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We Need To Talk About The Current State Of Black Cinema

We Need To Talk About The Current State Of Black Cinema
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In the last decade, Black cinema has seen a revival like no other, thanks to writers and directors Jordan Peele, Barry Jenkins, and Ava DuVernay. Through their narratives, we have been enamored with Black stories of normalcy and horror that have captivated audiences and shown exactly what narratives are deserved and desired by Black viewers. Nevertheless, the current state of Black films still has some ways to go, and can easily accomplish the next stage of its reemergence if it considers the genres where representation is still lacking.

For years, Black audience members have been treated like they’re secondary, forced to enjoy the experiences of their white counterparts as if they were sidekicks to their journey instead of walking in their shoes.

On the heels of his Oscar win for “Best Screenplay” for the 2023 comedy/drama American Fiction, first-time director Cord Jefferson shared his perspective on the narrow view of Black characters on-screen and why there’s a need for diversity in the Black stories we choose to tell in film. “There is an appetite for things that are different and a story with Black characters that’s going to appeal to a lot of people,” Cord explained. “[Black films don’t] need to take place on a plantation, they don’t need to take place in the projects. It doesn’t need to have drug dealers in it and doesn’t need to have gang members in it. There’s an audience and market for depictions of Black life that are as broad and as deep as any other depictions of people’s lives.”

Now, as Black cinema continues to grow, they must challenge themselves to create tales that reflect the Black experience beyond the narratives of racism, slavery, and segregation. Instead of creating more window-filled films, where we must peek into the lives of others in hopes of seeing ourselves, it is imperative the new films provide mirrors for Black audiences to finally see themselves as worthy of romance, levity, fantasy, action, and time.

The art we create must challenge Black cinema as they know it to create the Black movies that should have always been. Here’s how:

Black Cinema Needs More Romance and Romantic Comedies

Prime Video

Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha in ‘Sylvie’s Love’

Black cinema deserves whirlwind romances with tenderness, complexity, kindness, erraticness, playfulness, and compassion.

Instead of being the second-hand side quest to a tale filled with hardship and misery, Black romantic stories should be placed center stage with intentionality and eloquent execution. It is important that Black romantic comedies be recreated with the same gusto they did in the early 2000s for white romantic comedies, with narratives that are better than the ones we idealize today. In these new narratives, Black romance must show that Black men can be whole and Black women can be easy to love. It is also essential to show that love can be held by same-sex couples.

In Black films, our love needs levity. It needs warmth. It needs nurture, and it needs to come in abundance so that we have examples of more than one way to love. Because at this moment, the only narrative we have been given on Black love comes from that of sadness and grief. Love that requires one or both parties be broken and bruised and bleeding all over the other to the point that hate and self-loathing breed a love like one has never known. This narrative is overplayed, and even more so, it is cruel in creating a falsehood that everything black must be birthed from sorrow.

Take Love & Basketball, the romance/drama, for example, which many consider to be the pinnacle of Black love. I don’t need to tell you why because there are a thousand and one comments and videos on how everyone tries to defend this romance. Instead, I’ll tell you why it is not. Their romance is toxic. Simple as that. It’s cultural and controversial, so I won’t go too much into detail, and if I need to, we can have a separate article for that. But the relationship is toxic, and there are moments when both Monica and Q are giving nothing, but expecting everything.

Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan in ‘Love & Basketball’

They never truly learn how to love one another properly and justify their bad examples of love on what they experienced in the past (read “generational trauma“). Though that could be the reason, it did not justify the ultimate outcome. And though some of us might have felt seen by a story like this, especially in our own imperfect love and dating experiences, the Black experience is not a monolith, and it does not represent the healthy love we now seek to cultivate in our lives.

Plus, with such an emphasis placed on films that are dramas, there is a focus on the struggle, whether it be life or love. Paving the way to see ourselves in more films as romantic leads that offer levity, like a romantic comedy, is a welcomed change to the moving and culturally impactful stories we see. When we think of Black romantic comedies of yesteryear, actresses like Queen Latifah and even Gabrielle Union come to mind, but since the early 2000s, we haven’t seen nearly as much traction in the world of romantic comedies overall, but especially ones that feature Black leads with Black love interests.

When Black romance stories are made, love should be given to the characters as a gift, not a sentencing. It should unravel beautifully, and the characters and their romance should be cherished. Their love should be watered, tended, and filled with so much beauty the gods themselves cry.

Netflix

Kofi Siriboe and Jade Eshete in ‘Really Love’

Black Cinema Needs More Sci-Fi and Fantasy

In the last three decades, we have seen films about a boy who flew across the sky because of the alien he carried in his bicycle basket, objects that have come to life to tell children stories, vampires who glitter in the sun, and children who can visit a magical world by running through brick walls. Yet, you’re still telling me that our imaginations cannot expand far enough to see all this done with characters who are Black? Ridiculous. Pure absurdity. There needs to be more moments of wonderment and amazement in Black cinema.

There needs to be realms that children and adults can escape into when the reality of institutions becomes too much to bear or rationalize. We shouldn’t be thankful that white stories change characters into Black ones so that we can travel along and hope to experience the same sense of wonder as our white counterparts.

Instead, we should have stories that were made for Black characters to travel freely and happily escape the challenges faced in our society. We need realms where we fit perfectly in and can be just as magical and enchanting as we’ve always been.

Black Cinema Needs More Action and Thrillers

Last year, the Times wrote an article focusing on the influence of Richard Rountree’s Shaft on the Black action hero narrative. In this article, the writer listed eight movies that were essential to watch that held Black leads as action heroes. Unfortunately, the majority of these movies listed came from the 1900s, with very few films featuring Black action leads in the 2000s or later.

Recently, Amazon Prime released their version ofMr. and Mrs. Smith, where Donald Glover has the chance of being the infamous spy that stole our hearts in 2005. In this, he is the same, charismatic character that he always portrays, with a little more action and thrill than we have associated with him before. Although the show has its flaws, Glover as an action hero makes for an entertaining watch and an interesting take on what it would mean to be a Black spy during moments where blending in in white spaces is essential.

Prime Video

Donald Glover starring in ‘Mr. & Mrs. Smith’ (2024)

On the other hand, we have Michael B. Jordan, who finds himself in action and thrillers where he is either the villain (Black Panther), anti-hero(Creed), or reluctant, and controversial savior (Without Remorse). In his films, he shows how Black characters can be both the hero and the villain simultaneously based on circumstances and unfortunate interactions with institutions that he has sworn to protect and have sworn to protect him. And of course, we cannot forget about the action films Samuel L. Jackson has starred in, including a revival of the aforementioned Shaft in the 2000s.

However, despite the list of Black actors above, the film industry still lacks tremendously in the Black action protagonist department. Despite its need, we rarely see Black actors allotted the opportunity to run from exploding buildings like Tom Cruise in any Mission Impossible film or the ability to hunt down the kidnappers of various Black girls taken from their father’s home, as Liam Neeson does in Taken.

To enhance Black cinema, the industry needs to consider making Black characters the hero of their own stories, and for their own people. These action films must be just as outlandish and enticing as the action films made before, without a greater chance of a happy ending and outcome. Now that the action and thriller genre is looking for a revival, it is wise to consider using Black people as the heroes they’ve always been and rarely recognized as.

Black Cinema Needs More Black Period Pieces (outside of slavery and segregation)

The last thing we need is another damn story rotted in our nation’s mistreatment of Black people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that these stories are not important. I am just saying it is the last damn thing that we need. Why? Because we already have 101 Dalmatians worth of these, and we don’t need more. If you want a period piece on slavery and segregation, watch 12 Years a Slave or Harriet, or Birth of a Nation, or Emancipation, or Antebellum, or Hidden Figures, or Freedom, or Remember the Titans, or Emperor, or….you get the point. There are plenty of movies about Black people and our centuries’ worth of hardship.

However, our stories are more than this, and there are moments in history that I believe fiction writers can integrate Black people and their experiences without making slavery and segregation stand in the forefront; think series likeBridgertonor Queen Charlotte.

Netflix

India Ria Amarteifio as Queen Charlotte in ‘Queeen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story’

Hell, take Lovecraft Country, for example. This story acknowledged racism, segregation, and mistreatment of Black people. However, the narratives given to the characters in this period piece were so complex and intricate, that the last thing they worried about was racism itself. In a world where monsters are rooted at every corner, the societal pressures of segregation are in the back of their minds.

Though they still dealt with moments relating to racism, their character’s experiences weren’t based only on it. The only time it was was when they were around white characters, and outside of it, they were well-rounded characters who experienced life as it was, most importantly outside of the box society tries to fit them in. This needs to happen, again. I want stories where Black people speak in modern English, walking around their big ass gardens in dolly, vintage, and cottage-core dresses, and pleated pants with suspenders.

We need stories in history where Black people can exist outside of the white historical lens.

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Featured image via Giphy





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