The Renaissance of Black TV & Film

It’s the last day of 2016 and I couldn’t let the year end without acknowledging the awesomeness of this fall’s TV and film offerings. 2016 saw the release of a number of films and television shows with black creatives occupying important roles in front of and behind the camera. After the second installment of #OscarsSoWhite earlier this year, it seems like we are finally experiencing the long awaited renaissance of black film and TV.

From the silver screen to the small screen, there are a plethora of productions starring, written, and directed by black folks. The premise and style of each vary, from a comedy series about being a young woman in L.A. to a historical drama centered on one of the deadliest slave rebellions in American history. Each film and show offers a glimpse into the multifaceted nature of the black experience. I couldn’t keep up with all of them, but I’m absolutely okay with that!

moonlight

On the film side, Birth of Nation, Queen of Katwe, MoonlightFences, and Hidden Figures were released in theaters. I watched 4 of these movies and delighted in seeing the breadth of stories portrayed on screen in such well-crafted films. Queen of Katwe highlights the journey of a Ugandan girl from the slums to international chess champion, showcasing a world where black people are the heroes of their own stories. In The Birth of a Nation we finally see the slave narrative we’ve been waiting to be shown onscreen: enslaved people who were not only unhappy with their oppression, but went so far as to demand freedom by force. In FencesViola Davis and Denzel Washington are truly tour de forces, bringing August Wilson’s words to life and bringing me to tears with their portrayal of the intricacies and complexities faced by a family in the 1950s. Moonlight is truly a modern masterpiece, featuring outstanding performances from six actors playing two characters, all woven together flawlessly over three separate acts.

Television also served up some excellent series. I felt like a proud friend seeing Issa Rae’s long awaited television debut with HBO’s Insecure. I can’t begin to describe how refreshing it is to see two young black women who I can relate to on television. Their handling of everything from work to relationships is hilarious, but their friendship is what makes the show truly stand out. Donald Glover’s Atlanta over on FX is also a comedy, providing a look at the lives of a group of black male friends, all while capturing the unique atmosphere that is Atlanta, Georgia.

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Ava DuVernay continues to be absolutely amazing and one of my favorite people in the entertainment industry, releasing both a documentary and television show within the span of a few months. Her secret project, The 13th, premiered at the New York Film Festival to rave reviews. The prison industrial complex is an issue I am currently trying to educate myself on (I’m reading The New Jim Crow). I haven’t gotten a chance to see the film yet, but it’s at the top of my Netflix queue. DuVernay’s stunning series, Queen Sugar, brought yet another one of film’s biggest talents to television. The show not only provides an intimate look at a black family – a sight not often seen on television today – but also gives opportunities to female directors. All of the show’s episodes were directed by women, at the behest of DuVernay.

As award season revs up, the question of who will be nominated for what will surely come up. I can’t pretend that I don’t care; I would be thrilled to see Viola Davis, Denzel Washington, Mahershala Ali and Ava DuVernay win much deserved statues. However, I will say that seeing all of these fantastic stories by, for, and starring black people feels like a win in and of itself.

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