2013 was quite a year for black film. There were more movies featuring black folks in prominent roles then I can remember in quite sometime. Who knows if that continues going into 2014, but we’ll see. With that said, here are my picks:
Movie of the Year: Fruitvale Station
Excellent job by actor-director duo Michael B. Jordan and Ryan Coogler. I remember when the murder of Oscar Grant took place in January 2009 and it affected me deeply. I felt Coogler and Jordan did a damn good job of depicting Grant not as a saint, but as a human being with triumphs and flaws just like everyone else. Though you know the ending going in, it still tugs at your heart to see it all play out in the film
Runner-up: 12 Years A Slave & Lincoln
“12 Years A Slave” is not an easy movie to watch, but it is certainly one that is worth watching. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives an Oscar worthy perfromance as Solomon and Lupita Nyong’o deserves consideration as well for her role as Patsey. As for “Lincoln,” Daniel Day-Leiws is just that good. Though “Lincoln” technically came out last year, I wound up seeing it to a packed theater last February.
Good Job, Good Effort: The Butler
Listen, I appreciated “The Butler” and I enjoyed the performances of Forest Whitaker, Oprah, David Oyelowo and even the cameos by David Banner and Mariah Carey. The cinematography was very good and the story wasn’t bad; but I still left “The Butler” feeling somewhat disappointed. Certain scenes seemed completely unrealistic – even for film – such as when David Oyelowo’s character, Louis Gaines, goes from marching with Dr. King one moment to sitting at a home in Oakland lounging with the Black Panthers the next. I left feeling that the movie, while good, could have been more.
I found it funny how there were so many people who were “surprised” and “shocked” that the film “The Best Man Holiday” had done so well at the box office last weekend. It’s as if the national media was shocked that so many black people came out to support a film where the main characters looked like them for a change. Then there was the USA Today article on “race-themed movies.”
The article seemed innocuous enough, but the headline “‘Holiday’ nearly beats ‘Thor’ as race themed films soar,” left me shaking my head. “Best Man Holiday” made over $30 million in its opening weekend, just behind “Thor” at $34 million, but where USA Today is wrong is labeling “Best Man Holiday” a race-themed film. Just because it’s a film that features a predominately black cast doesn’t make it anymore about race than the gluttony of films made up of all white casts that are never viewed as being about race.
What this also reveals is that when it comes to identifying with characters, white audiences are not asked to identify with black characters the same way in which black audiences are asked to relate to white characters. This is mainly due to the fact in my opinion that there are far more films with white leads or predominately white casts (with blacks playing ancillary roles) that it seems almost normal as to be expected in most films. When it comes to films featuring mainly black folks, these films are looked at as out of the norm not only because of the racial breakdown of the cast, but because there are so few of them. As a white individual you can look past these films and know that 90% of major Hollywood productions will feature casts that most resemble you. As a person of color, you simply do not have that option.
So when somebody points out “Best Man Holiday” as being ‘race-themed’ and compares it to films such as “Fruitvale Station,” “The Butler,” and “12 Years A Slave,” films where race does play a central role, it shows a lack of understanding. It’s as if to say because all these films feature back people prominently, they must all be saying the same thing. That’s like someone comparing “That 70’s Show” and “Sex and the City” to each other because they both feature overwhelmingly white casts.
In the midst of all this last week, I thought about this billboard announcing NBC’s 2013 Fall Comedy lineup. Notice anything?
I don’t recall any national headlines about NBC’s ‘race-themed’ comedy lineup. Just saying.