Vaila’s View | Filmmakers bring vitality to Black History Month

Illustration by Karly Andersen

Vaila DeYoung, Contributing Writer

Black filmmakers are one of the most underrepresented groups in the film industry, according to the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, a yearly report that documents diversity in Hollywood. 

Out of 1,300 top-grossing films from 2007-2019, only 12.6% of those films were directed by men of color, and women of color directed less than 1% of films. White women made up 3.9%, while white men directed 82.5%. 

 Although progress is being made to give credit where it is due, there is still a long way to go before we can begin to speak about equal representation. 

In celebration of Black History Month, here’s a list of films by black directors to check out and support (this month, or any time of the year). 

 

“Moonlight,” Barry Jenkins (2016)

“Moonlight” follows the main character, Chiron, through three periods in his life. It examines beautifully what it means to explore love and sexuality, especially as a young black boy. “Moonlight” is such an influential film and very appropriate for the political climate of the decade.

Jenkins famously made history when the film won an Oscar for Best Picture over the mistakenly announced nominee, “La La Land” (2016). Jenkins is the second black person to direct a best picture winner, and the fourth black person to be nominated for best director.

 It deserved every nomination it received, and was a monumental win for black and LGBTQ communities. If you haven’t seen this film yet, it is currently streaming on Netflix, and I can’t recommend it enough. 

 

“Black Panther,” Ryan Coogler (2018)

“Black Panther” is a culturally monumental film, and features an almost entirely black cast. It is currently the highest grossing solo-superhero movie of all time, and highest grossing film directed by a black man, clocking in at $1.3 billion worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo. 

It is absolutely stunning, and effectively creates the entire hidden world of Wakanda, seamlessly utilizing CGI technology. Chadwick Boseman, who plays T’Challa, and the rest of the cast do an outstanding job portraying their roles, as each character is recognizably unique and important to the story. 

This is one of my favorite superhero films, and I am not one to usually love superhero movies in general. On top of its record-breaking financial achievements, “Black Panther” is also the highest-rated comic book movie of all time, topping “The Dark Knight” and “Iron Man,” according to Rotten Tomatoes. 

 

“BlacKkKlansman,” Spike Lee (2018)

One of my top favorite film releases from 2018 was “BlacKkKlansman,” and I was completely surprised by how this movie emotionally impacted me. It felt like a breath of fresh air, as it was the first Spike Lee movie I had ever seen, and I was in complete awe of his directorial style. 

Lee often uses a technique in his films using a camera dolly, to make characters appear as if they are floating in space. He used this technique in the film, and I hadn’t seen anything like it before. However, it felt so effortless within its visual storytelling, it definitely shows itself as a signature Lee technique. 

The story was adapted from Ron Stallworth’s 2014 memoir “Black Klansman,” and based on Stallworth’s experience of infiltrating and exposing members of the Ku Klux Klan while working as a Colorado Springs police officer in the late ’70s. 

The editing is fast-paced and flows well; not a single moment felt slow or out of place. I loved how funny this movie was, but it was also serious when it needed to be. I really appreciate when a film feels tonally mature, and it’s something this movie happens to do exceptionally well.

 

Underrepresentation among female directors

More specifically, black female directors are severely underrepresented, especially in terms of the Academy Award nominees for best director. Only five women, all white, have been nominated for the best director category. Out of the five, one woman has won. This shows the neglect The Academy exhibits in terms of recognizing directors of color. 

I have personally only seen a handful of films directed by black women in my lifetime because I have not been exposed to many yet, and the representation of black female directors in the industry is dangerously scarce.

In the future, I plan on checking out the films of Ava DuVernay and Dee Rees. They are two directors with extremely impressive filmographies, and I can’t wait to watch some of their films and gain more perspective on the collective voice of filmmaking.

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