Black directed movies: Highlighting representation in film

Isabelle Rayburn and Arrion Smith

Cinema is a great way to pass the time, but it can also be used as a vessel to convey social commentary and marginalized perspectives. Diverse representation within the entertainment world is very important for expressing different identities but is not often acknowledged.

In honor of Black History Month, we’ve compiled four of our favorite films created by Black directors. The directors and the influential movies that they produced defy Hollywood stereotypes and push the boundaries of storytelling through film.

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“Us”

Jordan Peele released his debut film, Get Out, back in 2017, a psychological thriller that sparked public discourse for how he portrayed systemic racism throughout the story. 

Peele followed up with his second film, Us,in 2019. The movie is about a Black family who goes on vacation only to be confronted by a family who looks just like them. It is explained that their doppelgängers, known as tethers, are failed government experiments with the intent of taking over America. You soon find out that everyone in America has a tether, and the government previously cloned every family.

This movie had a lot of hidden innuendos and metaphors, which is canon to Peele’s style of social problem-centered filmmaking; but as opposed to his debut film, the message of “Us” is less explicit. Upon its release, “Us” evoked tons of contradicting theories about what Peele was actually trying to say, whether it was regarding race, government corruption and abandonment, civil unrest or class division

Peele aims to make movies that get people talking. Instead of falling to common horror movie tropes concerning people of color, African Americans are portrayed as heroes and protagonists, shifting the stereotypes in film. This is something that was refreshing for the Black community to see, and it offered a unique platform to show the problems that the Black community faces in a powerful way.

“Queen & Slim”

Melina Matsoukas has directed many music videos and television series but recently took on the film industry with Queen & Slim.” Released in 2019, the film revolves around a Black couple, who, on their first date, experience police brutality and take matters into their own hands. 

Forced to flee the law, the two inadvertently become famous Black leaders. They experience having to go from home to home in different states to hide, experiencing the strength in the community they had empowered.

The film accurately presented the taboo topic of Black love, a poorly represented aspect of African American life in Hollywood. Matsoukas aimed to pay homage to her Afro-Cuban roots and to portray the reality of existing as a Black person in America. 

“She’s Gotta Have It”

Spike Lee has directed over 30 movies, including hits “BlacKkKlansman” and “Malcolm X,”  and has even created his own production company, 40 Acres and a Mule. “She’s Gotta Have It” is a Lee original that was directed and produced in 1986. 

Filmed in a noir style with a black and white picture and classic jazz music, this film shows a progressive perspective on Black dating and relationships. “She’s Gotta Have It” was created for the Black women who won’t be told who they are and what they need to do with their life. The film has been subjected to controversy despite its sweet and loving tone.

The movie follows main character Nola Darling, a young artist that lives in New York on her own. Darling has multiple romantic partners and is very confident in who she is. Darling finds herself wrapped up in relationships with Jamie Overstreet, Greer Childs, Mars Blackmon and Opal Gilstrap all at once.

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Darling is always open with her partners and is true to who she is. Despite the judgments from strangers and sometimes her own romantic partners, she never loses sight of herself and how she wants to live. Darling is a modern woman who owns her sexuality, and Lee highlights this in his film.

“Boyz n the Hood”

“Boyz n the Hood” is a film directed by John Singleton in 1991. Well known for the many movies that he has directed, such as “Poetic Justice,” “Higher Learning” and “Rosewood,” Singleton often focuses on topics of race, economics and relationships within Black communities. 

The film follows three young men in South Central Los Angeles in a low income area. Starring actors such as Ice Cube, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Morris Chestnut, the three childhood friends live very different lives from each other. While Ricky is a football star on his way to hopefully receive a scholarship, Darren was just released from jail and is having trouble shedding the reputation from his past of crime and violence. Tre, their mutual friend, tries to solve the rift between his two friends.

The movie highlights issues of police brutality, race and violence. The movie portrays an accurate and intimate depiction of those that live in low income areas that face discrimination based on race and economics. 

Arrion Smith and Isabelle Rayburn can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com