2013 is shaping up to be a great year for black cinema. And the timing couldn’t be better. For years American filmgoers have been highly critical of the paucity of films featuring black actors in diverse, interesting, and entertaining roles. Over the last few years Tyler Perry has been the only black producer that seems able to get a major movie deal in Hollywood anytime he wants.
Part of the problem is that movies with a black theme don’t travel well. Perry, for example, rarely releases his movies to the international market and white audiences routinely shun movies that have a black-centric theme. Another issue is patronage. Black audiences are notorious for not supporting black artists and white audiences tend to have a racial empathy gap for movies with a majority-black cast. Finally, subject matter has always been a concern. Black audiences tend to prefer comedies and so-called “urban dramas” over romantic comedies and social-consciousness dramas.
That sets up the hypocritical quandary of black filmgoers complaining both about the dearth of content and the quality of content, even as their consumer dollars dictate both.
White audiences, on the other hand, far too frequently find it hard to suspend disbelief long enough to empathize with black characters, black culture, or the narrative of a black film.
All that is set to change in 2013 as a full suite of movies are being released that tell diverse stories with a diverse set of performers. The New York Times reports that in the second half of 2013 at least 10 movies will be released “including several awards contenders, from both independent and major distributors, like the Weinstein Company, Fox Searchlight and Universal Pictures.” Director and playwright David E. Talbert remarked that it “feels like a renaissance.”
Here’s a preview of the top 9.
1. Fruitvale Station
The film tells the true-life story of Oscar Grant, a young black man that was murdered on New Year’s Day in 2009 by Bay Area Rapid Transit police. The film is produced by Academy-Award winner Forrest Whitaker and was written and directed by Ryan Coogler. The film won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for U.S. dramatic films at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. The film stars Michael B. Jordan as Oscar Grant and Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer as Wanda Grant.
2. The Best Man Holiday
The Best Man Holiday is a sequel to 1999’s The Best Man, one of the most beloved movies in recent black cinema history. The film stars an ensemble cast of some of the best black actors in the business, including Taye Diggs, Monica Calhoun, Morris Chestnut, Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan, Regina Hall, Harold Perrineau, Melissa De Sousa, and Nia Long. The cast recreates their roles as college friends who reunite over the Christmas holiday.
3. The Butler
The Butler is “based on the real-life account of Eugene Allen, who served as a White House butler during eight American presidencies from 1952 to 1986.” The film stars Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Mariah Carey. The historical drama tells the story of significant events in the 20th century as seen through the eyes of the African-American butler. The large cast also stars Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower, Liev Schrieber as Lyndon Johnson, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, and Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan. Jane Fonda stars as Nancy Reagan, James Marsden plays John Kennedy, and Minka Kelly portrays Jacqueline Kennedy.
4. Baggage Claim
Baggage Claim is a romantic comedy by director and playwright David E. Talbert. The film stars Paula Patton, Boris Kodjoe, Taye Diggs, Derek Luke, Djumon Hounsou, Jill Scott, Lauren London, and Trey Songz. The film is based on the novel of the same name.
5. Black Nativity
Black Nativity is a modern-day adaptation of Langston Hughes’ 1961 play. It tells the story of the relationship between a struggling single mother and her son, as he learns the power of family and faith. The musical stars Academy Award winners Jennifer Hudson and Forrest Whitaker. It also includes Mary J. Blige, Angela Bassett, Tyrese Gibson, and the rapper Nas.
6. 12 Years a Slave
This film tells the true story of Solomon Northup, a free man that was sold into slavery. The film is directed by Steve McQueen and the stellar ensemble cast includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong'o, Adepero Oduye, Sarah Paulson, and Michael Kenneth Williams.
7. Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas
This is the latest release from the hugely successful Madea franchise. Tyler Perry reprises his role of the thuggish, but strangely charming elderly woman. In this film, Madea helps a friend visit her daughter during the holiday season.
8. Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain
The hottest stand-up comic in the business brings his comedy to the big screen. The documentary chronicles his world tour leading up to his appearance at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. The film features two black directors, Leslie Small and Tim Story. Hart won a BET Best Actor Award for his role in Think Like a Man and currently stars in the faux reality TV series, Real Husbands of Hollywood.
9. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
The biopic of the legendary South African leader stars Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela and Naome Harris as Winnie Mandela.