This year, the movie industry has witnessed a lot topnotch Black films.
We’ve made it. After decades of paltry onscreen portrayals of Black people—who often don’t seem to exist apart from being slaves or sidekicks—2016 has given our lives silver-screen shape, according to Time Ideas.
Gil Robertson, co-founder and president of the African American Film Critics Association, recently highlighted this historic plot twist, saying that, “by any measurement, it’s been an exceptional year for Black films. From comedies to high-quality dramas and documentaries, 2016 will forever represent a bonanza year for Black cinema, and all cinema, really.”
Mira Nair’s Queen of Katwe earns its crown by pulling into focus the under-sung triumph of a young Black girl—a prodigy—from the slums of Uganda who becomes a chess champion. Barry Jenkins’s Oscar-buzz darling Moonlight, which has no speaking roles for white characters, traces the romance between two Black men from the projects of Miami, Fla., and upends myths about what Black male sexuality can and can’t be. There’s also the cultural bounty of documentaries such as Ava DuVernay’s 13th, with its hard look at how the Thirteenth Amendment, like a tripwire, set off an epidemic of mass incarceration.
Let’s hope fiction will catalyze reality https://t.co/Wy1QLVQHeP
— Thus Spake (@thus_spake) December 14, 2016
The unapologetic Blackness of some of 2016’s best and most successful films utterly smashes the delusion that diversity—somehow—hamstrings artistry. For example, Moonlight, with a total budget of only some $5 million and peopled primarily by non-acting Black performers, reveals how great stories can emerge—if we care to look for them.
More important, spotlighting different Black narratives widens the scope of Black humanity.
To be Black, particularly in the U.S., is to lead an inherently political and often painful existence. But while significant, that’s by no means the full measure of our vast and varied experiences. And appropriately, what’s finally being splashed across cinema screens all over the country is something more dynamic than that—because Black life is more dynamic than that. It comes with its own unique set of challenges, for sure, but there’s a gradation that audiences aren’t typically exposed to.
Of course, frequently woven into complexity is controversy. Nate Parker’s The Birth of Nation, about Nat Turner and the slave revolt he helmed in Virginia in 1831, was hailed as a bold addition to the Black films canon until debate swirled around Parker’s sexual-assault trial 17 years ago and whether, as Roxane Gay put it, “we can or should separate the artist from his art.”
There’s also no guarantee that the positive momentum we’re witnessing will continue, that this newfound visibility will amount to anything more than a nice but provisional cultural moment. As Robertson said, “But what about next year and the year after that? Unfortunately, the question that we must ask with every watershed year is ‘how long will it last?” And this is to say nothing of the fact that Hollywood’s deep-seated race problem isn’t only an issue for black people but also for people of color more broadly, including Asians, Latinos, and Native Americans.
“The amount of quality feature films, documentaries and TV shows released in 2016 about the black experience… https://t.co/Ov2OtOaKj5
— HarveyB.Gantt Center (@HBGanttCenter) December 8, 2016
For now, however, I’m willing to be judiciously optimistic. There’s comfort in knowing that so much of today’s Black films is in the hands of those arguably best poised to do justice to the lives playing out onscreen—black people. From DuVernay to Jenkins, Black filmmakers are producing art that’s reshaping our ideas about whose perspectives matter.
“The amount of quality feature films, documentaries and TV shows released in 2016 about the Black experience easily make it the best year ever,” AAFCA’s other co-founder Shawn Edwards said. “It has truly been an unapologetically Black year in the industry as filmmakers brought to life some of the cultures most fascinating stories and subjects with bold storytelling perspective,” the Variety reports.
Regardless of the success African-American actors and filmmakers have seen in 2016, Robertson is weary if the inclusivity will stick. However, he does predict a pause on the “Oscars So White” phenomenon seen within the Academy, at least for this year.
“The coming award nominations are going to definitely put a pause on #OscarsSoWhite this year,” Robertson continued. “But what we wonder is for how long? It’s undeniable that the studios have responded admirably to the tremendous outcry from the African American community through its delivery of the Black films that we’ve seen this year. But what about next year and the year after that?”
Robertson also hopes that this year’s diversity in film will also have a last effect on Asian, Hispanic, Native American and LGBT communities.
“We at AAFCA are extremely hopeful that these 2016 Black films will have a domino effect in providing platform opportunities for films that represent other communities as well,” ended Robertson.
It’s really pleasant to know about the achievements of the African-Americans in any sphere but it is especially cheering to find out about their success in such a competitive industry as movie-making. We applaud their commitment and adore their perseverance. Their contribution to the promotion of Black pride is hard to overestimate.