Black Filmmaker Spotlight
Exeposé writers Jake Bradshaw and Olivia Garrett write about the black filmmakers that deserve recognition for the contributions to the film industry.
In the midsts of protests, brutality and reflection, it is time for the powers-that-be and the public to take a step back and really acknowledge the diversity, or lack thereof, that pervades in the film industry. For black filmmakers, the opportunities for creativity and accreditation are much smaller than for their white counterparts. The Oscars are proof alone for this and, even though this issue is by no means new, it is currently undergoing a more thorough analysis than ever before. As a part of this, our writers have identified and written about three black filmmakers who have made an impact on them and who deserve more attention for their work.
Wanuri Kahiu. A filmmaker, activist, and public speaker that everyone should know. Whether it’s with her early documentaries, her part in the ‘Great Africans’ series (where she gave a biographical account of the life and achievements of Professor Wangari Maathai), or her co-created ‘Afro-bubblegum revolution’, Kahiu has shown time and again that she creates powerful, exciting work that sparks discussions . PUMZI, for instance, is an unsung gem of a short film that is a great spectacle of afro-futurist cinema; with its grand cascading shots of tundra contrasted with the purposefully clinical interiors of the ship, whilst also exploring climate change and ecological disaster subtly in the background. Her films, by her own definition, marry the culture of Africa with freedom of expression, and show to the world the magic and power of African cinema.
Her latest film Rafiki, also does just this. This story of two young girls falling in love in a religiously-charged Kenyan society, explores the oppressive state of the country whilst also telling an unforgettably tender and romantic story. Due to the lack of acceptance of homosexuality in Kenya the film was banned for provocative themes, and instead premiered at the 2019 Sundance Festival. Because of this, Rafiki is subsequently sure to live in infamy as a creative project that actively invoked change for the better, and spread awareness of the oppressive power that religion holds in Kenya to this day. Now unbanned from Kenya and seen all over the world, the film represents Kahiu’s own resilience and defiance against censorship as a great advocate for freedom of speech.
Rafiki is subsequently sure to live in infamy as a creative project that actively invoked change for the better, and spread awareness of the oppressive power that religion holds
Not just a Doctor Who alumnus, this filmmaker is the creative and productive presence behind the devastating yet electric Hood trilogy. Writer, director, producer, and actor, Noel Clarke is the ubiquitous force behind these movies and an all-round talent in the British film industry.
He started off as screenwriter and actor in Kidulthood (2006): a gritty drama that exposes the coarse and punitive realities of adolescence in Ladbroke Grove (the road where Clarke grew up). Clarke plays Sam Peel, the villainous but magnetic teen who embodies the difficulties and pressures placed on young Black men in London. The two subsequent films, Adulthood and Brotherhood follow Peel’s journey from juvenile aggression to moral self-improvement. The violence and hostilities he faces reflect the struggle to find redemption and break free of the circle of crime that pervades in the impoverished neighbourhoods of London. The films beautifully combine graphic experiences with a genuine empathy for the characters and their humanity. Clarke acted as writer, director and producer in these last two movies and, as a result of their success, received a BAFTA Rising Star Award.
Peele has created a movie that discusses and confronts the sensitive topic of racism in an original and understandable way.
Clarke’s producing and writing talents have also been channelled into his new series Bulletproof, starring him and Ashley Walters. The series, now on its second season, follows Detectives Bishop and Pike in their endeavours to prevent severe crimes in East London. An action-packed series that also explores the effects of divergent upbringings and stringent moral codes in the police force. Like his films, Clarke infuses this series with the same balance of event and reflection, and sensitively explores topics that hold increasing relevance in today’s society. This filmmaker prioritises storytelling whilst promoting empathy and emotion to great effect, and should receive more recognition for his work.
Although not new to the film industry, Jordan Peele’s creative expertise became prominent with his filmmaking debut of Get Out in 2017. A spine-tingling thriller that leaves you in a constant state of suspense and discomfort, this film burst onto the scene and taught all those gory, jump-scare flics what real horror is. Real horror is long, demeaning stares combined with a gentle, eerie music cue. Real horror is having subtle prejudicial comments cleverly foreshadow the twisted racial violence that later occurs. Real horror is the fact that, minus the hypnosis and the brain transplant, the notion of opulent white people, preying on the souls of young black men, is not too far of a stretch to make.
The combination of Peele’s writing and directing with Daniel Kaluuya’s perfect acting makes this film a worthy Oscar winner. The dialogue is restrained and intelligent in the way it understands the finesses of casual racism and creates a distressing, racially charged environment, without disclosing the true threat. Then, once the real menace is exposed it perfectly encapsulates the raw, ugly truth of racist America. Peele has created a movie that discusses and confronts the sensitive topic of racism in an original and understandable way. His ability to create suspense was carried through to his 2019 film Us and will hopefully continue into his other projects.
He may be more well-known than the other filmmakers here, but he still deserves ample praise for his work. Get Out has received sufficient recognition for its contribution to the horror genre and if you’re looking for a film that is innovative and yet entrenched in the intolerant systems already in place, then this is for you.