Between COVID-19, numerous accounts of extralegal killings of Black Americans, and one of the toughest fights for a free and fair vote in recent history, 2020 left all of us a little worse for the wear in multiple ways. So much so that we may need a break from on-screen depictions of racism-based trauma and struggles, though these stories are also part of the broader narrative of Black life.
Below is a selection of films, some classics you might want to revisit, some more recent that deserve discovery. Some are dramas, some are comedies. Overall, they tell quality stories about Black people and lives, without incorporating tragedy as part of the on-screen narrative.
Overview of the history, business, and cultural aspects of Black fine art. The films trace Black art in America’s trajectory from the landmark “Two Centuries of Black American Art”in 1976, to the emergence of prominent artists, art historians, curators, and art collectors of today. Features Kehinde Wiley, Amy Sherald, Swizz Beats, Sarah Lewis, and Thelma Golden.
Run, don’t walk to your TV to watch this hilarious, touching, bittersweet, comedy-drama that subverts conventional notions of Black masculinity, male bonding, and friendship. Stars Jonathan Majors (“Lovecraft Country”), Danny DeVito, and Tichina Arnold.
Love hits hard for Ayanna (Zora Howard), a talented, working-class 17-year-old New York City poet in the throes of her first real romance with an older musician.
Actor and director Terence Nance take viewers on a fantastic voyage into the examination, then re-examination of a romance between college sweethearts that has come to an end. The film is told in Nance’s trademark surreal style.
An oddball teen from upstate New York and his parents spend vacation with their bougie relatives, including his Black Republican uncle, on Martha’s Vineyard.
A relentlessly charming retelling of the start of Barack Obama and then-Michelle Robinson’s courtship in Chicago. Set to the soundtrack of ’80s R&B and hip hop, what emerges is not only a romance, but a revelation of how scarily smart and politically astute students of human behavior that both Obamas have always been.
A soulful take on the classic tale “The Wizard of Oz,” starring music legends, the late Michael Jackson and Diana Ross.
“Jingle Jangle” is technically a colorful Christmas movie, but the story of disaffected inventor Jeronicus Jangle reconnecting with his youthful passion and his family is touching and hopeful any time of year.
Viola Davis’ knockout dramatic performances in her series “How To Get A Way With Murder,” and her movies such “Fences” are only the tip of the iceberg. Davis is also a great comedic actress, as displayed in this delightful comedy where she plays the reluctant “Birdie Scout” troop leader for a group of misfit kids in 1970s rural Georgia.
Lush New York City-set period piece about the hurdles two soul mates must clear in order to be together.
One of the best movies of 2020, this episode from British Director Steve McQueen’s “Small Axe” anthology series showcased to great effect the Jamaica-invented 1970’s musical genre “lovers rock.” Its sultry Caribbean vibes heighten excitement during a house party where two British-Caribbean young adults meet and begin to fall for each other.
Eddie Murphy charms as a fish-out-of-water African Prince who comes to gritty New York to find his bride. A new installment was recently released, but nothing beats this classic.
Halle Berry, Eddie Murphy, and Robin Givens star in this classic romantic comedy where a lothario finally gets what’s coming to him in the most hilarious of ways.
Streaming on KweliTV, this short film is based on real events of 1969 when a newly liberated Zambia dared to dream of sending one of their own into space: 17-year-old Matha Mwamba. A complementary doc about this episode in Zambian history is also on YouTube.
Streaming on the newly launched NY African Film Festival website, this is a captivating tale of a group of pre-adolescent friends in Senegal.
Gugu Mbatha Raw stars as a world-renowned pop star who has everything, except happiness.
Four close, lifelong friends—all successful in their careers—take off on a star (and laughs) studded, raucous trip to New Orleans to attend the Essence Festival.
This fact-based film chronicles the achievements of four Black American mathematicians and scientists who played a role in pioneering the American space program—a history long shrouded to support the myth of Black inferiority.
The iconic scene of Leonard Roberts and Nick Cannon aiming drumsticks at each other is but one of many reasons to watch this exceedingly entertaining tale of a classic rivalry between two great musicians each battling their own egos as much as each other.
Lovie Simone (“Greenleaf”) is the Queen Bee with the deadliest sting, in the hallowed corridors of elite Haldwell School. Here, it’s the students who have the power. And they use it for more than just getting high… scores. Jharrel Jerome (“Moonlight”) has some stunning dramatic moments and Jesse Williams (“Grey’s Anatomy”) as the clueless headmaster, is a bonus.
Based on the Marvel comics, this superhero film which dramatized an Africa that had not experienced colonialism, was one of the highlights of the past twenty or so years in film.
Classic romantic drama about childhood friends and neighbors in a well-to-do Los Angeles suburb, who share a passion for playing basketball and, as they become adults, for each other.