by Joneka Percentie
It’s December, which means Oscar predictions are starting and there’s an unsettling and undeniable trend. Some top contenders include Wild (white woman in the wilderness), Exodus: God and Kings (white men and women as Egyptian royalty), Interstellar (white astronauts in space), Gone Girl (psycho white people), Birdman (white people in a play), and The Imitation Game (white people breaking codes), just to name a few.
Fortunately, not everywhere in the film world is quite so white. We were so excited when Dear White People, one of the most anticipated releases for the fall, had such a successful opening weekend in the box office–we knew it was a film to look out for when we chatted with producer Lena Waithe last year. Thankfully, there’s more where that came from. Here are seven films directed by or starring Black women and girls to keep on your radar.
Beyond the Lights
Gina Prince-Bythewood, director of Love & Basketball and The Secret Life of Bees (thank you so much), presents the musical romance Beyond the Lights. Noni, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who amazed us in Belle earlier this year, is an international popstar struggling with the demands of the music industry when she meets police officer Kaz. Prince-Bythewood’s journey to make the film reveals just a glimpse of the obstacles that Black directors face when convincing studios to support their work. If you’re a sucker for romance films, especially ones with Black couples, definitely make your way to see Beyond the Lights, in theaters now.
Quevenzhané Wallis will continue to steal our hearts when she stars as the lead in Annie this winter. The story of Annie began as an 1885 poem turned comic strip, which was then adapted into a radio show, two feature films, and a musical. This winter’s reboot will have noticeable changes, with Wallis as Annie, Jamie Foxx as William Stacks, and lyric references to orphans and orphanages changed to foster children and foster homes. With a revamped version of the classic “Hard Knock Life” and production by Will and Jada Smith, Annie is sure to be a feel-good film for all ages. We only have to wait until Christmas to see Wallis as the lovable title role, and in the meantime, we can watch this adorable trailer over and over again.
Selma, a new Martin Luther King Jr. biopic directed by Ava DuVernay, could not be left off of the list. The film stars David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr., Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King, as well as Common, Andre Holland, Tessa Thompson, Tom Wilkinson, and Omar J. Dorsey and follows the height of tension in the civil rights movement of the 60’s. Before culminating with the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama the film explores the relationships MLK Jr. had with the president, his wife, and friends. In light of recent events surrounding police brutality against Black lives in the United States, the trailer stirs up a lot of feelings and the film is sure to do the same. Selma premieres in NYC and LA on Christmas day, and nationwide January 9th.
Girlhood (Bandes de Filles)
French writer and director Celine Sciamma premiered Girlhood (Bandes de Filles), her third feature film, at Cannes Film Festival this spring. Girlhood follows 16 year-old Marieme and the girl-gang she joins in the banlieues of Paris. In the tough outer, ethnically mixed, and economically disadvantaged underclass suburbs, Marieme fights to find her identity through major points in her life until finally discovering herself and her own convictions. Girlhood was recently acquired by buyers in the U.K., Portugal, Sweden, Norway, picked up for US distribution, and we can’t wait until it’s in major cities around the world.
Dreamwork is set to release Home, its first animation with a Black female lead, in March of 2015. Home is based on the 2007 book The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. Oh is from the planet Boov, and Tip is a witty, no-nonsense girl that manages to avoid capture by the Boov when they decide to make Earth their new home. Together, Boov and Tip take a roadtrip of a lifetime as they flee from Boov enemies that are headed their way to Earth. Along with the voice role of Tip, singer Rihanna will release a concept album for the film, and if that doesn’t give you enough reason to see this movie, check out the trailer!
CeCe McDonald is a 25 year old transgender African-American woman that was sentenced to 19 months in a men’s prison after being attacked in 2011. Upon McDonald’s release this year, actress and transgender rights activist Laverne Cox has documented interviews with her along with investigation of the transmisogyny and violence against trans women of color in the criminal justice system. We can’t speak enough to the importance of highlighting the experiences of transgender women of color, and in regards to FREE CeCe, we are especially excited. The documentary is set for completion in 2016.
Dancers, co-producers, and sisters Kiera Brinkley and Uriah Boyd, give much more than graceful dance performances in SOAR Documentary. Kiera, a quadruple amputee, and Uriah, born only a month after her older sister was diagnosed with pneumococcal sepsis, embody sisterhood, laughter, and a passion for dance in the film.
According to director and producer Susan Hess Logeais, SOAR “film celebrates the extraordinary ways that Kiera has learned to adapt—as a dancer, choreographer, medical assistant, and recently a driver.” The film also focuses on the sisters’ relationship, following the sibling pair in their home life, to rehearsals, and finally culminating in a collaborative dance concert for the community. The trailer alone is incredibly moving, and the final documentary will be released once it has funding for post-production and home video distribution.