Our curated list of this year’s best in black cinema!
I Am Not Your Negro
Release Date: February 3, 2017 (official)
Director: Raoul Peck
Raoul Peck’s haunting composite of footage, found and contemporary, woven together with passages from James Baldwin’s unpublished manuscript about the lives of activists Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, has already been shortlisted for the 2017 Academy Award for Best Documentary. Co-funded by NBPC, I Am Not Your Negro is an unforgettable commentary on the past, present and future of race relations in the United States. Technically, the film isn’t in theaters until Black History Month 2017 — but it’s been given international festival and advance screenings this year that have garnered a long list of awards. Catch it on the big screen starting February 3.
Release Date: October 21
Director/Producer: Barry Jenkins
Still in theaters
Childhood. Adolescence. Adulthood. Moonlight beams a path through these three stages in the life of a young black man living in ‘80s-era Miami, with different performers playing Chiron the child, Chiron the teenager and Chiron the grown-up. Sensitive in its subject matter (drugs, sexual orientation, bullying) and resonant in its impact, we think Barry Jenkins’s film deserves all the applause it’s getting. Best of all, Moonlight is still in theaters — so, what are you waiting for? Go see it!
Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise
Release Date: October 14
Director/Producer: Rita Coburn Whack, Bob Hercules
Ever since Maya Angelou’s sojourn here (1928-2014), our world has never been the same — and neither will you once you see this film. And Still I Rise, directed by Rita Coburn Whack and Bob Hercules — and co-funded by us, the National Black Programming Consortium — re-awakens the power and poise of Dr. Angelou through found footage, archival photos and exclusive interviews. This first documentary ever made about her life as an artist and activist had its theatrical premiere October 14, but is scheduled to air on PBS’s American Masters series during Black History Month. Keep an eye on those local listings!
The Birth of a Nation
Release Date: October 7
Director/Producer: Nate Parker
Much like its namesake (D.W. Griffith’s 1915 The Birth of a Nation, which glorified the Ku Klux Klan), Nate Parker’s tribute to Nat Turner’s Rebellion has been cloaked in controversy from the get-go. The film examines the life of Nat Turner, a preacher enslaved in 19th-century Virginia, as he plans and leads an historic uprising. Despite its glowing early reception, some have boycotted this project due to certain charges against the director. We list it here not as a statement for or against the boycott, but because The Birth of a Nation’s political significance in the era of Black Lives Matter and in the wake of Election 2016 is virtually impossible to ignore.
Release Date: October 7
Director/Producer: Ava DuVernay
13th — titled after the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution, which supposedly abolished slavery — interrogates leading thinkers, activists and spokespeople about the devastating arithmetic behind mass incarceration. Selma director Ava DuVernay (also an activist; check out her appearance on our Justice For Flint live chat) modeled the doc on Michelle Alexander’s best-selling expose The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. With testimony from the likes of Angela Davis, Van Jones, Newt Gingrich, Glenn Martin and Michelle Alexander herself, the screen version certainly does the print version justice. It’s also just been shortlisted for the Best Documentary Oscar. If you haven’t streamed 13th on Netflix yet, we advise you to make it the next film you watch!
O.J.: Made in America
Release Date: May 20
Director/Producer: Ezra Edelman
Another current contender for the Best Documentary Academy Award, O.J.: Made in America — Ezra Edelman’s five-part miniseries for ESPN’s “30 for 30” — chronicles the life and career of athlete and actor O.J. Simpson, whose televised trial during the mid-1990s divided United States viewers along racial lines. You can stream the film online here.
Release Date: June on Independent Lens
Director/Producer: Dawn Porter
Abortion has never been an easy topic for a conversation or a film, but director Dawn Porter tackles it brilliantly in this portrait of the healthcare workers, activists and attorneys fighting for a woman’s right to choose. The documentary aired this June on PBS’s Independent Lens. You can check out excerpts from the film on the series website.
Fun Fact: Trapped’s filmmaker, Dawn Porter (who also directed Gideon’s Army, an award-winning doc about black public defenders in the Deep South), is also an NBPC board member!
Presenting Princess Shaw
Release Date: May 27
Director/Producer: Ido Haar
Presenting Princess Shaw — which NBPC co-presented at this year’s 2016 Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival — tells the story of Samantha Montgomery (a.k.a. Princess Shaw), a caretaker for the elderly in New Orleans who moonlights as a YouTube singing sensation, and her inspiring collaboration with Israeli composer Ophir Kutiel. Here’s another doc (directed by Ido Haar) that defies convention and captures character enough to make our list of the year’s top films! You can find it, for a small fee, on YouTube, iTunes or Amazon.
Release Date: November 4
Director/Producer: Jeff Nichols
A quiet storm of a movie, Loving pays tribute to the duo behind Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court case that legalized interracial marriage in the United States. The plot stays linear and the heroes are just nice folks (rather than the usual Hollywood anti-heroes) — but hey, these days, we find that refreshing. The acting has earned accolades, too: Ruth Negga gives an unforgettable performance as Mildred Loving. This film is still in theaters, so why not make an outing of it? Showtimes can be found here.
Release Date: February 29 on Independent Lens
Director/Producer: June Cross
June Cross — journalist, documentarian (Secret Daughter) and previous NBPC grantee — crafted this profound piece about HIV in the rural American South. Wilhemina’s War examines the struggle of 62-year-old Wilhemina Dixon, as she combats the stigma of HIV/AIDS and struggles to care for her daughter and granddaughter, who are both HIV-positive. We guarantee this documentary will move you. You can watch clips from it through Independent Lens.
PAN! Our Music Odyssey
Release Date: January 25 on AfroPoP
Director/Producer: Jerome Guiot and Thierry Teston
Can’t decide whether you’re in the mood for a fiction or a nonfiction film? This energetic docudrama about the Caribbean origins of steel drum music blurs the lines by combining narrative reenactment with documentary footage. PAN! takes its viewers to Trinidad & Tobago for the annual international steelband competition, Panorama — and, against the back-beat of drums, tells them tales of the women and men who risked everything for the sake of music. We were proud to present PAN! Our Music Odyssey on Season 8 of our documentary series AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange! You can order your very own DVD of the film here.
Southside With You
Release Date: August 26
Director/Producer: Richard Tanne
Flashback to summer 1989 with the First Family in this charming date flick. Sparks fly between law associate Barack Obama and attorney Michelle Robinson as they walk, talk, visit the Art Institute of Chicago and watch Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. Don’t be fooled by the “awww” factor of the premise: Southside With You is a well-written, well-acted film! You can order the film on Amazon — and Prime users can stream it here.
Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary
Release Date: September 9
Director/Producer: John Scheinfeld
Jazz lovers, take note: This biographical homage to the legendary “Trane” has become one of our favorite things. Luminaries like Sonny Rollins, Denzel Washington and Wynton Marsalis testify to the enduring influence of saxophonist John Coltrane’s sound. Director/producer John Scheinfeld sets their voices against a rich backdrop of historical context — and, of course, the music! Learn more about Coltrane and his collaborators in this exclusive clip from the film’s website.
Queen of Katwe
Release Date: September 23
Director/Producer: Mira Nair
Mira Nair, whom you may know from previous films such as Monsoon Wedding or Mississippi Massala, directs Lupita Nyong’o in Queen of Katwe, a coming-of-age story set in Kampala, Uganda, about a girl whose life transforms as she masters the game of chess. Of course, any film starring Lupita is worth seeing — but this female-focused (and female-directed) story will win a special place in your heart.
Release Date: December 25
Director/Producer: Denzel Washington
Denzel Washington, August Wilson and Negro Leagues baseball? Who could resist *that* combination? Fences, premiering in theaters this Christmas, is an adaptation of playwright August Wilson’s drama of the same name. It harks back to ‘50s-era Pittsburgh, starring Denzel as a trash collector and onetime Negro Leagues star, and Viola Davis as his wife, Rose. We are anticipating a production worthy of its hype, so be sure to mark your advent calendar!
Release Date: April 1
Director: Don Cheadle
Don Cheadle directs and stars in this avant-garde biographical ode to trumpeter Miles Davis, probably the highest-profile of 2016’s jazz films (Chasing Trane, Born to Be Blue, et al). Miles’s story, and Cheadle’s performance, provide thrill after thrill — and not just for music buffs. Miles Ahead takes risks with its editing (fast-paced), shooting style (impressionistic) and overall tone (comical) with unforgettable results. You can purchase the film on YouTube, iTunes or Amazon.