In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, our social media feeds contained lists of films representing the Black experiences. Spike Lee and Ava Duvernay films were shared as digestible infographics on social media platforms, alongside some controversial movies such as Green Book. While the interest in directors such as Ava Duvernay was great for Black representation, the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent closure of cinemas meant that many contemporary films fell under the radar. In case you missed them in 2020, MSM lists 4 films made by Black creators as well as some to look forward to in 2021…
1. The Forty-Year-Old Version
Billed as a satire and love letter to New York, “The Forty-Year-Old Version” is directed by Radha Blank, who also stars in the film as a struggling playwright that becomes a rapper. Blank cleverly explores the universal themes of ageing and mid-life crisis and how Black stories are often watered down to become digestible for white audiences. When Blank isn’t rapping or teaching
her high-school drama class, we witness painstaking reactions with theatre producer J. Whitman, a liberal white man obsessed with “black poverty porn”. He tells Blank that her play about gentrification is “inauthentic”. The film is a beautifully shot, understated piece that explores what it means to be a female Black artist in contemporary society.
Source: Los Angeles Times
2. His House
COVID-19 has led to a number of challenges for refugees. At the height of the pandemic, 168 countries closed their borders, with around 90 of those making no exception to those seeking asylum. A film that brought this issue back to the forefront was Remi Weeke’s “His House”: a thriller that follows a couple who escape war torn South-Sudan, only to be offered refuge in a house in England with an evil presence. There are powerful performances from Nigerian Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù and Wunmi Mosaku and a creepy cameo from Matt Smith as a gaslighting, implicitly racist caseworker. Since 1992’s “Candyman” and more recently Jordan Peele’s seminal “Get Out”, the horror genre is the perfect vehicle for exploring the Black experience. “His House'' follows this trajectory and builds upon its predecessors. This film is terrifying in a multilayered way.
Source: The New Republic
3. Miss Juneteenth
“Miss Juneteenth” is the debut feature from Channing Godfrey Peoples that follows single mother Turquoise and her daughter Kai as they enter the Miss Juneteenth pageant. If Kai wins, she will have her tuition fees paid at a college of her choice. The film is based on Channing’s own experiences growing up in Texas and her love for Black Texan culture is ever-present.
There are beautiful and joyful observations of BBQ, Black sisterhood and, of course, Juneteenth itself: a “holiday” that celebrates the emancipation of those enslaved in the US. While “Miss Juneteenth” feels like a celebration of this freedom, the film still raises questions about the choices given to Black women in contemporary society. For Turquoise, her daughter’s education is achieved by her financial sacrifice: she works two jobs and saves all her money for the pageant. The film’s portrayal of a mother-daughter relationship is beautiful and authentic.
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, Chinonye Chukwu’s “Clemency” follows prison officer Bernadine as she questions her role as an executioner when she forms a bond with an inmate on death-row. Alfre Woodard’s performance brilliantly dissects the idea of Black female subjectivity and the inconstancy of humanity. Bernadine is forced to carry out brutal executions while being responsible for calming the relatives of those about to be executed. While many US states have abolished the death penalty, the film is still shockingly relevant. In fact, in December of 2020 it was reported that the Trump administration executed more Americans than all states combined. “Clemency” is absolutely devastating, but it’s not one to be missed.
The film “Candyman”, released in 1992, takes the trauma of slavery and conveniently presents it as a Black, vengeful ghost named Candyman. The film is a cult- classic, but it is ultimately the product of a white writer and director. The 2021 adaptation, however, is directed by Harlem-raised Nia de Costa and produced by none other than Jordan Peele. The film is not just an inclusive reboot: it makes subtle swipes at issues facing marginalised communities in contemporary society. For example, the film is set in the same Chicago neighbourhood where the legend began and shows how the neighbourhood has become gentrified.
Source: Reel Urban News
2. Wrong Answer
Adapted from a New Yorker article of the same name by Rachel Aviv, “Wrong Answer” follows Damany Lewis, a math teacher who is scandalised after changing his students’ test scores in order to get better funding for his Atlanta school. While the scandal occurred back in 2006, the statistics that emerged during the Black Lives Matter movement showed that little progress has been made. In the UK alone, the Department for Education released that the proportion of Black school leavers going to university in England had fallen for the first time in a decade. “Wrong Answer” is directed by Ryan Coogler of Black Panther and is said to star Michael B. Jordan; it appears to be a sobering reminder of the reform needed in the education system to ensure no student is marginalised or denied the opportunities they are entitled to.
Words by Amber Rawlings