10 films by black directors to stream now
Tackling police brutality, drug addiction, and coming-of-age, these films masterfully capture the black experience.
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Netflix has a lot of suggestion categories, including eccentric standouts like "Witty Talking Animals" and "Dutch Family Adventures." But one vital, simple addition would be "Directors of Color." Yes, streaming platforms have emerged as leaders for change in Hollywood — producing shows with diverse casts like The Get Down and Orange is the New Black — but searching for and finding content that's directed and produced by people of color still requires considerable effort. Only 8% of the original series released by Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix during 2015 and 2016 were directed by someone of an ethnic minority, the Directors Guild of America discovered. Which is actually worse than traditional television, where 24% of cable programs were directed by an ethnic minority.
It seems like Netflix is attempting to address this disparity. The company recently signed a multi-year production deal with Scandal and Grey's Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes, and hired Selma director Ava DuVernay to produce a miniseries about the Central Park Five. And while it may require some deep digging, there is a strong selection of throwback and new POC-directed films available to stream. There are underappreciated gems like the seminal black romance film Love Jones (which was turned into a musical last year) and 90s classic Love & Basketball (beloved by Roxane Gay and Lena Dunham). These works span the globe as well: Gone Too Far! and The Weekend both focus on the black British experience.
Here are ten films by black directors you should stream ASAP.
The Weekend can best be described as the black version of The Inbetweeners, turning goofball comedy into a black-friendly genre. Directed by up-and-coming director Sheridan De Myers, the comedy is about a group of London boys discovering a enormous sum of drug money and using it for wild nights out, fancy clothes, and impressing girls. Of course, the drug dealers want their money back and a game of cat-and-mouse follows. Sheridan created The Weekend in an effort to show London's Hackney neighborhood in a positive light, saying, 'We've seen gang violence; it's time to see the other side of London."
Dope is one of the strongest portrayals of Gen-Z POC teens out there. Director Rick Famuyiwa explores how today's teenage black males are becoming increasingly progressive, expanding the boundaries of "masculinity" and "blackness." It centers on Malcolm (who loves rock music, wears a 90s-inspired hi-top, and is applying to Harvard) and the stigma he faces from his inner-city community for being different. But, despite all the obstacles, he sticks true to himself and proves that doing so pays off (spoiler alert: he gets the girl). And there's a strong roster of black talent involved in the film — the cast includes Zoë Kravitz, Chanel Iman, and A$AP Rocky, and the film was executive produced by music mavens Pharrell Williams and Sean Combs. Talk about black excellence.
Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (The Secret Life of Bees, Love & Basketball), Beyond the Lights is a positive and empowering black love story. Which is crucial in a world where shows like Love & Hip-Hop and Basketball Wives disproportionately promote toxic, messy relationships and conflict. Noni is a multiracial pop star disillusioned with fame and tired of having her life micromanaged. A police officer saves her from a suicide attempt and Noni unexpectedly falls for the caring, attentive man, deciding to spontaneously abandon her scheduled shows and rapper boyfriend for Kaz (much to the chagrin of her manager and overbearing mom). And, on top of the heartwarming love story, Beyond the Lights illustrates a lot of the day-to-day struggles multiracial individuals face, the first scene featuring a young Noni being driven to a black hairdresser late at night because her white mom (played by Minnie Driver) can't figure out how to do her hair.
Read More: 10 female-directed films you need to see now
Seventeen Again (2000)
Wanna take a nostalgic trip back to the 90s? Well, then, S eventeen Again, starring Tia and Tamera Mowry in their prime, is the perfect film for you. Directed by Jeffrey W. Byrd, the film is filled with some great throwbacks: hot-pink flip phones, bright orange leather jackets, and a prepubescent Tahj Mowry. Old school Disney Channel loved a good "Oh no, I woke up in the wrong body!" film and Seventeen Again is one of best offering (honorable mention to Lindsay Lohan's Freaky Friday tho). The film revolves around high schooler Sydney (played Tia) and her grandmother (played by Tamera), who transforms back into her 17-years-old self after accidentally using an anti-aging formula. A host of hijinks follow, of course.
Yelling to the Sky (2012)
Zoë Kravitz delivers a breakthrough performance in this coming-of-age film. It centers on a young girl who takes to selling drugs in an attempt to save up enough money to escape her rough neighborhood. The creation of Victoria Mahoney (who also directed Legally Blonde), the film is a powerful portrait of black womanhood and illustration of how some people have to fight like hell just to get a fair chance at life.
The Five Heartbeats (1991)
The Motown era produced some of the biggest hits and acts in music history: The Temptations, Four Tops, Sam Cooke, The Dells, and James Brown. Set in the 60s, The Five Heartbeats complies the lives of these acts and delivers poignant illustrations of what being a black artist in a racially-tense America was like. Director Robert Townsend has had a prolific career in Black Hollywood since The Five Heartbeats: he created and starred in the iconic 90s sitcom The Parent 'Hood and directed the Halle Berry-led guilty pleasure comedy B*A*P*S .
Ryan Coogler's debut in 2013, Fruitvale Station, is a biographical film about Oscar Grant, an unarmed black male who was shot, while lying face down, by San Francisco transit police. The film concerns itself primarily with the day before Grant's murder — allowing us to see who Grant is outside of his murder, showing his bright potential, his caring family, and his friends and girlfriend.
Coogler is a rising auteur to watch. He's currently directing the highly anticipated Black Panther film by Marvel Comics, set to be released early next year. Since Coogler has provided conversation-starting representations of black masculinity with films like Creed and Fruitvale Station, he's the perfect choice for Marvel's first big-budget flick about the black superhero.
This indie film by Michael J. Larnell focuses on two childhood friends — one white, one black — and how the course of one day tears apart their bond. Experimental narrative devices are used throughout, including reality TV-style confessionals. Spike Lee, who Larnell met as a student in NYU's graduate film program, serves as executive producer of the film. "I showed Spike the first ten minutes in one of our advising session," Larnell revealed in an interview. "From there, he wanted to be an EP on the project and help get it out into the world. He would often sit down with me and watch different versions of the film — about ten to fifteen versions, to be exact — providing notes each time. It was a really good experience working with him."
This romantic drama is about a Brooklyn couple bonded to each other through their love for pot. It sounds like the plotline for a mindless comedy — but Newlyweeds actually offers tender moments galore, illustrating how hard it can be to leave behind someone who just gets us. Director Shaka King loves creating off-kilter films. His comedy-drama short film Herkimer DuFrayne 7th Grade Guidance Counselor tracks "the worst day in the worst life of the worst guidance counselor in America."
Gone Too Far! (2013)
Gone Too Far! focuses on the exploits of a British-Nigerian teenager and his life being turned upside-down when his older brother finally receives his British visa and moves to the country. Thorny questions about identity, authenticity, and assimilation get raised when Paris wonders what kind of person Iku has become since living in London. And there's some great Skins-style representations of black british adolescence in the film: a young girl named Armani struggles with her incessant desire to get attention from, while her best friend, Paris, tries to step out from under Armani's shadow.