Remarkable strides were made in the Black film industry throughout 2012. From indies to blockbusters, films featuring a predominantly Black cast, helmed by a Black director and/or centering on Black culture demanded the spotlight thanks to the outstanding artistry displayed by new and seasoned talents alike.
Take, for instance, the critically acclaimed filmmaker Ava DuVernay, who became the first African-American woman to win the Sundance Film Festival’s Best Directing Award for her feature film, Middle of Nowhere. Oprah Winfrey tweeted praise for the film soon after, while lead actress Emayatzy Corinealdi earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination and won a Gotham Award for Breakthrough Actor. Director Victoria Mahoney’s coming-of-age drama Yelling to the Sky, starring Zoë Kravitz and Gabourey Sidibe, also arrived in theaters this December placing a spotlight on young women of color, a group all too often ignored on the silver screen.
“I chose a teenager because I’m interested in pivotal moments and events that force us into deciding who we are going to become from that moment forward,” Mahoney told EBONY.com.
Other indie darlings to dominate this year’s festivals and film buffs’ best-of lists included the magical Beasts of the Southern Wild (starring the excellent, 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis), the audacious Wolf, and the vibrant, animated love story, Chico & Rita. The Australian film The Sapphires added a Diasporic dimension to this year’s Black film selection, along with a feel-good, musical note. As for non-fiction, legendary filmmaker Ken Burns (Jazz, Baseball) brought an important, ongoing story of race, justice and the media to light in his latest documentary, Central Park Five.
Highly anticipated Black blockbuster films also created much buzz and made many headlines this year. Based on the similarly-titled Steve Harvey book, Think Like a Man boasted a cast of today’s top Black actors and actresses, including Kevin Hart, Taraji Henson and Michael Ealy. The romantic comedy confounded many when it scored over $99 million at the box office worldwide, an outstanding feat for any Black film sans Will Smith. In Flight, Oscar-winning icon Denzel Washington proved once again that he is, in fact, a master of his craft. No sooner had the film arrived in theaters than Washington began to receive Academy Award buzz for his compelling portrayal of an drug-addled hero pilot.
The long-awaited remake of the 1976 classic Sparkle was released just months after the shocking death of star Whitney Houston. The diva’s performance of “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” left few dry eyes in theaters across the country. Funnyman Mike Epps was lauded for his dramatic turn as Satin Struthers, but overall reviews were mixed.
In the end, African-American history turned out to be the main focus of the year’s two most talked about Black films: the George Lucas-produced Red Tails (directed by Anthony Hemingway) and Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. Countless blog posts and news stories addressed the controversies surrounding the two films: the influence of non-Black producers/directors in telling "Black stories," the complicated racial narratives presented, etc.
Red Tails floundered in ticket sales (and with most critics), despite efforts to rock the box office, whereas Django Unchained is opened hugely—just behind Les Misérables—with mixed reviews leaning towards the positive.
The year’s best Black films served as a launching pad for several rising stars while solidifying the expertise of the veterans. Films centered on the Black experience might still be far and few between in the larger scheme of Hollywood. But between forward-thinking individuals like Ava DuVernay, who launched the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement, and Beasts of the Southern Wild’s spellbinding young Wallis, 2012 made the future of Black films look a bit more promising.