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Thursday, Oct 28, 2021

Black films shine just like we knew they could

Jordan Peele is the first black writer and director to have a 100 million dollar film debut.
Jordan Peele is the first black writer and director to have a 100 million dollar film debut.

2016 and 2017 have so far been the years of black film in cinema. After two years in which the film climate could be summed up in one hashtag #OscarsSoWhite — the box office has been dominated by the success of predominantly black films and the nation can agree on one fact: It’s about time.

Perpetually, black film and filmmakers have tried to find footing in the context of a mostly whitewashed and black-faced cinema landscape. From appearances in blackface as far back as the racial propaganda flick “The Birth of a Nation” in 1915 and as recently as 2000 in Spike Lee’s satirical “Bamboozled,” black portrayal in film has come full circle.

But recently, the movies have seen a shift in which black films and their actors are shining through, bringing a new meaning to cinema itself and a lucrative splash to the box office.

The 2017 Oscars were what we needed them to be — a celebration of what black films could be.

“Moonlight,” a black-written, directed and lead-acted film, won Academy Awards for best motion picture of the year, best actor in a supporting role (Mahershala Ali) and best adapted screenplay.

We also saw a win for Viola Davis, finally, for best actress in a supporting role in “Fences.” The Denzel Washington-directed film received four Oscar nominations, while “Hidden Figures,” a chronicle of pioneer African-American NASA mathematicians, received three.

All three movies have done tremendously well at the box office, but none have had quite the popularity, traction, or record-breaking momentum of Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.” The satirical horror film detailing the trip of a black man to his white girlfriend’s parents’ estate is the highest-grossing debut film based on an original screenplay in history. Not only that, but Jordan Peele is also the first black writer-director with a $100 million dollar film debut.

That’s right – not Spike Lee, not Tyler Perry.

While the importance of both of these writer-directors cannot be understated, to see a filmmaker of color do this well in his film debut is unprecedented and it puts a huge dent (as do all these films) in the fallacy that black-directed and acted movies can not do well at the box office.

“Hidden Figures” has made over $223 million globally, “Get Out” is at over $168 million, “Moonlight” grossed $55 million (with a budget of only $1.5 million) and “Fences” has nearly tripled its own box office budget. All of these movies are tremendous stories of not only the black experience, but also powerful stories in their entirety. I mean come on. Who would not want to see a film about a black man meeting his white girlfriend’s parents? That is any man’s nightmare and comedy gold wrapped all into one.

The presence of so many phenomenal black-oriented films in theaters have caused black people to flock to the movies in the past year. According to a research by the Motion Picture Association of America, the number of black moviegoers rose to 5.6 million people last year, an increase of nearly double.

Wow, you place black people in roles that do not involve gang violence, baby mommas, or a large black man dressed as a woman and we actually go to the movies. Representation, what a concept.

Whether this influx of black movies is here to stay or only a blip on the proverbial radar of film is still too soon to tell. Regardless, Black America is enjoying its time in the cinema sun and will continue to do what we do. That is, culturally, make our mark on everything.

In other words — “we here for it.”


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