-winner but most of the best teen movies aren't - and it's had plenty of favourable critical and audience reviews. I remember watching this when I was about 13 and falling in love with the storyline. It's classic coming-of-age romance and if you're someone always on the hunt for 90s-style teen films, this is one you'll adore. Monica and Quincy are nextdoor neighbours and passionate basketball players. The film follows the pair through high school and on through university as they both try to carve out a path in this competitive sport, exploring their complicated relationship along the way.

It was directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood who also wrote the film. She's also the directorial brains behind The Secret Life of Bees.

 

Moonlight

Moonlight Movie

Directed by Barry Jenkins, Moonlight is a hard but worthwhile watch. It's visually stunning with a score to match. It's no surprise why it cleaned up at the 2017 Oscars - winning Best Picture among other major categories.

But it is one of those films that will hit you in the stomach. It's extremely sad. The story follows the life of Chiron during three stages of his life, boyhood, adolescence and adulthood. Chiron is a withdrawn kid that lives with his single mother who is addicted to drugs. He's bullied and lonely, with only one friend, Kevin. The film shows his struggles with his identity and sexuality as he grows up in his tumultuous environment.

Starring Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monáe and Jharrel Jerome - the breakout star from When They See Us - it's an all-star cast that delivers some of the finest acting of this century.

 

BlacKkKlansman

BlacKkKlansman

Directed by Spike Lee and produced by Jordan Peele, this film was always going to be a winner. It's based on an outrageous and yet somehow true story of a black police detective that managed to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. Ron Stallworth opens a dialogue with the Klan over the phone and eventually sends fellow office, the white but Jewish Flip Zimmermann in as his in-person surrogate. It's funny, terrifying and gripping. There moments where you're at the edge of your seat, then scenes that induce full belly laughs, and other moments that will disgust and confront you.

The cast is led by John David Washington and Adam Driver, an includes some other noteworthy names. It was nominated for loads of awards and ended up winning Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars in 2019. At this one to your list for a Friday movie night for sure.