This week’s watchlist honours Black History Month by looking at 3 very different (but all excellent) films, each hugely significant in their own right both as pieces of cinema and cultural landmarks. These films are recommended with a special shout-out to Ava DuVernay who’s responsible for this week’s Friday/Saturday double bill and is surely set to become one of the most influential people of colour in film of our generation.
Friday – Selma (Genre: Historical Drama)
Stephen Spielberg owns the cinematic rights to Martin Luther King Jr.’s life story and, by extension, his speeches (weird right?!) – Selma’s not his, so the first thing that deserves praising in this fantastic film is Paul Webb’s writing. Despite some criticism on the historical accuracy (particularly the Lyndon B Johnson character), Webb’s words provide the foundation upon which David Oyelowo builds an astonishing performance. Utterly gripping, convincing, his omission from the Oscar nominations for best actor remains baffling and looks particularly awful in a field of entirely white nominees. The film depicts the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches and is delivered with technical astuteness and emotional heft, with the soundtrack highlighted by the unmissable ‘Glory’.
Saturday – 13th (Genre: Documentary)
This documentary dives into the constitutional links between slavery and the prison industrial complex, providing an incredibly eye-opening and disturbing insight into how and why the criminalization of the black community has been perpetuated. The film essentially forms an excellently put together and easy to follow argument, opting for a cool and measured delivery that tracks the legislative and financial path trodden post-civil war and the corresponding harrowing effects on the black community. It provides an new context for the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement and shines a revealing light on an issue we often hear the end results of but fail to see the root cause.
Sunday – Boyz n the Hood (Genre: Drama)
Culturally and historically significant, not least because it earned John Singleton two Oscar nominations for Best Director (first black nominee) and Best Original Screenplay (third and most recent black nominee), this iconic piece of cinema tackles life in South Central LA and the difficulties its inhabitants face growing up surrounded by violence and crime. It boasts a fantastic cast featuring a young Cuba Gooding Jr (of The People vs OJ Simpson), Ice Cube and Laurence Fishburne and an emotive, challenging narrative that allows them to shine. Singleton’s characters are troubled and textured and just wonderfully written, tortured by the choices they have made and the consequences. Both tragic and uplifting (in a way – small victories mean something) it’s essential viewing.
(Image courtesy of Salty Popcorn Movie Review)