Straight Outta Compton, dir. by F. Gary Gray
N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton follows the lives of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Easy E, and some less well-known rappers involved in N.W.A through their formation, Dr. Dre’s producing career, and the death of Easy E. Not only is it important for its story, but Straight Outta Compton is a rare film in that it’s a Hollywood blockbuster with a black cast and black director, something that’s so important for the industry to be doing. It’s $200 million worldwide box office haul only adding further credence to both its rarity and its significance.
Although the film itself has some structural issues, and at times is a bit too convenient in its storyline and clichéd, it is one of the most important films for showing the history of N.W.A, a group who influenced so many talented and popular artists today like Kendrick Lamar and Wiz Khalifa. Their music gave a voice to those who were ignored and not listened to, and that’s as crucial for BAME’s today as it was then.
Words by Carly-May Kavanagh
Hidden Figures, dir. by Theodore Melfi
Hidden Figures wasn’t a hidden film during last year’s awards season, it deserved to be celebrated even more. Theodore Melfi’s biopic showed us a real issue: the issue of being an African-American woman among a sea of white men in the workplace of the 1960s. And not any workplace – it’s NASA we’re talking about, the home of the greatest scientists and engineers. The greatest male scientists and engineers.
Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan were brilliant ladies who helped NASA a great deal once they were allowed to. When their fellow co-workers learnt to see beyond their gender or their colour of their skin, they attained their full potential and made history.
But it wasn’t an easy journey for any of these ladies. One of the most painfully simple things the film depicts is what Johnson had to go through every day to go to the one toilet designated for African-American ladies 800 metres away from the building where she was working. While it seems like a minor thing compared to all the other race-related issues, Hidden Figures showed the impact of this on Johnson’s work life. One of the most triumphant scenes is when her boss knocks down the sign ‘Coloured Bathroom’ – a little yet significant step towards the gender and racial equality we are still fighting for six decades later.
Words by Thea Hartman
Moonlight, dir. by Barry Jenkins
In the era of #OscarsSoWhite, the fact that Moonlight won the Academy Award for Best Picture at the 2017 Oscars was, and will continue to be, a big deal. Never before has a film with an all black cast that centres not only around the struggles of the African-American community, but also the coming-of-age and discovery of sexuality of a young, black male protagonist been so important, celebrated and, most importantly, enjoyed. Moonlight is masterful and moving filmmaking in every sense, a true showcase of director Barry Jenkins’ unfathomable talents and visual prowess. It’s also an example of how simple it can be to give a voice to the frequently unheard and forgotten within filmmaking – the African-American and the LGBT community. This film is certain to be remembered for years to come as both an example of pure brilliance from a promising young filmmaker, and as the ray of hope that hopefully instigated the start of big changes within a film industry that has previously been so unfairly reluctant to champion diversity.
Words by Alice O’Hare
Black Panther, dir. by Ryan Coogler
So much has been said about the all-conquering Marvel movie that the my words can hardly further the discussion of this hugely significant film: Black Panther is an unheard of phenomenon. Shattering box office expectations, becoming one of only six films to ever open over $200 million in North America in its debut weekend, and scoring a stellar 97% on Rotten Tomatoes (as of writing the highest scored film of 2018), Black Panther is an unquestionable critical and commercial hit.
Whilst its release was highly anticipated and was heralded by many as a watershed moment in cinema, due to its nearly entirely black cast and unique representation of African culture in a major mainstream release, Black Panther resonated with moviegoers in a way that many did not expect. Be it through its portrayal of the utterly badass Okoye (Danai Gurira), or the scientific genius Shuri (Letitia Wright), Black Panther did not dwell on its significance or milk its unique diversity to obviously pander to audiences, the film instead presented Wakanda as exactly what it is; a technologically advanced nation, home to well trained warriors and highly intelligent individuals who have excelled their pocket of humanity far beyond the reaches of the rest of the world. The fact that it is an African nation is of added significance, showing that such characters need not be slaves, villains or comic relief side characters, as they typically are on film, instead it is a positive and progressive portrayal.
Add in the powerful storyline of the titular king (Chadwick Boseman) fighting for his throne amidst feelings of self-doubt, and the antagonist Eric Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) fighting to better the African-American experience through militaristic means, and we get a thought-provoking and striking film, packing more guts and boldness than anything before it.
Words by David Mitchell-Baker