Black History Month: The People Changing the Face of Entertainment

To mark the end of Black History Month, Aneeka Hussain celebrates the most exciting BME figures in the entertainment industry.

Recently, there has been a lot of buzz surrounding the breakthroughs by black actors. Their work is no longer being viewed as separate but is being integrated within the mainstream. Although we are seeing improved representation onscreen, black creatives that tell stories through directing, producing and writing are still being massively overlooked.

The white, privileged male is allowed a comparatively luxurious journey to the top. We have become so used to the Etonian template in all aspects of society, that overlooking the talent of black individuals occurs without a second thought. This is where the creative industry proves particularly guilty. Black women are supported even less, having to work twice as hard as their white counterparts to achieve recognition. Misconceptions infiltrate our society and make it even more difficult to administer change. The main one being that movies with all-black casts are doomed to fail due to a lack of audience interest. These myths are now finally being put aside, as more people of colour are coming forward to shape the creative industry in new ways.  

Image: New York Times

There are not enough words to show enough praise for Ava DuVernay. Being the first African-American woman to win the Best Director Prize at the Sundance Film Festival is just one of the many victories she has to her name. DuVernay has worked to rid film of toxic stereotypes surrounding black people. Her movie Selma, is one of many ground-breaking pieces, displaying a powerful take on History that effectively contributes to a wider social and political purpose.

Moonlight, is an enchanting movie that will go down in history for its fresh, new take on exploring one’s identity. It is based on the play Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, who was awarded the Academy Award for Best Screenplay. Director Barry Jenkins is confidently steering the business in the correct direction as the movie deals with themes of emotional abuse and sexuality. Talented black writers are no longer being asked to take a backseat; the film stars an all-black cast and a gripping storyline showcasing the development of protagonist Chiron. McCraney’s work encapsulates emotion like no other and is especially important for bringing a soulful narrative to the big screen.

Image: Hollywood Reporter

If you haven’t heard of Issa Rae then prepare for your life to change for the better. Her popularity grew through YouTube where she creates videos that focus mainly on all-black casts. More importantly, Rae created the Awkward Black Girl series, encouraging openness and bringing a complex portrayal of African-American women to the forefront. Her work in the industry has expanded to writing and producing the comedy series Insecure among several other projects. Rae has an authenticity about her making her that trustworthy, older sister figure that we all need a dose of in our lives.

Screenwriter Misan Sagay, who has been vocal about black women needing to step up to write their own stories. Claiming that, ‘I am not writing for black people to be extraordinary, I am fighting for the right for black to people to be ordinary’ makes her work even more appealing. It is very revealing of how minorities are always expected to be taking risks to make their voices heard. This systematic barring forces self-doubt and uncertainty about one’s work when really, society is structured to prevent their progress. Sagay’s film Belle, follows the life of Dido, the daughter of an enslaved African woman. This film is key for focusing on a fresh new perspective of the life of a mixed-race woman who lives as an aristocrat.

Image: Capital T Theatre

Kahlil Joseph’s extensive work on music videos and short films that has completely altered the course of the Arts industry. He directed the iconic visuals for Beyonce’s Lemonade album. Sixty minutes of breath-taking visuals with symbolism that leaves a lasting impression. It features the spellbinding words of Warsan Shire and powerful excerpts from speeches by Malcolm X and is a beautiful coming together of Art by pioneering black creatives. This one project created a united space for people of colour from all walks of life. As well as this, his short films have even been exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. His short film, accompanied by music from Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city album, shows images of childhood innocence generating uneasiness alongside the frantic scenes of gunshot fire. Joseph’s work cannot be categorised in simple terms; it has too much depth and emotion for that. Making you think in ways you never thought possible, and evoking profound feelings that leave you dazed for days, is an inevitable result of Joseph’s talent.

These individuals clearly represent a new wave of incomparable talent. It is time to encourage more black people to come forward about their experiences so that they can pave a new way.

Aneeka Hussain

(Image courtesy of Bet)