With the USA 2012 theatrical summer movie season coming to an unsatisfying end (to me anyway), and the fall/awards season films begin their hopeful campaigns for glory, what's there for us to look forward to with regards to what we call black cinema; or films that tell stories primarily about (or center heavily on) people of African descent?
Well, not a lot, which shouldn't be a big surprise. But instead of lamenting what we don't have, let's instead get excited about what we are looking forward to seeing.
In terms of films with stories that center primarily/heavily on black characters, there are very few; but you'll find a number of films that feature black characters in co-starring, supporting or peripheral roles.
But my emphasis here is on the former, not the latter.
I'm looking at both Hollywood releases as well as indies, here in the USA; obviously I don't have information on every single indie release, in every city around the country (I rely on you folks to alert me to any screenings that we don't already know about, as more indie filmmakers take matters into their own hands, releasing their films independently, without much fanfare, whether 4-walling, or via initiatives like AMC Independent).
From the list of upcoming releases I do have, here are 6 that I recommend you have on your short list of must-see films, along with my reasons for why they should be on your list.
1. Ava DuVernay's Middle Of Nowhere: This one shouldn't at all be a surprise. We've covered the film well enough, since its Sundance Film Festival 2012 debut, where I saw it. I later reviewed it here on S&A, and, in short, it was one of the stronger films I saw at Sundance this year, and is definitely worth your attention. Working with a larger budget than she did with I Will Follow, as well as a strong cast of actors, one thing I really loved about Ava's slow-burn of a drama, is its mature depiction of adult relationships. It's what I'd call a no-fuss work, but it gets the job done, thanks to the believable, seemingly natural performances by its cast (Emayatzy Corinealdi – photo above – David Oyelowo, Omari Hardwick, Lorraine Touissaint, and Edwina Findley), as well as award-winning DP Bradford Young's warm cinematography. The film was acquired jointly by Participant Media and AFFRM, to be released on October 12.
2. Django Unchained: Certainly not in need of an intro… I've already expressed my concerns with this movie in 2 or 3 different lengthy posts, so I won't rehash. But you may wonder why then, it's on this list. Well, simple enough – months before its release, it's already one of the most discussed films of 2012. I suspect it'll be polarizing nationally, but also within the black community, when it's released in December. It's one film I just couldn't ignore in coming up with this list. Obviously, I'll definitely be seeing it, because I need to be able to talk about it when the time comes. But I anticipate comment threads running into the 100s when the first S&A review of the film is posted (likely from either Sergio or myself). You should see it, because we'll most certainly be talking about it. You wouldn't want to be absent from the convo that will surely follow.
3. Brooklyn Castle: It's a documentary – one of two on this list of 5. As announced earlier this year, Sony Pictures and producer Scott Rudin purchased the remake rights to the doc that premiered at SXSW this year, where it won the audience award for best documentary. I saw it; I loved it. You can find my review of the film here. Brooklyn Castle (directed by Katie Dallamaggiore) is a documentary about I.S. 318, an inner-city public school that's home to the most-winning junior high school chess team in the country. But a series of deep public school budget cuts now threaten to undermine its hard-won success. It's an incredibly moving, portrait of black (and other minority) youth we rarely ever get to see on screen. I can understand why Sony would want to turn it into a scripted feature. See the doc before then. Indie distributor Producers Distribution Agency will release it on October 19 debut.
4. RZA's The Man With The Iron Fists: The rapper turned actor/director's feature film directorial debut, and one of the higher profile projects on this list. It stars RZA himself, Russell Crowe, Pam Grier, Lucy Liu and others; Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth served as producers on this $20 million project. In feudal China, a blacksmith (played by RZA) who makes weapons for a small village is put in the position where he must defend himself and his fellow villagers. We've seen the explosive trailer, but I'd say that it's still somewhat of a mystery at this point what the entire piece is going to look, sound and feel like. But I'm definitely curious. RZA learned from Tarantino, shadowing him on film sets, with Roth assisting in suring up the script. What could RZA have taken from the other 2 gentlemen and blended into his work, or how much influence they had on RZA's choices, remains t be seen. But, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't dying to find out.
5. Detropia: the second documentary on this list of 5. Another film we've lauded here on S&A, since its Sundance 2012 debut, where I saw it and reviewed. In short, I was moved by it. Co-directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, create an almost otherworldly look at a diminishing city – once a vibrant metropolis with almost 2 million inhabitants not-so-long ago, as workers (including many African Americans escaping the Jim Crow south) migrated north in search of jobs within all those then flourishing auto manufacturing plants, leading to a rise in the middle class; but now a city with around 700,000 people, a ghost of its former self, littered with abandoned buildings (skyscrapers and homes), empty lots and streets, that make it look as if a war broke out, or, as one person noted in the film, as if a bomb was dropped in the middle of the city. It's a film that must be experienced on the big screen. The filmmakers are releasing it independently – first in select theaters on September 7, and will continue to expand throughout the fall.
6. Flight: Denzel Washington as an alcoholic and drug-addicted pilot, on course towards a life-change who saves a flight from an engine malfunction, rescuing the plane and the passengers, and becoming a hero, only to find his non-public substance abuse problem, brought to light, thanks to an FAA investigation into the case. Oh, and by the way, the film reunites him with Don Cheadle. Directed by Robert Zemeckis – his first live-action film since 2000's Cast Away, with Tom Hanks – this one should be a bit of an unexpected dramatic doozy, from what I hear, and the trailer doesn't even begin to tell half of the story. I haven't seen it yet, so I'm just going based on what others who know more than I do, have said. But it's not a *pretty* role for Denzel. It's not necessarily a *bad* guy roles either. It should be a worthwhile character study. Besides, any movie with both Denzel and Don should be worth watching. Garcelle Beauvais also co-stars, playing Denzel's wife.
So there are 6 films to add to your list, if they aren't already on it.
Of course, there are others that we will surely discuss, like Tyler Perry as Alex Cross; I will certainly see it, but from all I've seen of it thus far, and what I know of Tyler Perry's past work (even though he didn't direct this one), I can't say that I have high expectations for it. But maybe we'll all be surprised!
And as for films that don't necessarily center on primarily on characters of African descent: Zoe Saldana plays Bradley Cooper's GF in The Words, Viola Davis shares screen time with Maggie Gyllenhaal in Won't Back Down (although I'm told that it's more Maggie's character's story, and Viola's role is more of a supporting one), Lee Daniels' The Paperboy (David Oyelowo co-stars), Halle Berry, David Gyasi and Keith David in Cloud Atlas, David Oyelowo again, S. Epatha Merkerson and Gloria Reuben in Lincoln, Chris Tucker in The Silver Linings Playbook, and a few others.
And of course, there are a few film festivals premiering several black films, but we'll tackle those in separate post, as we always do with film festival coverage.
What did I miss that's definitely on YOUR short list?