• Mayreni Sweis

2019-2020: Celebrating Black Artists in Film/T.V

The following is a compilation of incredible projects by Black actors, writers, directors, and producers. This is only a partial list of work and in no way means to negate any other work that has come out in the past few months. There are a lot of amazing projects, making it hard to create a single list, but hopefully these movies/shows will lead you to other ones as well. At the end of this article are some extra recommendations of movies and shows to watch, some having come out a few years back and others this year.

Les Miserables 2019 (Amazon Prime)

Nominated for Best International film at the 2020 Oscars, this is a must-watch. I was fortunate to watch the L.A. screening at Alliance Française and learn more about writer and director Ladj Ly's motivation for creating this work of art. Originally it was a short film based on his childhood growing up as a Black man in the margins of Paris. Ly's use of Victor Hugo's title gives a re-birth to the Les Miserables name. The film is a modern and stark representation of the plight of the Black and Islamic communities on the outskirts of a city too often romanticized.

Queen and Slim 2019 (Amazon- to rent)

Lena Waithe and Melina Matsoukas did not get the award recognition they deserved for this film and almost a year later, I am still not over it. I never will be. A date night turned into a fight for survival, Queen and Slim challenge, teach, and learn to love each other in an unforgettable ride to not die. By the end of the film, they have evolved in more ways than one, their roles are reversed, and life has new meaning.

Da 5 Bloods 2020 (Netflix)

Another "joint by Spike Lee" that does not disappoint. Influences of Apocalypse Now, and even the Deer Hunter, appear in his new film following a group of Vietnam vets, and one son, as they confront their haunted past in the jungles of Vietnam. From a filmmaker's perspective, Spike Lee does not hold back showcasing his technique, his captivating voice, and his expertise of inciting raw emotion of the audience through his excellent casting of actors.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco 2019 (Amazon Prime)

Star and writer Jimmie Fails is one to watch. As a native San Franciscan, this is a love-letter to a city that raised him, but also a confrontation about the gentrification that has uprooted the lives of many native San Franciscans. It is an introspection of Jimmy's personal life with a film-like trance that veils the story. I too am a native San Franciscan and I must say that the cinematography of this film is spectacular. Adam Newport-Berra captures the beauty, soft light, and colors of the city expertly. Lastly, Jonathon Majors who plays Monty, delivers an incredible performance. A graduate from the Yale School of Drama, Majors has a long career ahead of him (he also appears in Da 5 Bloods).

Just Mercy (Amazon- rent)

Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan- can't get better than that. Walter McMillian (Foxx) is convicted of a rape he did not commit and is therefore headed to death row. Recent Harvard law graduate Bryan Stevenson (Jordan), works day and night to appeal McMillian's murder conviction. Raised in the North East, Stevenson experiences a culture and racial shift as a Black man in racially-charged south. His education, character, and morals do not spare him from the racism he is confronted with as he deals with the rigged court system of the South. Based on the memoir of the Bryan Stevenson, this movie is a must-watch and is a call to action to end racial injustice.

Harriet 2019 (HBO)

Cynthia Erivo shines as Harriet in this biopic of the God-fearing, trailblazing, and expectation defying woman. First, audiences follow Harriet's escape to freedom, but then journey back with her to the South where she puts her new-found freedom on the line in order to free her family and friends. Other notable actors include Janelle Monaé and Hamilton's Leslie Odom Jr.

Uncorked 2020 (Netflix)

Uncorked is an important commentary on the whiteness of the ultra- elite sommelier world. The story demonstrates to both sides of the racial divide that wine is not just for white people, it is for everyone no matter their skin color. Sommelier is french for a wine steward and the road to attain the coveted sommelier title is one of the most intense educational and culinary journeys in the world. Passion and love for wine and its history are what you need to (hopefully) attain sommelier status. Mamoudou Athie stars as Prentice Penny who is out of place in his dad's BBQ business, as his fascination for wine causes a rift between his father's expectations and the life Prentice wants to have.

Self-Made 2020 (Netflix)

Octavia Spencer once again brings her acting chops to the silver screen in her portrayal of the savvy entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker. The show follows Walker's journey as she builds her prolific business. She begins a new stage of life dedicated to empowering black women by giving them the confidence to do the same, starting with their hair. A period piece that has the cinematic shots of a modern show paired with contemporary music, this show super cedes any one era. Additionally, Tiffany Haddish plays Spencer's daughter and I love it. Plus, we see how their mother-daughter relationship develops as Madam C.J. Walker passionately pursues her purpose, while her daughter struggles to find her own life's passion.

The Eddy 2020 (Netflix)

One of my favorite shows, is an 8 episode French-American musical-ish series that celebrates multi-cultural collaboration. There are 4 directors (Damien Chazelle of La, La, Land, Houda Benyamina, Laïla Marrakchi, and Alan Poul) that each direct two episodes in this mini-series. The Eddy is the name of Elliot Udo's jazz club in Paris and is the head of a talented and racially-diverse jazz band. Each episode follows a specific character, allowing the audience to learn more about each character's personal life outside of the club. We discover their fears, motivations, and why music and the club are life sources for them. The show thrives because it is a collaboration of artists both on screen and off. Amandla Stenberg gives a strong performance as the daughter of the talented actor André Holland (Elliot Udo). I thoroughly enjoyed this show and must note that the soundtrack is also incredible.

Becoming 2020 (Netflix)

Thank you Michelle Obama for your incredible book and for releasing this documentary chronicling the Becoming journey. This documentary follows Michelle on her book tour, meetings with black youth to discuss issues of race and womanhood, and even a trip back to her childhood home. Whether or not you've read her book yet, this uplifting documentary is definitely worth the watch! (Also, Michelle just released her new Spotify podcast).

The following projects came out before the 2019-2020 year, but they're included because of their artistic impact, importance to the conversation of ending systemic racism, and uplifting Black lives.

If Beale Street Could Talk 2018 (Hulu)

This is a BEAUTIFUL love story. The film begins with the words of James Baldwin who published his book If Beal Street Could talk in 1974. In Barry Jenkins' adaptation, in flashbacks we follow the blossoming love of young Tish and Fonny, while their present chronicles the struggles they face trying to free Fonny from jail for a crime he did not commit. At the end of Tish's opening monologue, she says to the audience that she hopes none of us will ever have to look at our love through a glass. These words are gut-wrenching as we see that this is the harsh reality for too many Black couples.

Moonlight 2016 (Netflix)

Another Barry Jenkin's film that is a love story, but demonstrates the importance of loving ones self, specifically as a Black-gay man in a world that is often and unjustly against you. The story follows one man and takes place in three stages: childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. His name also changes in each stage, supporting the theme of self-identity and discovery. Regarded by critics and audience as one of the best films of the 21st century, Moonlight is a film that will stay with you forever. The acting talents of Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monáe, and the three actors playing the protagonist at different stages of life, deliver an incredible story with truth and heart.

The Gospel According to Andre 2017 (Hulu)

André Leon Talley has defied expectations as he made his way from sitting with his beloved grandma in the pews of their southern baptist church, to the front row of Paris fashion week as Vogue's Fashion Director. André has never shied away from who he is or made himself smaller to appease others. He not only walks into a room, he OWNS the room. This documentary details the life of one of the most influential, knowledgeable, and well-respected titans of the fashion industry.

Other Recommendations:

  • Selma (Amazon- rent or available with Xfinity)

  • Malcolm X (Amazon- rent or available with Xfinity)

  • BlacKkKlansman (Amazon- rent)

  • Hidden Figures (Amazon- rent)

  • Guava Island (Amazon Prime)

  • Hamilton (Disney +)

  • Uncorked (Netflix)

  • Dear White People (Netflix)

  • I am Not Your Negro (Netflix / Amazon Prime)

  • Pose (Netflix)

  • When they See Us (Netflix)

  • The Last Dance- Michael Jordan Documentary (Netflix)

  • Black is King- Beyonce Visual Album (Disney+)


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