By Jordan Brown, Section Editor
As Black History Month comes to an end, it’s only appropriate to address the exhausting journey that black people as a race are still on and have been on since 400 years ago, when a world of possibilities was taken from us. In 2019, there are many forms of media that advocates for equal opportunities and retells of the multitude of struggles black people have had to endure in the last years, ranging from the horrors of slavery to fighting for equal rights during the Civil Rights Movement.
The most popular form to retell our stories of triumph riddled with sacrifice is through film. The film industry has a long history of whitewashing or stifling actors and directors of color for reasons unknown, which is frequently assumed to be prejudice. However, there are movies, both popular and unknown, that have significant impacts on the black community that gives a feeling of pride in seeing someone that looks like you on the screen.
A very popular black film that took 2018 by storm was the three-time Academy Award winner “Black Panther”, directed by Ryan Coogler. Besides winning three Oscars, “Black Panther” is the highest grossing film ever directed by a black director and the ninth highest grossing film of all time. Most importantly, it portrays black actors in a new light, instead of in bondage or fighting for their life in one of the many movements and associations created by and for black people in the years. Several historians, activists, and psychologists have praised the film for its representation and portrayal of black people as in-depth, three-dimensional characters. For example, historian Nathan B. Connolly wrote that the film tapped into a “500-year history of African-descended people imagining freedom, land and national autonomy.” For the black community, a movie that centers around black people in prosperity regarding their technology while still rooted in traditional practices allows us to be proud of our identity in a world where we are repeatedly punished for it.
Another, and perhaps underappreciated, one of Coogler’s directing career is “Fruitvale Station”, Coogler’s first feature-length film that also stars Michael B. Jordan that depicts the life and death of Oscar Grant, a man killed by two police officers in Oakland, California in 2009. This film wasn’t nominated for an Oscar or Golden Globe but it did win close to half of the 77 awards it and its director was nominated for, having major success at the Gotham Awards, NAACP Image Awards, and the Sundance Film Festival. Although this movie doesn’t have the glitz and glamour of Afrofuturism and superheroes like “Black Panther”, it does tug at the heartstrings with a subject that black people are all too familiar with: police brutality. It ropes you into Grant’s life and lets you see behind the closed door that the public doesn’t really see when cases of police brutality show up in the papers. It lets you become attached to him and feel the rage and only a portion of the immense grief that his family and the nation felt after his death.
A movie buried in Denzel Washington’s extensive filmography is “The Great Debaters”, which depicts a debate coach named Melvin B. Tolson that taught at Wiley College and fought to have his debate team on equal standing with other schools in the 1930s, a time where Jim Crow ruled with an iron fist. “Great Debaters” was almost completely looked over in awards season but is being recognized because it sugarcoats just enough to be considered PG-13 without taking the meaning away from the work as a whole. Washington doesn’t shy away from the vicious and murderous racism targeted at black people in America during that time, especially when black people trying to ascend the social ladder through education. It’s an hour and a half long reminder that black students in 2019 should be grateful and appreciative of the students, like those at Wiley College, that paved the way for us to excel in higher education today.
In a country surrounded by divisiveness and lies coming from all levels of authority, black people deserve to know that there are movies (along with other forms of media) that portray us as smart, capable, three-dimensional, and powerful people.