The Black experience is so diverse culturally, socioeconomically, and ethnically that it’s difficult to summarize with one descriptive phrase. It is no one thing, but media culture can depict it as such. So it’s refreshing and much appreciated when films centering Black people show Blackness as something more than what it means to be Black to white people.
These films are worth watching for more reasons than one, and I attribute that in large part to the Black directors employed in their production.
I’ll admit I didn’t think a film about the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams was the most necessary story, especially on the heels of the 2012 documentary Venus and Serena, which I highly recommend. Then I saw King Richard, which was released on Nov. 19 by Warner Bros. and directed by Black and Latino director Reinaldo Marcus Green. The movie framed the tennis greats’ success from the perspective of a man who had been underestimated most of his life.
It was immediately evident why Richard Williams’ story as a Black man navigating decades of racism needed to be shared.
The IMDb synopsis:
“Richard Williams is determined to write his two daughters, Venus and Serena, into the history books. Training on tennis courts in Compton, Richard shapes the girls' adamant commitment and intense intuition. Together, the Williams family defies the odds.”
And Richard Williams, played by living legend Will Smith, did so in more ways than one. The most inspirational moment of the movie for me was his decision not to immerse Venus and Serena into a world of professional sports before he felt they were ready. He protected their innocence and their self-image in ways that at times felt intrusive, and in those moments, his wife Oracene—played by actress Aunjanue Ellis—was even more appreciated. She was present both as one of Serena and Venus’ earliest coaches and as the moral compass of the family, providing much-needed reality checks when ego—or more accurately, self-doubt—threatened to take over. That said, I wouldn’t mind a story focused exclusively on Oracene Price. Queen Oracene has a certain ring to it.
In Academy Award-winning actress Halle Berry’s directorial debut, she didn’t choose a picture perfect depiction of Black motherhood to showcase, and in many ways the Netflix film Bruised reinforces harmful stereotypes of what it means to be a Black woman and a Black mother.
The IMDb synopsis:
”Jackie Justice is a mixed martial arts fighter who leaves the sport in disgrace. Down on her luck and simmering with rage and regret years after the fight, she's coaxed into a brutal underground fight by her manager and boyfriend Desi and grabs the attention of a fight league promoter who promises Jackie a life back in the Octagon. But the road to redemption becomes unexpectedly personal when Manny - the son she gave up as an infant - shows up at her doorstep. A triumphant story of a fighter who reclaims her power, in and out of the ring, when everyone has counted her out.”
Jackie Justice, who Berry portrays, is a flawed character whose relationship with her own mother seems to have informed much of her poor decision-making as an adult, but there’s a reason I included this film, streamed on Nov. 24 on Netflix, in a list of Black people thriving. For all of her flaws and all of the obstacles she had to overcome, Justice still managed to evolve, to start to mend the broken parts of her, and to break a generational curse.
Aside from the plot of the movie, it will always be difficult for me to root against a Black woman who has risen professionally the way Berry has. She told CBS Mornings co-host Gayle King in December she didn't think directing a film was possible for her. "And I think many women don't,” Berry said. “We don't think it's possible to sort of take our destiny into our own hands this way, or in my case answer the call when destiny knocked because it wasn't what I planned to do."
The role she went on to star in was intended for a young white woman, specifically actress Blake Lively. Berry said she had to wait for Lively to pass on the role. “And in the time that I was waiting, I was re-imagining what the story could be, should be,” Berry explained, “why I thought it would be more relevant if it were a middle-age woman of color, and not a young woman who's being offered another chance but a middle-age woman who's being offered a last chance.
“The stakes felt so much higher," she added.
The Harder They Fall
Whenever Academy Award-winning actress Regina King joins actor Idris Elba on screen, you can pretty much just plan on seeing that film. It won’t disappoint, and the Netflix film The Harder They Fall most certainly did not. It was chock full of nods to Black culture, from the reggae-infused soundtrack to subtle acknowledgements of Black greats like a train dubbed "C.A. Boseman" after the late “Black Panther” actor Chadwick Boseman, who died last August of colon cancer.
Making his directorial debut with the film, music producer Jeymes Samuel told The Hollywood Reporter he was writing the score as he was writing the script. "Words have melodies,” Samuel said. “So when I’m writing the dialogue, talking things out, I’m hearing melodies. For me, the music, the songs, or the score or the film itself, they’re all the same thing for me. It’s all about storytelling.”
The film, which was streamed on Netflix Nov. 3 and boasts Grammy Award-winning rapper Jay-Z as a producer, has attracted a bit of Oscar buzz, one such potential being for the title track, “Guns Go Bang,” featuring rappers Kid Cudi and Jay-Z, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The movie itself is described by IMDb as a Western in which “outlaw Nat Love discovers that his enemy Rufus Buck is being released from prison” and “rounds up his gang to track Rufus down and seek revenge.” I, however, didn’t walk away from this movie with the impression that it was about violence. The takeaway I got from the film was that even though we may fight each other, the real enemy is white supremacy.
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