Quality black film is back, and it’s better than ever
Just a year after the Oscar’s award show was called out for it’s exclusion of black actors, directors and films, the tide seemed to turn as a record setting number of African Americans received the honor. Mahershala Ali was victorious for his role in Moonlight, while Viola Davis gave a riveting speech for her victory in Fences. Ezra Edelmen shared an Oscar for Best Documentary while Barry Jenkins hauled in one for best screenplay. With the “Best Picture” award being the last one of the evening however, the stage was set for the two heavyweights of the show to go head to head. La la land was the recipient of various awards throughout the evening while Moonlight, the slight underdog, was praised by critics and fans alike. The coming of age tale was the crown jewel of an impressive class of black films released in 2016 and when the presenters approached the mic, it seemed like an entire culture held it’s collective breath in anticipation. After all, it had been 10 years since more than one African American won an Oscar in a competitive field. The victory would have been monumental, but instead, the cast of Moonlight sat solemnly as “La La Land” was announced the winner, and their cast graced the stage, leaving black film once again to be the proverbial bridesmaid for a mainstream Hollywood movie.
“The Best picture award was the perfect end to a night that featured a number of black victories.”
But then, something amazing happened. Men with headsets began surfacing on stage and a new card had seemingly appeared. After a moment of confused murmuring, Jordan Horowitz, the film’s producer, established that there had been a mistake. Moonlight was the true winner. In one of the most astonishing twist in Oscar’s history, Barry Jenkins and his cast graced the stage and assumed the rights to the trophy. The “Best picture” award was the perfect end to a night that featured a number of black victories. The honor also marked a renaissance in black film, and a year in which African American visionaries were able to forego the tiring, formulaic way in which black film was being produced and instead create meaningful works of art.
“As the new millennium began to dawn however, it seems as though black film was beginning to lose its way.”
The 1990’s is often considered a golden age of black film. Movies such as Boyz n the hood and Menace to society showed the grim realities of the black experience while others such as Poetic Justice, Soul food and Malcolm X displayed rich range and diversity. Directors such as Spike Lee, John Singleton and the Hughes Brothers were all coming into their prime, pushing each other while putting out engaging and entertaining work. While the 70’s was a decade full of blaxploitation films and stereotypical black characters, the 90s helped change the negative connotations that were attached to blacks for decades. As the new millennium began to dawn however, it seems as though black film was beginning to lose its way.
“After years of disappointment, black film is once again in a good place. Movies like Hidden Figures and Fences are being produced and appreciated”
It seemed that the market that once featured a beautiful assortment of black stories was now beginning to be watered down by the same types of films. Filmmakers like Tyler Perry began to produce film after film of stories which were laced with black stereotypes. Although movies like Soul Plane, Norbit and Big Momma’s house were funny, it suddenly felt like the rest of the industry was laughing at these filmmakers, instead of with them. Hollywood gatekeepers were also to blame. While independent 90s movies managed to sneak their way unto the screen and into the collective conscious of the world, it seemed that producers grew tired of it, choosing instead to produce more marketable films. Blacks were still thriving on the big screen, but they were often typecast into the same roles. Suddenly it seemed as though the window for black excellence in film was closing fast, and the proof was evident in the Oscar’s and other award shows that shut out black movies.
After years of disappointment, black film is once again in a good place. Movies like Hidden Figures and Fences are being produced and appreciated and directors such as Barry Jenkins are at the forefront. Others directors like Ava Duvernay (Selma, 13th) and Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale station, Black Panther) have also stepped up to the plate and have began raising the bar. Most recently, Jordan Peele smashed the Box office with his film “Get Out”, which has a 99% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Time will only tell if these amazing films are a sign of things to come or simply a passing trend in film, but it seems as though black stories are once again at high request in the industry. If Oscar night 2017 proved anything, it’s that great black content may not always be recognized, but when it is, it’s a beautiful moment for the industry, and the culture as a whole.