The year 2016 is historic for many reasons. Though we’ve sobbed at some of the unfortunate happenings, there was a lot to cheer about this year as well. Particularly in the cinema.
Before we start this part off right, I have to tell you straight up that it is impossible to compile a “Best of Black Film” list that is comprehensive enough to be given such a name. But who said that was a bad thing? There were so many high quality offerings covering the full scope of human emotions and tendencies, both light and dark, that culling this grand total down to a suitable number is impossible. Because of this, I couldn’t in good conscience create such a list.
However, I can create a list of jaw-dropping movies by Black directors or containing black themes that truly made me look at their respective subject matters in an entirely new light, and also made me reconsider my place amid the tall timbers that shaded me from that light.
A bit melodramatic? Yeah, I’ll give you that, but good artwork has that effect on me sometimes.
So, without further ado, I present to you my Three Most Enlightening Black Films of 2016.
Very Honorable Mention:
Birth of a Nation
Fences is one of August Wilson’s most celebrated works. Though I read it in high school in Mrs. Reid’s Drama class, and again in Advanced English with Mr. Long the following year, the importance of the offering, as well as its contemporary relevance in generation after generation of black males, did not occur to me until I watched Denzel Washington on screen as Troy Maxon and Viola Davis as Rose Maxon that it really hit me hard.
I know Troy. I’ve met him many times in my life, at times in my bathroom mirror staring back at me. I’ve also met Cory Maxon (played by Jovan Adepo) in that same mirror. My mother was both Troy and Rose at different stages of my life. A soul-stirring retelling of one of the most critically-acclaimed stories ever gleaned from an American mind. Definitely one of Denzel’s best acting jobs, and Denzel himself believes Viola deserves an Oscar for her work. A must see.
Ava DuVernay is a genius, right? Well, duh!
So, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion to me that she would do an outstanding job on her Netflix documentary on the trap door that is the 13th Amendment. For years, young African American were taught that this amendment was responsible for the end of slavery.
However, within those amber waves of freedom lay a serpent. This serpent says that slavery is illegal “except as punishment for a crime”. Those words were the DNA of the modern prison industrial complex. There are very few filmworks on black struggle that surprise or significantly enlighten me beyond what I already know. This was that rare exception. Great editing, wonderful score, balanced and fair interviews, 13TH just might be the most enlightening and significant documentary I’ve seen since Ken Burn’s Jazz.
The venerable Katherine G. Johnson? Yes, I’ve long known of her story. But it wasn’t until I screened Hidden Figures that the entire picture came into view.
For example, I didn’t know that she was one of many black women that made NASA missions successful. But this film was only about three women. Based upon the book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, written by Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures takes the viewer beyond black and white photos and into the daily lives of three forgotten American heroes.
Starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae and Kevin Costner, this film is rich with heart, resilience and triumph. In an age of uncertainty, these inspirational bits of history are like water to a parched plant. Nourish your shriveling hope. Go see this film!