Black Stories Matter
Print Screen Editor Francesca Sylph shares what she considers to be essential viewing for supporting, uplifting and understanding black stories.
Cinema is inherently political. In an industry that actively prioritises white stories and white voices, passively consuming content is no longer an option. We need to actively consume black stories and support black voices. As a white person raised in a predominantly white environment, and now studying film at a predominantly white institution, I acknowledge my own bias and the need to actively diversify my viewing habits. This list is in no way comprehensive and it is only a starting point. The conversation is just beginning, and we all have a long way to go. This list may be the first of its kind, but it will not be the last.
Cinema is inherently political. In an industry that actively prioritises white stories and white voices, passively consuming content is no longer an option. We need to actively consume black stories and support black voices.
Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight is the most stunning and poignant film of the last decade, following the struggles of a young black man as he experiences the beauty and pain of falling in love, while grappling with his own identity and sexuality. Tender and heartbreaking, the story of Chiron is told across three defining chapters in his life: childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. Euphoric at times, and filled with sadness and rage at others, Moonlight is a breathtaking portrait of black masculinity and sexuality in the modern world. Gloriously and meticulously crafted, every shot exudes desire, longing and yearning. The beauty of Moonlight results in an overwhelming, immersive and intoxicating experience.
You can rent Moonlight on BFI Player here.
Banned in its home country of Kenya, Wanuri Kahiu’s electric tale of lesbian first love between the daughters of opposing politicians is not only groundbreaking in its queerness, but it also signals a new kind of African cinema. For too long, Africa has been portrayed as hurt, dying or broken. According to Kahiu, a new African cinema is emerging which is fun, fierce and frivolous. Following an eye-popping aesthetic that Kahiu refers to as AFROBUBBLEGUM, Rafiki is youthful, stylish, effervescent and full of hope. From Ziki’s pale pink and baby blue dreadlocks to fluorescent fuchsia lighting and vibrant production design, this trailblazing film is a vital burst of energy, urgency and unapologetically African joy.
Queen & Slim (2019)
Melina Matsoukas’ first film, Queen & Slim, follows Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith after they are forced to kill a police officer in self-defence. The footage is leaked and while on the run, the couple unwittingly become symbols of a nationwide movement. Queen & Slim is powerful, painful and, above all, unapologetic. I’ve frequently heard it compared to Bonnie and Clyde, but I think Thelma & Louise is a much more accurate comparison. Despite the power and intensity of this film, there is a conversation to be had about the endless depiction of black pain and suffering, both in film and on the news, that we see over and over again.
You can buy Queen & Slim on Prime Video here.
Sorry To Bother You (2018)
Boots Riley’s directorial debut follows telemarketer Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) in an alternative present-day version of Oakland as he discovers a magical secret to professional success, propelling him up the corporate ladder and into a macabre universe full of microaggressions and sinister practices. Somehow absurd and realistic at the same, Sorry To Bother You is quite possibility one of the most insane films I have ever seen in my entire life. Riley manages to successfully navigate the line between comical insanity and a genuine commentary on capitalist white supremacy and modern-day slavery. Ambitious, refreshing and wholly unique, Sorry To Bother You is the most exciting and exhilarating directorial debut to come out in years.
You can buy Sorry To Bother You on YouTube Movies here.
Directed by Dee Rees, Pariah tells the story of 17-year-old Alike (Adepero Oduye) as she attempts to juggle conflicting identities and familial relationships while navigating her own sexuality and gender expression. Despite being around for almost a decade and being hailed by some as a seminal piece of black queer cinema, I have seen very little attention towards it. Pariah is a small and humble film which tackles large issues on a personal and intimate level. Oduye gives a raw and vulnerable performance, and the inclusion of her heartfelt poetry is deeply moving and touching. Pariah is an underrated gem with a big heart and a lot to say.
You can rent Pariah on YouTube Movies here.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)
A love letter to a changing city, The Last Black Man in San Francisco follows Jimmie Fails, accompanied by his best friend Mont, as he attempts to reclaim the Victorian home that his grandfather once built in the heart of San Francisco. Written by childhood friends, Fails and Talbot, the story is loosely based on Fails’ own life. Pushed out by gentrification, Jimmie yearns for home, safety and a sense of belonging in a rapidly changing city that no longer wants to know him. Stylistically stunning, rich with social commentary but ultimately full of hopeful optimism and joy, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a much-needed breath of fresh air: “Let us give each other the courage to see beyond the stories we were born into!”
You can rent The Last Black Man in San Francisco on Prime Video here.
Full of hopeful optimism and joy, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a much-needed breath of fresh air: “Let us give each other the courage to see beyond the stories we were born into!”
Set in suburban Dakar, Mati Diop’s debut feature is beguiling and poetic. Ada is in love with Souleiman, a young construction worker, but she has also been promised in marriage to a wealthier man. When Souleiman leaves the country by sea, in hope of a better life, futuristic towers, fires and fevers overtake the narrative. Selected to compete for the Palme d’Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, Diop made history by becoming the first black female director to compete at the festival. The French-Senegalese director sees her filmmaking as intimately intertwined with the re-exploration of her African identity. Atlantics is a timeless and haunting story about trauma, loss, the fetishization of virginity and the burdens of neocolonialism.
You can watch Atlantics on Netflix here.
If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)
With only two films to his name, Barry Jenkins has already cemented a signature style and proved himself as one of the most masterful and meticulous directors working today. Set in 1970s Harlem and based on the James Baldwin novel of the same name, If Beale Street Could Talk follows the pregnant Tish when her fiancé is falsely imprisoned, providing a rich social commentary on the injustices carried out by an institutionally racist legal system. Collaborating once again with Moonlight’s cinematographer (James Laxton) and composer (Nicholas Britell), If Beale Street Could Talk maintains that same dreamlike quality. Everything feels somewhat distorted, as if you’re looking at a lover through glass…
You can watch If Beale Street Could Talk on Prime Video here.
When They See Us (2019)
Based on a devastating true story, When They See Us follows five teens as they become wrapped up in a nightmare after being falsely accused of the brutal rape of a white woman. Created and directed by Ava DuVernay (13th and Selma), this limited series is a gut-wrenching tale of the powerlessness experienced in the face of an authority that does not look like you or care about you. Not only are these boys tortured by a corrupt system rooted in white supremacy, but racial economic disparity ensures inadequate lawyers and mothers’ inability to visit their sons incarcerated in distant places. When They See Us is an overwhelmingly difficult but mandatory watch.
You can watch When They See Us on Netflix here.
Do The Right Thing (1989)
Summer, 1989. It’s the hottest day of the year in this Brooklyn neighbourhood and racial tensions boil and simmer to the point of explosion. There is absolutely no way I could have made this list without including at least one Spike Lee joint and I think it’s universally acknowledged that Do The Right Thing is unparalleled in its excellence. Lee’s filmmaking is at its most vibrant and playful. Colourful characters feel so familiar and full of life that they could burst out of the screen at any moment. This energy builds up to an all the more volatile finale. That final scene haunts us at it becomes disturbingly and heartbreakingly familiar time and time again. Over three decades after its initial release, Do The Right Thing remains just as relevant as it ever was.
You can rent Do The Right Thing on Prime Video here.