~posted by Frank
2014 was another banner year for African American films and filmmakers, capped off by Chris Rock’s hysterical turn as star and director of Top Five and Selma, which has earned a Best Picture nod at this year’s Academy Awards as well as a nearly perfect 99% score on Rotten Tomatoes. While you’re waiting for these on DVD, check out these fine features.
Dear White People managed to be both funny and provocative in its skewering of race relations. The first feature from director Justin Simien follows a group of African American students at a college where white students – well-intentioned but misguided – are in the majority. This satire shines a bright light on race in the Obama era at just the right time.
Chadwick Boseman, who played Jackie Robinson in 2013’s 42, is back as James Brown in Get On Up. He earned raves for his depiction of the incredibly talented but self-destructive Godfather of Soul, with nearly universal acclaim for capturing the electricity of seeing James Brown on stage. Boseman was robbed of a well-deserved Best Actor nod at the Oscars.
Finally, be sure to check out Beyond the Lights, from Gina Prince-Bythewood, director of the critically acclaimed Love and Basketball. It stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw (star of the wonderful period drama Belle) as an R&B superstar whose romance with her bodyguard (Nate Parker) threatens to derail her career. It sounds like a melodrama that’s been done hundreds of times already, but the refreshing performances and direction transcend cliches common to most romances.
If non-fiction is more your speed, start with Keep On Keepin’ On, voted the Best Documentary at the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival. This inspirational doc spends four years with jazz pioneer Clark Terry as he mentors a young, blind piano prodigy. It becomes even more poignant as the elderly musician loses his sight as well.
In Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People, the filmmakers trace the history of Black photography (and African American history) with a range of pictures, from indelible images from the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement to intimate portraits of Black families through the decades.
For an in-depth examination of the history of people of color throughout the world, go for Hidden Colors: The Untold History of People of Aboriginal, Moor and African Descent. Black scholars and activists discuss contributions and alternative theories of people of color from ancient African civilizations to today. Along with two sequels – Hidden Colors 2: The Triumph of Melanin and Hidden Colors 3: The Rules of Racism, these challenging documentaries cover everything from slavery and the oppression of Native Americans to the prison industrial complex and institutional racism.