Ten unmissable films by black directors that are streaming right now
The Black Lives Matter movement has poured a bucket of cold water in the face of a sleeping world, reminding us to sit up, take notice and most importantly, learn. Education is not a quick or definitive process, but the best way to start is to listen to black stories told by black voices. This doesn’t just mean books: cinema can also play an important part in our cultural awakening. The movie industry still has an incredibly long way to go in representing marginalised communities, but that makes it even more important not to miss some of the best works by black filmmakers featuring on streaming services right now.
Da Five Bloods, Netflix
Since directing She’s Gotta Have It back in 1983 (also one for the Netflix watchlist), Spike Lee has built up a catalogue of work so sharp you’re liable to get a papercut from turning the pages. His latest release, Da Five Bloods, follows five African American Vietnam vets as they return to search for the remains of their fallen comrade in arms – as well as a stash of hidden gold. This movie is an emotional time bomb, but it’s explosive in more ways than one.
If Beale Street Could Talk, Amazon Prime
Barry Jenkins stormed the cinema scene in 2016 with coming-of-age LGBT drama Moonlight, sweeping up the Best Picture Oscar (after it was notoriously awarded to Damien Chazelle by accident). His third critically acclaimed feature If Beale Street Could Talk is based on James Baldwin’s novel of the same name, and follows a captivating and tragic romance as a black couple navigate the corrupt legal system in 70s New York. A timely and timeless watch.
If you’re looking to really educate yourself about the current climate in America, this tight, deeply troubling documentary is the place to start. Directed by Ava DuVernay, the force behind the devastating miniseries When They See Us, the film examines the loopholes in America’s law enforcement that have allowed African Americans to be incarcerated and erased long after the bonds of slavery were supposedly broken. Talking to academics and social activists, the filmmaker tackles institutionalised racism and police brutality, holding a magnifying glass up to the 13th Amendment.
This film is an immersive homage to one of the most influential figures in the modern music scene – and society in general – Beyoncé herself. But what’s even more refreshing is that the iconic artist also worked behind the camera, crafting her own image in this enthralling concert doc. The movie features footage from the singer’s rehearsal and performance as the first woman to headline Coachella back in 2018, and it’s the perfect remedy to all those cancelled music festivals this summer. Just kick back and let the queen address her loyal subjects.
Beasts of No Nation, Netflix
Cary Joji Fukunaga’s film Beasts of No Nation is not an easy watch, but it’s an essential one. Raw and brutal, the American-Ghanaian production is set in war-torn West Africa, where a ruthless guerilla troop (led by a chilling Idris Elba) recruit an impressionable orphaned boy into their rebel unit, training him as a child soldier. Though the fictional feature is based on the 2005 novel by Nigerian-American author Uzodinma Iweala, it shines a light on the harrowing reality of many civil conflicts.
12 Years a Slave, Netflix and Amazon Prime
Steve McQueen’s tale of servitude and freedom is as epic as it is uncomfortable. The stalwart director bars no holds when presenting the dead-eyed, merciless face of slavery, sparing no lashes and letting the wounds stay open. Chiwetel Ejiofor is as captivating as ever in the lead role, taking us through his tense journey of tender love and terrible loss as he endures 12 years as a slave and then the scars of his trauma.
BlacKkKlansman, Now TV
If you’ve got a subscription to Now TV, you also need to check out Spike Lee’s 2018 hit BlacKkKlansman, which tells the unbelievable (but true) story of how Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first black officer in the Colorado Springs police department, infiltrated and exposed the local Klu Klux Klan chapter by posing as white on the phone. This film is sleek, stylish and scorching, with an ending that drags you right back to the present.
The Hate U Give, Now TV
George Tillman Jr’s The Hate U Give is a powerful tale of police brutality in the US told through the eyes of high-schooler Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg), who witnesses the shooting of her childhood best friend. Stenberg is captivating in the lead role alongside an incandescent Regina Hall, and their journey holds a mirror up to the current protests as a teenage girl rallies for her rights in a stand against racial violence.
Boyz n the Hood, Netflix
This classic 1991 crime drama has barely aged in 30 years, though since his breakout role in the movie, Cuba Gooding Jr has since matured into an Academy Award-winning actor. Director John Singleton’s impressive debut feature, which co-stars Ice Cube (since immortalised in 2018 film Straight Outta Compton) and Morris Chestnut, follows the struggles of three LA teens as they try to stay on the straight and narrow in an inner-city community polluted by drugs, violence and racism.
Blue Story, Amazon Prime
For anyone who thinks Black Lives Matter is only an American movement, Blue Story is a disillusioning tale of gang wars and corruption on our own South London streets. With knife crime at an alarming rate in the UK among teenage boys, it’s a stark reminder that socioeconomic inequality can kill. Writer, director and rapper Andrew Onwobolu brings his musical background into the fold, sampling Boyz n the Hood to create a confrontational British remix with a fresh soundtrack.