Let’s be honest – there hasn’t been much positive said about the TV and film industry recently, especially in Hollywood. Despite this, thanks to streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, audiences are dictating what they want to see, meaning we’re seeing more and more Black faces on our screens, and slowly, more Black films.
Shows such as Black-ish and Empire have revolutionised the TV market and pioneers such as Shonda Rhimes and Ava DuVernay have pushed for more diversity in both casting and crew, catapulting Black stars into the spotlight and marking a change in who is at the helm of film and television production.
We have rounded up the five best Black films and shows of the year here:
It’s hard to believe this is Jordan Peele’s debut. If you haven’t seen the film (how?!), the plot centres on Chris Washington, played by Daniel Kaluuya of Skins and Black Mirror fame, a young Black male in a relationship with White girlfriend, Rose. Things start going awry when Rose’s family begin making uncomfortable comments about Black people, and when he notices that all the workers on Rose’s family’s estate are Black and bizarrely compliant. Things get stranger when Rod, Chris’s police officer friend informs him that one of the workers was reported missing some time ago. Chaos and confusion ensues…
What is so truly terrifying about the sardonic horror is the truth that lies beneath the satire – Get Out is more than a film. As Jordan Peele explicitly stated, following the Golden Globes nomination of his film in the comedy category, ‘Get Out is a documentary’. Yes, it might be fictionalised, but prejudice, racism, the legacy of slavery, the lack of attention of missing black persons and the rise in black men found dead with missing organs in the US: these are all realities.
As you’re told in the smooth sounds of Childish Gambino’s Redbone in the film’s opening scene, stay woke.
The Washington Post defined Mudbound as ‘a classic’ and they weren’t wrong. Following two WW2 soldiers, one black, one white, returning from war, the film addresses the different post-war lives both lead in a segregated America. Dee Rees, the brilliant director, puts together an impressive cast, featuring an incredible Mary J Blige, and nearly all-female crew to create a powerful story on the aftermath of war, the impact of racism, and the legacy that both leave on both individuals and society.
Mudbound not only highlights the brutality of the Jim-Crow America, a very recent history, but also addresses one of Hollywood’s greatest flaws – the whitewashing of war movies. Those who have watched Dunkirk, Saving Private Ryan, and many other WW2 movies will be hard-pressed to see a Black face, let alone any other ethnic minority despite there being millions who fought.
Mudbound is one of those films that is so rare to come across now – a film that stays with you long after the credits are rolling. No other film will have you questioning the ‘American Dream’ more.
The Incredible Jessica James
Jessica James is the character all Black girls need on their screen. As much as we appreciate our films and TV shows highlighting how far we’ve come and the struggle, it’s a relief to have a show centered on a Black woman without race being the sole focus. There’s a little bit of Jessica in everyone – the unhindered optimist, the multi-jobber and the aspiring creative, and that’s what makes her so loveable and relatable.
However, what makes The Incredible Jessica James so refreshing is just as troubling. Why are we so surprised to see a woman like Jessica in a role that doesn’t scream token black female? Why are black female leads in rom-coms so rare?
She’s Gotta Have It
For fans of Spike Lee’s 1986 film, get excited as Nola Darling is back in this Netflix reboot – and she’s polyamorous, pansexual and best of all, unapologetic.
The series follows Nola navigating her way through her four lovers (three male partners and one female), fighting against sexual harassment, trying to maintain herself financially whilst pursuing her dreams of being an artist, and most of all, discovering who she is and loving herself in the process. Alongside her personal story, we see the external factors shaping who Nola is – Black Brooklyn slowly becoming gentrified, racism and sexism.
Lee’s remake is an attempt at atonement for Nola’s maltreatment (in which she is raped by one of her lovers) in the original, and a chance for Lee to do a rare thing, critique himself. Accompanied with a bomb soundtrack showcasing the sheer brilliance and variety of Black music, gorgeous visuals and vibrant, bold dialogue, Lee’s really done the right thing.
When word got out that Oprah was producing, starring in, and airing Greenleaf on her network, everyone wanted to know what it was all about. For fans of Empire, Greenleaf is the church equivalent – following the affairs, scandals and secrets of a bishop’s family in a Memphis megachurch.
Christianity plays a large part for some in the Black community, and the show tackles issues such as fraudulent activity within the Church, police brutality, drug abuse, religion and sexuality, and morality. Greenleaf uncovers topics which are taboo both in the Church and the Black community whilst also tackling issues of faith, spirituality and religion in a way that is both refreshing and complex.
This rapid shift of Black films and TV from the sidelines to the forefront of the media industry has allowed producers to address wider social issues which go beyond the confines of the Black community. With the spotlight on Black culture, this has opened up more discussion on other hierarchies of discrimination – not just race and ethnicity, but also religion, disability, sex and sexuality. With film and television producers innovating such unabashed productions with equally unflinching characters, Black space in the media is slowly but surely being reclaimed.
Written by Cassandra X Camille