A list of 10 films/shows from black directors and actors to fill your weekend.
Writing a typical Binge Blog didn't feel right this week. I considered scrapping the column altogether, but I figured doing something would be better than doing nothing. So for whatever it's worth, I put together a list of 10 films and TV shows I love created by or starring black directors and actors. I tried to mix more mainstream titles with a few hidden gems while also mixing genres. In other words, I think there's something for everyone. I listed each title's streaming service, but try to purchase these things if you have the means. The more funds going directly to these creators, the better.
Watch. Listen. Learn. Think about the messages these titles present. Then do something about it.
Hulu, rated TV-MA, 21 episodes, 10.5 hours of content
When this critically acclaimed series from Donald Glover first premiered, he was the big draw. He still is, but no one knew at the time how big his costars LaKeith Stanfield and Brian Tyree Henry would get too. "Atlanta" follows Earn (Glover) as he works as a manager for his cousin Al (Henry), a budding rapper who goes by the stage name Paper Boi. Al's friend Darius (Stanfield) is also along for the ride, as Paper Boi's career has ups and downs and strange things happen around (and to) the trio. Zazie Beets also has a prominent role on the show as Van, the mother of Earn's daughter, Lottie. The show won the Golden Globe award for Best Television Series - Musical or Comedy in 2017, and Glover won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series the same year.
HBO, rated R, 129 minutes
A taut thriller from Steve McQueen (not that Steve McQueen, this one) that focuses on three women — played by Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki — who seek to avenge their husbands' murders by finishing the high-stakes heist that killed them. Along the way, the movie makes a point of focusing on the systemic racism that forces people into crime and violence and on the way silence from white people in power can be just as damaging as the systems themselves. The film takes place in Chicago, but it could be in any city in the U.S.
"If Beale Street Could Talk" (2018)
Hulu, rated R, 119 minutes
This adaptation of the James Baldwin novel is ostensibly a story of false imprisonment, but it's really a story of love. Fonny (Stephan James) and Tish (KiKi Layne) are going to have a child when he is arrested for a crime he did not commit. "Beale Street" is about how the pair keeps their love alive in the face of mistreatment and separation. A gorgeously shot film by Barry Jenkins. Regina King won Best Supporting Actress for her captivating performance as Tish's mother, Sharon.
HBO, rated TV-MA, nine episodes, nine hours of content
The expansive sequel-of-sorts to Alan Moore's landmark graphic novel — though reading it is not a necessity for understanding — "Watchmen" follows a group of vigilantes (and one actual superhero) in Oklahoma as they try to prevent a white supremacist uprising that involves farmers, politicians and tech-sector giants. There are a lot of themes the shows hits, but among them are police brutality and the way power often goes unchecked in America, plus the way our family histories follow us and affect multiple generations. Even besides the visuals, which have everyone constantly wearing masks, no show has predicted our current moment better than this one.
"Sorry to Bother You" (2018)
Hulu, rated R, 111 minutes
This inventive film from Boots Riley follows LaKeith Stanfield as an Oakland telemarketer who starts using a "white voice" while on the phone and begins getting more sales. This leads him into the secret world of elite telemarketers — one that is much weirder and much darker than it first appears. The film, which defies genre classification, also stars Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler and Omari Hardwick, plus Armie Hammer in an unforgettable (for better or worse) small role.
Netflix, rated R, 134 minutes
Two families, the McAllens and the Jacksons, share a piece of land in the Mississippi Delta following World War II. Two of the families' sons bonded while overseas, but their bond is tested when the McAllens begin picking a fight with the Jacksons for full control of the land. "Mudbound" was directed by Dee Rees and was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Cinematography. Mary J. Blige was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress.
"Amazing Grace" (2018)
Hulu, rated PG, 87 minutes
This documentary captures Aretha Franklin recording her album of the same name live at New Bethel Baptist Church in Watts, Los Angeles, in January 1972. That's it. Nothing more or less. Not only is her performance chill-inducing, but in the reactions from the faces lining the packed church pews, you get to see how much her music means to people. It seems like the energy in the room that night might never be replicated.
"Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" (2018)
Netflix, rated PG, 117 minutes
The best Spider-Man movie is this one, starring Shameik Moore as Miles Morales, the teenager who worships Peter Parker and who gets a chance to fight alongside him. The pair meets up with multiple other Spider-People on an adventure through different universes as they attempt to stop Wilson Fisk (Liev Schrieber) from hatching his evil scheme. The film's ultimate message — that anyone can be a hero in some way, big or small, if they try — is powerful, especially for younger viewers.
HBO, rated R, 116 minutes
Jordan Peele's follow-up to smash hit "Get Out" put the psychological thriller elements aside, going full horror while putting a lens to the unseen cost of having comfortable lives in America. "Us" follows the nuclear Wilson family as it vacations to the beach in Santa Cruz, Calif. Demons from the past find them there: Lupita Nyong'o's Adelaide has a bad experience at the beach as a child, when she spotted her doppelganger in a house of mirrors, and she fears the doppelganger is coming back to get her. Spoiler: She's right, and it turns out she's not the only one with that problem.
HBO, rated R, 135 minutes
You can't make a list like this and not include Spike Lee. Before his new film, "Da 5 Bloods," premieres on Netflix on June 12, watch his most recent film, which is based the true story of a black Colorado police officer (John David Washington) who infiltrates the Klu Klux Klan by talking to them over the phone, while his Jewish partner (Adam Driver) pretends to be him for in-person meetings.
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