With the recent release of Red Tails, there has been a lot of discussion about the ongoing lack of people of color in Hollywood and what to do about it. It’s cute that George Lucas thinks he can change the game with some awesome special effects (wrapped in a gossamer-thin plot), but finding a place in the mainstream market with big-budget blockbusters is really just as well. What I think is also important, more important, is making sure that those smaller, more slip-through-the-cracks type of films featuring black talent find an audience. These are often the films, after all, that paint a more diverse portrait of the black experience than we’re used to. This year, there has been a refreshing new crop of movies telling intimate, sometimes difficult stories that shed a different light on this mysterious entity that Hollywood likes to call the “black film” (whatever that means). With this year’s Sundance Film Festival underway and many more festivals approaching in the coming months, here is a list of the movies from the festival you should be on the look out for in 2012 – movies that deserve and have the potential to be contenders just as much as the latest George Lucas spectacle.
Words by Zeba Blay
An Oversimplification of Her Beauty
This is the much buzzed about debut by young writer and director Terence Nance, which was able to have its World Premiere at Sundance (thanks in part to generous donations on Kickstarter: http://www.afropunk.com/profiles/blogs/an-oversimplification-of-her...). The story, in a nutshell, is about a young artist living in New York who does some soul searching after being stood up by a mysterious beauty. What makes this film so exciting and promising is the kaleidoscopic, deconstructive, experimental way in which it’s been shot – using music and different mediums such as animation to present a different take on an experience that, at the end of the day, is universal.
Red Hook Summer
Set for release this summer, Spike Lee’s latest joint is a coming-of-age tale about a young boy from Atlanta who spends the summer with his preacher grandfather in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Of course, with Lee’s Brooklyn as setting, it isn’t as cut and dry as that - there is a bountiful bevy of off-beat characters that our hero meets – including the return of Mookie from Do the Right Thing, still delivering pizzas for Sal’s twenty years later. Like most Spike Lee movies, the film seems to have early Sundance audiences pretty divided on either side of the “he’s a genius” and “what the eff did I just watch?” argument. But with this being Lee’s first feature after his operatic and in-depth New Orleans documentaries, it’ll be interesting to see him returning to feature filmmaking and a cinematic rebuttal, as it were, in his ongoing feud with That Other Black Director (as I’m sure Hollywood refers to him behind closed doors), Tyler Perry.
Welcome to Pine Hill
Welcome to Pine Hill tells the tale of Shannon Harper (who plays himself), a former drug dealer turned claims adjuster/bouncer. Bad news comes along, and Shannon must confront his sordid past whilst navigating the tough streets of New York that he’s been trying to escape all his life. This is actually a “Slamdance” Festival (an answer to Sundance that’s held in Park City around the same time) film, directed and written by Keith Miller. Miller melds documentary style filmmaking with cinematic storytelling so that you really don’t know where the fiction ends and reality begins – a quality in any great film. What’s really amazing though is that the cast is made up entirely of virtual unknowns and people who’ve never even acted before – yet still manage to pull off believable performances (which is more than can be said for even the oldest Hollywood veterans – let’s be real).
Beasts of the Southern Wild
This is one film I am very excited about – the lead star is a six year old. The movie just won the Grand Jury Prize for Drama at Sundance! It takes place in a post-apocalyptic like setting, somewhere in a sinking bayou village in Southern Louisiana, totally cut off from the rest of the world. Hushpuppy (played by the little newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis) finder herself on her own when her father succumbs to a mysterious illness, and she must survive on her own amidst strange otherworldly creatures and the rising waters of the Delta. It’s a thoroughly creative premise that relies heavily on magical realism and ethereal imagery to get its point across. It’s going to be a hard one to get out there, but it’s an important film that places black actors closer to the fantasy realm – who knows, maybe little Quvenzhané could be the new, edgier, more badass Matilda?
Common (whose really been sinking his teeth into the whole acting thing when not having pointless feuds with Drake) and eleven year old Michael Rainey star in LUV, the first time feature by director and writer Sheldon Candis. LUV is an ode to the city of Baltimore, which is just as much a character in the film as any of the other key players – setting up a gritty backdrop as we follow the story of a boy and his shady uncle over the course of a single day and night. The film, for Candis, is a semi-autobiographical human tale about what happens when kids are forced to grow up early. Like all the films on this list, I can only hope that we see more of the new and exciting talent they have to offer in the future – and not just for a fleeting glimpse, but also in the long run.
+ Note from the editor: congrats to director Ava DuVernay, the first African-American woman to win the Sundance 'Best US Director: Drama' award for her feature film 'Middle Of Nowhere':
Related article: A New 'Black Wave' Breaking Grounds In Cinema!
* Contributor Zeba Blay's website: http://zebablay.com, @zblay on Twitter