Here are seven movies made by incredible black directors whose visions breathe much-needed new life into the cinema.
February is Black History Month and with that, a good way to celebrate and support black creators is through watching some of their best works. There have been countless incredible movies made by black directors over the years, but especially within the 21st Century. More and more studios have stopped hiring only white men to direct pictures (we’ve come a long way from the 1950s). As a result, now we have masterpieces year after year that don’t exclude the black experience. With that in mind, here are seven amazing films directed by black directors to celebrate Black History Month.
When it comes to Spike Lee you could pick pretty much any movie he’s ever made and you couldn’t go wrong. He has made classic after classic for decades now. But perhaps one of his more overlooked masterpieces is 2015’s Chi-Raq. A story that focuses on gang violence in Chicago, where you can expect the usual Lee’s deep dive into larger themes of race, while also this time around tackling sex and gender discrimination. This all is accompanied by beautiful music and funny situational comedic scenes. This one’s worth a watch just for the fact that Spike not only directed but also wrote and produced it.
Dear White People (2014)
Perhaps considered a bit controversial at the time of its release, mainly due to people misconstruing the title, Justin Simien’s Dear White People is a terrific film. It’s set at an Ivy League college where racial tensions are at a boiling point. Though later adapted also as a show on Netflix, it’s this movie that truly drives the story home properly. Class racism, everyday racist transgressions, homophobia, sexism are all explored in a thoughtful manner through the eyes of people of color. The film was critically acclaimed and won many awards and the story has been described as “asking the hard-hitting questions.”
12 Years a Slave (2013)
Though most definitely a tough watch, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave is one of the best-received movies of all time. It’s an absolutely heart-wrenching movie for all 134 minutes of its runtime. With an incredible leading performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor as the free African-American man kidnapped and then sold to slavery in 1841, the movie’s based on the slave memoirs written by the real-life man behind the main character, Solomon Northup. The film won Best Picture at the 2014 Oscars, and the fact that it was directed and written (John Ridley) by black filmmakers was essential to having the story play outright. Often films will tell black-struggle stories through a white perspective or a white savior stereotype, but such is not the case with this amazingly made film that will be remembered for as long as movies matter.
Get Out (2017)
When it was announced that the incredibly funny Jordan Peele was making a horror movie, not many expected the results to be this spectacular. With this being his first film, Jordan Peele made one of the most memorable and terrifying films ever. Even though it only came out in 2017, this film feels like it’s been around forever. And that’s the sign of a great filmmaker and an exceptional film. Get Out has a very specific yet generally very relatable story that tackles racism in new ways by using old minor and familiar transgressions along the way. Later with his second feature Us (2019), Peele established himself as one of the biggest directors in Hollywood, and for a good reason. The best way to experience this film for the first time is if you don’t even watch a trailer going in. Let the story take you places you never saw coming.
Ava DuVernay’s historical film Selma focuses on the legendary civil rights movement activist Martin Luther King Jr. More specifically, the story’s based around the 1965 marches for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery originally started by the leader of the movement in the US, James Bevel. There are plenty of reasons to watch this story unfold, including that it was nominated for a few Oscars, but primarily the performance of David Oyelowo and the fact that it has a 99% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes should be more than enough reason for anyone to jump into it immediately. It is an emotional ride all throughout and the fact that it’s based completely on a true story can be frustrating (the fact that it had to happen) but essential to witness.
Another Best Picture winner, Moonlight is written and directed by Berry Jenkins. The story is that of the coming-of-age nature with present themes of growing up in a tough environment. Divided into three main stages of a young man’s life, Moonlight tells a story of self-exploration, drugs, familial abuse, bullying, and more. Often referred to as one of the best movies ever made, there are not enough words that could possibly describe the mastery behind the camera that director Berry Jenkins has displayed here. It’s very much a must-watch for anyone who loves cinema.
The Harder They Fall (2021)
The newest film on here; Jeymes Samuel’s The Harder They Fall is a western gem. Although the western genre has been around for decades upon decades, it has almost never been focused on black characters. In fact, this genre has long suffered from a lack of diversity. Until this film came out on Netflix. Loosely based on real cowboys and outlaws from the 19th Century, the movie tells a fascinating story with largely a black cast. Jonathan Majors has already received much acclaim for his role, and established names like Idris Elba, Zazie Beats, Regina King, and Lakeith Stanfield complete an incredibly impressive cast that brings life to the screen.
Spend Black History Month supporting as many black creators as possible. Although Hollywood is more diverse now than ever, things are still far from being equal. As simple as buying tickets to go see movies by black directors is the best way to showcase the fact that audiences are ready to hear those voices that have long been silenced.
Illustration: Artem Kovalenco/shutterstock.com
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