Movies about race are most often — like very, very, very often — biopics and/or fictionalized documents of historical events. Don’t get me wrong, I think films like Selma and 12 Years a Slave can be amazing and important [Steve McQueen forever!], but the films on this list are refreshingly divergent from the norm. From the powerful oscar-bait biopic to the toxic white savior narrative, these filmmakers have thrown away all those recipes studios and filmmakers normally follow to make racially themed movies.
These movies focus primarily on Black Americans, and they’ve all been created by people of color. Each is a fresh, vital contribution to the larger cultural conversation.
Anyway, here are five mold-breaking antiracist movies that you should DEFINITELY watch.
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Da 5 Bloods
Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing is the quintessential example of the mold shattering antiracist movie, so it should come as no surprise that he shows up on this list.
In his follow-up to BlacKkKlansman — which, despite being based on a real person, could have made this list in its own right — the director has delivered one of the Spike Lee-est Spike Lee Joints that ever Spike Lee-d. His stylized approach to filmmaking is used to great effect to tell an emotionally powerful story that tackles perennially relevant issues — like race, war, politics, family, mental illness, guilt and money — in a world where America used Black, Vietnamese, and poor White bodies as cannon fodder in pursuit of consolidating power and wealth for the American ruling class.
For my money, this is one of Lee’s best films, and Delroy Lindo should win all of the things.
By the way, if you still haven’t seen Do the Right Thing, now would be a great a time to rectify that!
[[I feel like it would be wrong to mention this movie without mourning co-star Chadwick Boseman; a remarkable talent, and by all the accounts I’ve seen, a good man. Rest in Power, Mr. Boseman. Wakanda Forever.]]
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Oakland’s own Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal wrote and star in this powerful, remarkably singular piece of filmmaking. Set in today’s Oakland, Blindspotting tells a poignant story at the intersection of race, gentrification, police violence, criminal justice, and prejudice, and it does so with energy and humor, somehow managing to feel ebullient even as it tackles dark themes with gravity.
You’ve never seen anything like Blindspotting before. It’s the movie we didn’t know we needed [or wanted], but absolutely did. Watch it!
Also, can we all agree to offer up thanks to whatever gods gave us Daveed Diggs?
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Queen & Slim
Like Blindspotting, Queen & Slim is a truly unique film. Writer Lena Waithe and director Melina Matsoukas collaborated to tell a heartbreakingly beautiful story that not only transcends the all too common lazy, paint-by-numbers movies about race, but transcends the majority of films of any sort.
It’s a love on the run road movie where literally everything works: the visual style, the characterization, the tension, the performances, the humor, the dialogue, the locatedness in the cultural conversation, etc. etc. etc.
Seriously, friends, can you just watch all the movies on this list?
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Dear White People
Dear White People is a razor-sharp comedy that feels like a series of Black-led conversations on racism, distilled into a movie. It provides a clear-eyed glimpse into some of the microaggressions, appropriation, power dynamics, and other bullshit Black people have to deal with every single day, challenging the unchecked beliefs, assumptions, and blind spots that keep white people, like me, participating in and feeding racism. Also, it’s not as heavy as the above films.
The movie has since been adapted into a Netflix show, which is still running at the time of this writing.
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Okay, okay, okay, I know everyone’s already seen this one, but how could I leave Get Out off this list?! It’s an all-timer.
So, you know, go watch Get Out again.