Can I admit that I’m tired of talking about Birth of a Nation? Even though I plan on writing my own collection of thoughts concerning the film and its surrounding controversy, I’ve noticed that all of the attention towards it, good and bad, has unintentionally pulled away from much needed discussions about other Black films and shows.
So here are 6 Black films and shows to discuss other than Birth of a Nation:
1. Queen of Katwe starring Lupita Nyong’o
This film has received many great reviews. It’s based on the true story of Phiona Mutesi, an international chess champion that learned to play chess at the SOM Chess Academy in Kampala, Uganda. Though she’s already a world hero, Ms. Mutesi is still a young lady with big dreams.
Film synopsis: Queen of Katwe is the colorful true story of a young girl selling corn on the streets of rural Uganda whose world rapidly changes when she is introduced to the game of chess, and, as a result of the support she receives from her family and community, is instilled with the confidence and determination she needs to pursue her dream of becoming an international chess champion.
2. Issa Rae’s Insecure now on HBO
I fell in love with Issa Rae’s work while watching the first 3 minute episode of Awkward Black Girl. She captured the everyday plight of so many quirky Black women with awkward tendencies. This is what made her show a hit. She tapped into a market and audience that had been either ignored or deemed non existent. Her new show on HBO is just has hilarious, with the same quirky, cringe worthy, laugh out loud moments. Insecure is definitely a must watch.
Show synopsis: Watch the half-hour comedy series Insecure, starring Issa Rae, Yvonne Orji, Jay Ellis and Lisa Joyce, looks at the friendship, experiences and tribulations of two black women. Created and executive produced by Issa Rae, this eight-episode series is also executive produced by Prentice Penny, Melina Matsoukas, Michael Rotenberg, Dave Beck, Jonathan Berry, and Larry Wilmore as a consultant.
3. Hidden Figures starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer & Janelle Monáe
This is a movie I’m extremely excited for. I wish we all knew more about the history behind Black women and the NASA program. As the mother of twin girls, movies showcasing the scientific and mathematical talents of Black women is a must watch in my book.
Film synopsis: Hidden Figures is the incredible untold story of Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe)—brilliant African-American women working at NASA, who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, turned around the Space Race, and galvanized the world. The visionary trio crossed all gender and race lines to inspire generations to dream big. In theaters – January 13, 2017.
4. The 13th directed by Ava DuVernay on Netflix
As an undergrad, one of our professors pointed out that the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution did not end slavery. “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
She directed us to the line that states: except as a punishment for crime.
Thus, slavery took on a new form. The new National Museum of African American History and Culture has an entire display dedicated to showing the connections between slavery and mass incarceration. Apparently, everyone in my circle has watched The 13th except me. But fear not, I will be watching over the weekend. Anything Ava DuVernay touches is gold.
Film synopsis: The title of Ava DuVernay’s extraordinary and galvanizing documentary 13TH refers to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which reads “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.” The progression from that second qualifying clause to the horrors of mass criminalization and the sprawling American prison industry is laid out by DuVernay with bracing lucidity. With a potent mixture of archival footage and testimony from a dazzling array of activists, politicians, historians, and formerly incarcerated women and men, DuVernay creates a work of grand historical synthesis. Now Streaming on Netflix.
5. Atlanta produced by Donald Glover on FX
Where do we start? The fact that this show centers around Black men in Atlanta chasing the rap career dream already leads us down the road to authenticity. The admiration of lemon pepper chicken wings, saying “bet” instead of “sure,” working at the airport – so Atlanta.
Yet the most interesting aspect of Atlanta is it’s unflinching willingness to explore societal shifts, along with layered portrayals of Black life. The most widely discussed episode so far has been episode 7. The episode included a number of satirical commercials featured on a fictional tv network, parodying BET called “Black American Network.”
During the episode, rapper Paper Boi is shown on a tv panel grappling with understanding transsexuality. Then the episode shifts to a discussion of transracial identity. Instantly audiences picked up on the false equivalency that was often leaned upon during the real life uproar concerning Rachel Dolezal- a white woman determined to embody blackness through activism, hair weaves and tanning.
On Atlanta, they flip the script showing a young Black man that identifies as a 35-year-old white man, that is both transphobic and homophobic (taking a jab at Caitlyn Jenner’s contradictory homophobic statements).
Atlanta is unconventionally brilliant. There are so many things to digest here. There could be an entire article dedicated to breaking down the children’s cereal commercial in episode 7 that put the spotlight on police brutality.
Show synopsis: Two cousins work through the Atlanta music scene in order to better their lives and the lives of their families. Donald Glover serves as Executive Producer, along with Paul Simms and Dianne McGunigle. Atlanta is produced by FX Productions.
6. Queen Sugar on OWN
Like I said earlier, everything Ava DuVernay touches is gold. I recently wrote about how Queen Sugar’s underlying theme is “rebirth, rejuvenation and resilience.” You can view more of my thoughts here.
Film synopsis: Queen Sugar chronicles the lives and loves of the estranged Bordelon siblings in Saint Josephine, Louisiana: Charley, the savvy wife and manager of an NBA star; Nova, a worldly-wise journalist and activist; and Ralph Angel, a formerly incarcerated young father in search of redemption. After a family tragedy, the Bordelons must navigate the triumphs and struggles of their complicated lives in order to run an ailing sugarcane farm in the Deep South.
Again, I will be writing my own commentary about Birth of a Nation. However, for now I’d just like to bask in the glory of all the greatness featured above.
If there is a film or show you think should be included, add it in the comments below.
Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is a poet, writer and social justice advocate. She’s also the founder of Our Legaci. Rant or rave to JAMAiwuyor@gmail.com.