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“I think it is very important that films make people look at what they’ve forgotten,” Spike Lee
In recent days, the embedded attitudes of a nation have been held up for the world to judge. The realistic view is apparent and the questions are still not being fully answered. How in this 21st century world do people still have to ask for civil rights?
Understanding racism for some is actually quite difficult, as widespread stories have shown. What is deemed acceptable by white authoritative figures can at times have a reactionary effect. Ultimately, the ideal that one part of society is superior to another due to skin colour is the foundation that America was built upon. Today that foundation is imploding. This is why education through art may help people understand to a degree.
Overall as a society we have no problem embracing art created by people of colour. Anyone can listen to, and appreciate great works by Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, right up to Public Enemy while still not fully understanding or embracing the ethnicity of their creators. To help further understand what is happening and why – and to tie into legendary black filmmaker Spike Lee’s latest release Da 5 Bloods – here are ten great movies directed by people of colour from the past decade – each boasting a thread of stark honesty while entertaining and educating.
Night Catches Us (2010)
Night Catches Us, the debut from Tanya Hamilton, is a transcendent piece of work, an overlooked incendiary slow burner. Set in the mid-70s, Night Catches Us follows former Black Panther Marcus (Anthony Mackie), as he returns to his Philadelphia neighborhood to attend the funeral of his father. Political and moralistic, Night Catches Us is ultimately a gripping tale of survival and the effort to put the past behind you.
The debut from Dee Rees, who would go onto helm the acclaimed Mudbound, Pariah centres on black teen, Alike (Adepero Oduye), as she struggles to hide her sexual identity. A passionate and sensitive exploration of both racial and LGBTQIA+ issues, Rees establishes early in her career with this fearless story of self-discovery what a talent she is.
Middle Of Nowhere (2012)
Ava DuVernay’s Middle of Nowhere is not a highly charged drama. Told from the perspective of lonely woman Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi), we enter her world where she deals with the imprisonment of her husband Derek (Omari Hardwick) and her new existence without him. The story is one of stubbornness and loyalty – the love of a wife for her husband who deserves the opposite. The camera follows Ruby looking into the abyss of her world – putting aside her own needs even when a bus driver, Brian (David Oyelowo), shows an interest. Her resistance to moving forward is both saddening and heartbreaking
Fruitvale Station (2013)
The debut from Black Panther helmer Ryan Coogler, this film tackles police brutality and rips at the core of systemic racism. It is stark at times, but that very starkness only adds to the realism. The film presents the true-life story of Oscar Grant III (Michael B. Jordan), a 22-year old black man who was shot and killed by police officers in the aftermath of a fight which broke out at a grocery store. The police officer responsible was later tried and found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, claiming he mistook his gun for his Taser. In the end, he served an 11-month sentence. The fact that this took place in 2009 resonates with the current events, as Grant’s killing also sparked protests and riots.
Her follow up to Middle of Nowhere, Ava DuVernay’s Selma celebrates the life, death and message of Martin Luther King, Jnr. The movie focuses on the events that took place during the American Civil Rights Movement in 1965, with long marches from the title small town located on the banks of Alabama River to the state capital, Montgomery, some 54 miles away. David Oyelowo is incredible as Luther King embodying his calm, composed but determined nature. Selma is one of the best movies to engage with the ideals of the Civil Rights Movement, one not overpowered by the despair surrounding the events.
Straight Outta Compton (2015)
The voice and the message remains strong throughout F. Gary Gray’s rap biopic Straight Outta Compton. Telling the story of the rise of N.W.A, the film showcases how since the late 80s attitudes have not changed in America. In truth, this film could have been based today. More importantly though Straight Outta Comption also defines how through music people can rise up and voice their disastisfaction with society – the track ‘Fuck the Police’ being a prime example – but how those voices can often become a target.
Barry Jenkins’ thought provoking Moonlight is worthy of its best picture oscar. In three distinct chapters, it follows the withdrawn protagonist Chiron (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes) as he moves through his life from fatherless lonely child, to lonely teenager, to finally lonely adult. It is not simply a coming-of-age movie, or a fear-of-coming-out narrative. Instead, it’s a peek into a society, one hidden from the mainstream world – just like its protagonist who struggles not to fully disappear. The minimal plot allows for full immersion into the environment and observations of Chiron in this beautiful piece of work.
Get Out (2017)
Get Out is a masterclass for the apparent ‘woke’ generation. Jordan Peele’s debut is at its heart The Stepford Wives meets white privilege. The black-comedy/horror raises questions of society, ones which harken and reference back to the time of slavery – in Get Out’s villians eyes, it’s fine to be black once you are controlled by a white person. But Jordan Peele’s whip smart screenplay cleverly and subtly probes notions that coloured people in some aspects are the more superior race, defining the jealousy that sparks racial sentiment.
Further Reading: I Know That Face | Lakeith Stanfield
Spike Lee has helmed some masterpieces. After all, Do The Right Thing and Malcolm X made him a househould name. In BlacKkKlansman he retains the ideals of the aforementioned, while poking a dynamite loaded stick at white supremacy. Taking the true story of black police detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) who infiltrates the Colorado Springs chapter of the KKK with the help of his Jewish co-worker (Adam Driver), somehow the inherent comedy of the high concept premise never detracts from the underlying systemic violence the movie exposes. Here’s hoping his upcoming Netflix release Da 5 Bloods centring on black Vietnam war veterans is as strong.
If Beale Street Could Talk (2019)
Barry Jenkins’s follow up to his Oscar winner Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk follows a young African-American couple in Harlem. Flashing backwards and forwards in time, we see Fonny (Stephan James) become wrongfully accused of sexual assault as his pregnant partner Tish (KiKi Layne) pleads for his release. While the exhaustive despair of Beale Street is overwhelming, the subject matter is sensitively executed by Jenkins – his lush aesthetics enrapturing viewers just as with Moonlight. Despite the film’s tragedy, what the viewer is left with as the credits roll is the message that love can survive the hopelessness of discrimination.