OPINION: Films by Black directors that deserve to be seen

Celebrate Black History Month with these wide array of films


Nicole Beharie in ‘Miss Juneteenth’ directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples. For Black History Month, opinion writer Bradley Hinkson has created a small list of Black directed films that he believes more people should be going out of their way to watch. Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment.

Bradley Hinkson

There are a number of ways that many of us celebrate Black History Month. For some, they might try to go out and read, watch, or listen to different works from Black artists. 

While there are a number of great films by Black directors to watch for this month, like the works of Barry Jenkins or Spike Lee, I want to bring attention to some of the films that might not have the wide mainstream attention of the works of those directors.

“Tongues Untied”

Marlon Rigg crafts an unconventional film that blends poetry and documentary to paint a portrait seldom seen in most media, the life of a gay Black man.

Through Rigg’s own personal experiences, the poetry of Essex Hemphill, and many other gay Black men, “Tongues Untied” is a major accomplishment of both Black and queer filmmmaking. It not only gives a personal account and perspective to the lives of gay Black men but does so in an experimental way that feels like no other documentary. 

Rigg is able to showcase issues he and many other gay Black men face that white men in the gay community will never understand. Rigg wants to show the racism, homophobia, and their intersections that a lot of Black men like himself experience.

One of the most hard hitting moments in the film involves the cutting back and forth from the faces of Black men to a stand up routine by comedian Eddie Murphy using homophobic slurs. 

It would be a disservice to just see this film as a harrowing portrait of the pain these men go through, however, because it’s also a celebration. One of the film’s most powerful lines states Black men loving each other is a revolution in itself. 

“End the silence, baby. We could make a serious revolution together.” 

Despite the hatred being thrown at them and the AIDS epidemic looming in the background, two Black men in love can be even more powerful. Rigg’s documentary “Ethnic Notions,” which tracks the history of Black racial stereotypes in America, also comes with a strong recommendation.

“Tongues Untied” is currently streaming on The Criterion Channel.

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“Hollywood Shuffle”

There has always been a struggle for BIPOC actors and actresses to find roles that give them the proper representation they need. “Hollywood Shuffle” tackles that struggle in a very humorous way that still feels relevant almost 35 years later.

Bobby Taylor, played by director Robert Townsend, is a struggling actor who keeps finding the only roles offered are those of the most stereotypical Black roles – the main role he is trying to get is one of a thuggish gang member in the film “Jivetime Jimmy’s Revenge.” 

During the film, Taylor imagines and daydreams different comedic sketches that each satirize different elements of the film business. The film is equal parts an autobiographical account of Townsend’s own experience of struggling as an actor and an assortment of sketch comedy routines. 

Townsend not only shows what the audition and acting process is like for many Black actors, with white producers telling them whether or not they’re acting Black enough, but also the struggle in taking these stereotypical roles. Most of Taylor’s struggle is him wondering what his own family, friends, and even the Black community will think of him for taking this kind of role. Should he reject the role and try to find good representation, or take the role for the money? 

Within all these internal struggles are some very funny sketches. The film is co-written by Kennen Ivory Wayans and his style of comedy is very much the driving force. Some of the highlights include Black Acting School and Sneakin’ in the Movies, which feels like a lost “In Living Color” skit. Sometimes the sketches may go on a little long or struggle to meld well with the main narrative, but it’s humor and social relevancy more than make up for it.

“Hollywood Shuffle” is available to stream through Showtime.

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“Tales from the Hood”

After the success of Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” people were surprised to see a genre like horror tackle so many themes surrounding race despite the fact that it was far from the first film to do so. One of the best to do so in such an entertaining fashion was the anthology film “Tales from the Hood.”

The film’s framing device is a mortuary owner telling horror stories to three drug dealers, each story telling the fate of a different body inside the mortuary. Each individual story focuses on themes such as police brutality, racist politicians and struggles within the Black community. Each story has its own ways of being scary, entertaining and socially relevant.

Right off the bat, the film shows how unapologetic it is in addressing socially relevant themes. In its first story alone, it addresses the unfortunately always relevant theme of police brutality, not just of those with that power who attack innocent people, but also those who just stand by and watch it happen. Though there’s an underlying feeling of wish fulfillment within this and many of the stories, with the film using these genre aesthetics of horror and some slight comedy to tell stories that take dark and violent turns but underneath it all have some sort of want. 

We want to see the cop face the consequences of what they’ve done or see the racist senator get what they deserve, which in this case is to be brutally murdered by creepy dolls. The film  tackles these very serious themes and still manages to be extremely entertaining and deliver the fun thrills people want from a horror anthology.

Films like “Creepshow” and “Trick R Treat” are usually brought up as the highlights of the horror anthology genre, but “Tales From the Hood” deserves just as much recognition as those.

Also, for anyone interested in more of Black history within the horror genre, be sure to check out the documentary on Shudder “Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror.”

The documentary tracks the roots of African-American representation in the horror genre from the early days of film where they mostly served as background characters or where heavily implied characteristics were used for monsters all the way to more contemporary and progressive work.

“Tales from the Hood” is available to rent anywhere digitally.

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“Miss Juneteenth”

Now, for something more contemporary, with a director to be keeping an eye out for.

Turquoise, played by Nicole Beharie, is a single mother taking care of her daughter in a small town, who after years of herself winning the local Miss Juneteenth pageant, enrolls her own daughter in the hopes it can open more opportunities for her. At the same time, Turqoise struggles with her own personal relationships and working a low-income job.

Channing Godfrey Peoples’s directorial debut is a very tender and lived in film. Where this film succeeds the most is in the way this small town feels like the one you could be living in, not just by the environments but by the people  in it. 

Everyone that Turquoise chats with and meets feel like everyday people, even herself. Her struggle is so human, a better life not just for her but for her daughter. There’s an underlying theme of generational expectations throughout and it’s such a driving force for Turquoise. She deals with pressure from her own mother while also putting her own pressure on her daughter. Though by the end she starts to realize what can happen when those expectations are too much for someone. 

Turquoise is an incredibly strong and resilient character and Beharie’s performance is so real and one of the most underrated of last year. Though so is the film as well. If there was any film from last year that needed some more attention, it was definitely this.

“Miss Juneteenth” is available to rent anywhere digitally or stream on Kanopy.

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Other recommendations: 

“Within Our Gates”

This is the oldest known surviving film made by an African-American director and has been widely seen as a response to “The Birth of a Nation.”

“Losing Ground”

The first feature-length film directed by an African-American woman, Kathleen Collins. The film focuses on a philosophy professor who struggles with her artist husband who doesn’t give her the appreciation she deserves.

“The Watermelon Woman”

Cheryl Dunye’s personal film, which is the first film directed by a Black lesbian, takes a look at not only gay love but the struggle for representation Black women have had in film since the start.

“Beyond the Lights”

Gina Prince-Bythewood’s drama about love and image in the music business is like a lot of her films, tender with a lot of emphasis on character. The film features a severely overlooked performance from the great Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

“Selah and the Spades”

A very overlooked teen drama that has a very similar dark approach to high school as “Heathers.” The film also serves as a great debut for director Tayarisha Poe.