Last month’s uproar regarding the lack of diversity in the 2016 Oscar nominations is still a hot topic on everyone’s lips. It is purported that even Sylvester Stallone potentially would have joined the boycott of the Oscars, along with celebrities Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee. The revival of the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite on social media means that this is not the first time people of color have been excluded from rightfully receiving recognition. With statistics like the voter pool for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences being over 95% white, over 75% male, and all at least 60 years old (according to an L.A. Times study from 2012), the waters are looking choppy in regards to racial inclusivity. But fear not- last summer, one of the few female African American executives in Hollywood was given the title of Academy President - Cheryl Boone Isaacs. With this new ascension, we can only hope that this fresh blood will reform and rejuvenate the film industry, with initiatives starting in the year 2020 to bring vivid color to an otherwise monochromatic industry.
Until the Academy’s endeavors can be directly seen and felt, here is a compilation of five captivating films that are directed (and led!) by people of color:
1. Creed. Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan collaborate again after having given us Fruitvale Station (another must-see, available on Netflix) for what seems to be the epilogue to the beloved Rocky series. Adonis Johnson (Jordan) never knew his famed father, boxer Apollo Creed, and so he seeks mentorship from the retired Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). Coogler received high praise for this film’s direction, as well as Jordan’s riveting performance - yet it was Sylvester Stallone who was nominated Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
2. Straight Outta Compton. From the director of Friday and Set It Off, Straight Outta Compton was a highly anticipated film detailing the turbulent ascent to fame of hip-hop group N.W.A. The excitement for this movie was palpable- from “Straight Outta” Facebook filters to enthusiastic reception of Dr. Dre’s album Compton, we were one dookie chain away from bringing back the 80s. This film actually did get at least one nomination, but for its screenplay, which was penned by two people not of color.
3. Beasts of No Nation. Based on the book by Uzodinma Iweala and directed by Cary Fukunaga, diversity is no issue here in this gripping Netflix original film. Set in West Africa, Beasts of No Nation tells the story of Agu, who is forced to become a child soldier after his father is murdered during a civil war. The esteemed Idris Elba plays the austere Commandant, who leads the mercenary unit in which Agu is thrust into. This film is a heartbreaking eye-opener into the violent and scary reality many nameless children face in times of civil unrest.
4. Dope. Nigerian-American writer and director Rick Famuyiwa knocks it out of the cinematic ballpark with this crime/dramedy film based in sunny Inglewood, California. Dope details the misadventures of one Malcolm Adekanbi and his friends Jib and Diggy, who are teased for their obsession (flat-top haircuts, acid-wash denim, the whole nine yards) with 1990’s hip-hop that borders on anachronistic. After a rather eventful night partying with Dom, played by rapper A$AP Rocky, the three musketeers are thrust into quite the situation when a stash of ecstasy is found stuffed into Malcolm’s backpack.
5. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Glee and American Horror Story are two notches on Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’s director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s big-screen belt. His
obviously versatile writing capacity gave birth to this coming-of-age dramedy, which spins the tale of the awkward Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann), a high school senior who is forced into rekindling his friendship with his former childhood friend Rachel Kushner (Olivia Cooke) by his parents after it is revealed that she has been diagnosed with leukemia. Similar to the box office hit The Fault in Our Stars, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl mixes wisecracking humor and sobering reality to deliver an emotional and insightful film.
Article by Cali Ann Tran