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10 Must-See Black-Led Films from the 2010s

These Black-led films reflect the turbulent times we were and are in, and each of them helps us reflect, rejoice, and escape.

The 2010s feel like they were comprised of three decades, all stuffed into one. With its default setting being “long and endless”. However, as Black artists tend to do, certain writers, filmmakers, and musicians decided to rise to the occasion—making art that reflected the turbulent times we were in. Some choose to help us reflect. Some chose to help us rejoice. And others choose to help us escape. Particularly where film is concerned.

So without further ado, here’s a list of ten must-see Black-Led films from the 2010s:

1. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (2018)

Academy-award winning film Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse follows Afro-Latinx teen, Miles Morales, in a coming of age story… that happens to also include superheroes, radioactive spiders, and alternate, but shared dimensions referred to as “the Multi-Verse”.

If you are a fan of Spider-Man, you will recognize the familiar story beats and characters (re: a recurring Uncle Ben-esque twist, characters like Doc Ock, Kingpin, The Green Goblin, that nearly tired-ass “With Great Power…” speech, etc). And you will also appreciate the new life that is breathed into Spider-Man’s mythos thanks to creative minds like director Peter Ramsey, dynamic duo Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, and a star-studded voice cast that includes the likes of Shameik Moore, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, John Mulaney, Nicolas Cage, Liev Schreiber, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld. And more.

And did I mentioned that this film is visually-fucking-stunning?

2. Moonlight (2016)

Moonlight is yet another coming-of-age drama that follows the life of protagonist, Chiron, as he navigates life as a Black kid (and later adult) from Miami who is struggling and also coming to terms with his burgeoning sexuality.

Adapted from writer Tarell Alvin McCraney’s unpublished semi-autobiographical play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue and directed by Barry Jenkins after he returned from an eight-year hiatus, the film features a monster-of-a-cast including Trevante Rhodes, Jharrel Jerome, Mahershala Ali, André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Ashton Sanders, and Naomie Harris. It went on to become the first film with an all-Black cast and the first LGBTQIA+ film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture.

There’s a lot more to say about this emotionally poignant film with nigh-perfect cinematography to boot (I mean, have you ever seen Black people be that well-lit on screen?), but I’ll just let you watch it.

3. Fruitvale Station (2013)

Fruitvale Station is a biopic that follows the life of Oscar Grant III and depicts it all the way up until his senseless murder on New Years Day 2009. Starring Michael B. Jordan and functioning as the feature directorial debut for director Ryan Coogler, the film is a fairly intimate peek into the life of a Black man who was just trying to get his shit together, only to have his life unjustly stolen away.

It’s a painful film, but a necessary one that standouts out among all the other films of the decade that claim to be inspired by Black Lives Matter, The Ferguson Uprising, and The Movement for Black Lives.

4. Get Out (2017)

Get Out is probably the most delightfully wild film I had the pleasure of seeing this decade. Calling it a horror film doesn’t even do it enough justice. In fact, I’d opt to describe it as Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner 2… as written by someone who is clearly bizarre, who clearly has impeccable comedic timing, and who clearly was influenced by the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg. With that someone being writer-director Jordan Peele.

Serving as Peele’s feature directorial debut, Get Out follows Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), a young Black photographer, who is off for the weekend to finally meet the family of his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Alison Williams). And it only gets more chaotic from there. The film was met with widespread acclaim for its brutally humorous and honest portrayal of white liberalism, complicity from other marginalized groups (aka “The Model Minority”), and its surprising inversion of the White Savior trope. The film scored an Academy Award for Best Screenplay and introduced American audiences to the likes of Kaluuya and Lil Rel Howery.

5. Dope (2015)

Dope is a coming-to-age film wrapped up in all the trappings of a great dramedy. The film follows high school senior Malcolm Adekanbi (Shameik Moore) his friends Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori) as they bond over school, 1990s hip-hop culture, the creation of their own punk band, and whether they’ll be going to college. But the story then takes a turn when they meet a drug dealer called Dom (ASAP Rocky) and chaos ensues.

Directed by Rick Famuyiwa and produced by the likes of Forest Whitaker, Pharrell Williams, and Diddy, the film is quite colorful and so much fucking fun, with the added bonus of a stellar soundtrack that features artists like Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, and more. The film is also rounded out by an incredible cast that includes Zoë Kravitz, Lakeith Stanfield, Roger Guenveur Smith, Quincy Brown, Rick Fox, and such.

Recommended: THE MAGIC OF ‘FAST COLOR’ AND EVERYTHING IT IS UP AGAINST
6. Pariah (2011)

Pariah can be described both as an indie film and a coming-to-age film that follows the life of Alike (Adepuro Oduye), a 17-year-old Black girl who is slowly coming to terms with the fact that she is a lesbian.

Years before its spiritual successor, Moonlight, would take the world by storm, Pariah served as the feature film debut of director Dee Rees and garnered praise for its unflinching yet intimate look at Black adolescence, sexual exploration, and the religion-fueled homophobia that plagues our community—bolstered by a standout performance by Oduye.

7. Attack The Block (2011)

Attack The Block is a film that follows a teen gang led by a Black kid called Moses (John Boyega) as they quite literally defend their South London block from an impending alien invasion on Guy Fawkes Night. The film combines science-fiction, horror, and comedy to create something amazing and simultaneously chaotic.

This film is a must-see because it arguably started the [well-deserved] hype train around actor John Boyega and features Black people in roles and genres where we are traditionally reduced to tokens or random/sacrificial deaths. It’s a fun film that begs for the expansion of a “What would Black people do during an alien invasion” genre.

8. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

While most would describe Beasts of the Southern Wild as a mere drama, it would be more accurate to describe it as an ecological fantasy film, with solid roots in reality. The film stars actress Quevenzhané Wallis as Hushpuppy and follows her and her father Wink (Dwight Henry) as they seek to navigate, escape, and survive an impending storm that threatens to wipe out their southern Louisiana community known as “The Bathtub”.

The film scored Wallis her first Academy Award nomination at age 6, making her the youngest ever to be nominated for an award in the Best Actress category. And it is notable for tackling the rising effects of climate change in a way that does not purposely omit one of the communities that face its greatest risks: Black people in rural areas.

9. Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther is a film titled after its namesake, a Marvel superhero who debuted all the way back in 1966—a mere three months before the Black Panther Party would make itself known. The film follows newly-appointed monarch T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) as he mourns his father’s death and must prep himself to be the fierce and revered leader that Wakanda, a technologically-advanced African nation that puts the rest of the “free-world” to shame, needs. Of course, this all quickly goes to shit when his sovereignty is challenged by his cousin Erik (Michael B. Jordan)—who has a decades-long ax to grind.

While it is commonly referred to as a superhero film, the film leans more into its sci-fi and fantasy influences and tells an interwoven, African diasporic story that includes tales of revenge, hopes for revolution, and imagines what would happen in a world where Africa was not colonized by various European powers. And if the film being directed by visionary Ryan Coogler is not enough of a draw for you, consider watching it for a stacked cast that includes Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis.

10. Widows (2018)

Widows is a dramatic heist film that follows four Chicago women—led by Veronica (Viola Davis) who are widowed after their husbands are killed after a botched armed robbery attempt. After they are approached by crime boss Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry)—who their husbands stole from—and threatened, the women band together to finish the heist that their husbands started.

That is literally all I can say without spoiling what was one of the more enjoyable and also batshit movies I had the pleasure of seeing last year. The film is a thrilling delight, which is unsurprising coming from director Steve McQueen. Davis completely kills it as the lead, as does Henry and Daniel Kaluuya—who played his scary enforcer brother Jatemme Manning. Widows didn’t get quite the hype it deserved during its initial theatrical run, but I think it’s safe to say that it has grabbed hold of much-deserved cult classic status.


Honorable Mentions:

The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)

Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

Fast Color (2018)

Us (2019)

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