In an effort to show solidarity with the current protests taking place across the world in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, we thought that by highlighting some of the greatest work by black/poc filmmakers, readers can enjoy cinema from what may be a different culture to their own, whilst also becoming better educated on the oppression that constantly plagues these communities.
The films that we take a look at in this post will be particularly focused on social injustice within a racist system that discriminates against those of colour. We feel that especially at this time, using film as a means to overlook what white privilege often blinds us to is necessary, as it allows us to greater understand and help those in need.
- Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)
In 1989, when Spike Lee wrote, directed and starred in this masterpiece, I imagine he hoped that looking back on this film when he was older, the violence and hate captured on-screen would seem dated. However, ‘Do the Right Thing,’ seems more modern than ever. With a climax that reads like a 2020 newspaper headline, the relationships between the police and the black community shown within the film reflects that of the current modern day riots taking place in America. Set over the course of the hottest day of the year, tensions rise along a street in Brooklyn as the various communities that live in the area interact with one another.
As well as being a testament to the institutionalised racism that seems to plague the American police force, Spike Lee’s ‘Do The Right Thing’ works as a masterpiece entirely from a filmmaking aspect too, with interesting characters, beautiful cinematography and a great use of experimental elements to show the growing tensions as the day runs its course. The film paints a vivid image of 80’s urban life in America, with Public Enemy’s ‘Fear of a Black Planet,’ blasting from a boom box whilst kids worry about getting their Jordan’s dirty. It would almost work as a typical coming-of-age story if the consequences for expressing yourself didn’t land the kids in the hands of the police, who have a tendency for brutality.
2. Blindspotting (Carlos Lopez Estrada, 2018)
Following the day-to-day lives of childhood friends Collin (Daveed Diggs) and Miles (Rafael Casal) at a moving company in Oakland, there’s a tension to ‘Blindspotting’ rooted in the countdown towards the end of Collin’s probation. With the promise of a new life just days away, allowing freedom from a curfew, monitored housing and the inability to leave the area, Estrada creates a level of hopefulness that draws the viewer into the story, no matter their background. Over the course of the three days, the two friends find themselves entangled in social injustices that are all too familiar to people of colour.
Written by the two lead actors in an attempt to represent their home city in a more justified light, the film is brilliantly funny and works perfectly solely as a piece of entertainment, but the way the film also addresses social injustices is unparalleled. Diggs is known for his rapping ability, both from experimental hip-hop trio ‘Clipping,’ as well as his Grammy-winning performances in the stage show ‘Hamilton,’ and by bringing this talent to the screen, he utilises the medium to reinforce the emotions of his character as a reaction to the police brutality witnessed in the film’s opening act. Furthermore, the story does an excellent job of showing how a sequence of events can lead to situations that are misread by the police, and lead to the loss of innocent black lives. By highlighting these injustices, Estrada and the two writers make a point of drawing attention to the assumptious nature of the police in situations where a crime is supposedly being carried out, and shows the viewer how a narrative enforced by the media often has an entire other side to it.
3. Boyz n the Hood (John Singleton, 1991)
John Singleton’s 1991 exploration into the daily life of teenagers growing up in South Central LA focuses on the gang violence and drugs that have corrupted their neighbourhood. Starring rising acting talents Ice Cube and Cuba Gooding Jr, this critique of an acceptance towards a hostile environment that’s so often found within these communities focuses mainly on the attitudes towards family that remain enduring no matter the situation. By highlighting these connections, Singleton creates an element of the story that can be related to by anyone, with parents worrying for their children in the same way that any mother or father would. What distinguishes this story from one that you or I may understand is the type of things that they’re fearful of. With drugs on every corner and gangs rampant throughout the neighbourhoods, a viewer could make assumptions about the type of relationships that are developed in such areas. However, love and family are shown to be enduring, and Singleton demonstrates that we are all alike in this way. ‘Boyz n the Hood,’ works as a great example towards overlooking a privilege that prevents us from seeing the situations that those around us may have grown up in.
4. If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins, 2017)
At the hands of perfectionist Barry Jenkins, ‘Beale Street’ takes the source novel by James Baldwin from 1974 and forms a beautiful depiction of love in the face of constant oppression as a result of the leading couple’s skin colour. Set against the backdrop of 1970’s New York, life-long friends ‘Tish’ and ‘Fonny’ fall in love but struggle to find a place to live due to the prejudice of landlords in the area. After eventually settling down in converted loft apartments owned by a romantic Jewish landlord, the couple attempt to move on with their lives. The film feels as if it could play out exclusively like a beautiful love story if it wasn’t constantly interrupted by the hate brought to the story by the police.
5. When They See Us (Ava DuVernay, 2019)
Although technically a miniseries, ‘When They See Us’ deserves its place on this list due to its unflinching dedication to its horrific root story. 1989, New York City, a white jogger takes her usual route through a local park when she is beaten and raped by an attacker she can’t identify due to amnesia suffered as a result of the incident. From there, the police investigate the story and come to the conclusion that a group of black kids ranging from ages 12 to 16 who had been hanging out in the park that evening are the culprits. Beaten by the police and held alone for extended periods of time, the children are forced into confessing to the crime, and as the story progresses we see the fallout of the life-changing event that occurred simply because of a prejudiced police force targeting children. ‘When They See Us’ is a truly important watch not only because of its dedication to the survivors of the story, but as well as working as a testament towards the lengths racists will go to in an attempt to oppress those who look different to themselves
Ultimately, by celebrating the work of black/poc filmmakers, their voices will grow stronger within the filmmaking industry, and therefore across the world, allowing everyone to benefit from stories that may have otherwise never been heard. By educating ourselves on the situations of others, the root of these societal injustices can be more widely tackled, and allow for an inclusive and equal future.
Justice for George Floyd.