Some say the golden age of Black cinema was in the 1990s. After all, with films like Love Jones, Boyz N the Hood, Daughters of the Dust, Menace II Society, The Best Man, Waiting to Exhale, Get on the Bus, Slam, The Five Heartbeats, Eve’s Bayou, and Just Another Girl on the IRT—a sentimental fav—hitting theaters, it’s hard to argue they were wrong.
While the 1970s were ruled by heroes like Cleopatra Jones, Shaft, Truck Tuner and Foxy Brown, and the 1990s offered a fuller picture of Black life, lately Hollywood ain’t been no crystal stair for filmmakers of color.
For the last two years, the film industry has been forced into a seemingly never-ending conversation about why it’s so damn White and male. After back-to-back years where all of the major acting categories failed to include any people of color, 2016 is shaping up to look very different. And according to Gil Robertson, co-founder and president of the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA), it might just be the best year ever for Black folks in film.
“The studios and major film distributors really gave it to us this year,” says Robertson. “By any measurement, it’s been an exceptional year for Blacks in film. From comedies to high-quality dramas and documentaries, 2016 will forever represent a bonanza year for Black cinema and all cinema really.”
Between commercial hits like Boo! A Madea Halloween, Ride Along 2, Barbershop 3 and Central Intelligence, and critically acclaimed features like Moonlight, Birth of a Nation, Loving and Ava DuVernay’s 13th, films featuring Black creatives are varied, complex, and winning at the box office. And the year isn’t even over yet.
In December, we’ll see a slew of award contenders make their way into cinemas, including Hidden Figures, Fences, and Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro, a searing documentary about iconic writer James Baldwin.
Though Shawn Edwards, AAFCA’s co-founder, believes “we will see a Black actor nominated in every acting category and that at least four Black-themed films will be nominated for Best Picture,” Robertson says that at the very least “the coming award nominations are going to definitely put a pause on #OscarsSoWhite this year.”
But for how long?
We’ve seen Black films like 12 Years A Slave and Selma break through in the past only to watch the industry overlook actors and writers of color once they finished congratulating themselves for being so progressive. Because of this, Robertson argues Black audiences and filmmakers must remain vigilant and keep pushing Hollywood to be more inclusive.
“Were the past 12 months an anomaly or does it signal the beginning of Hollywood being more committed to supporting a diverse lineup of Black films?” he wonders. “And what about films about the Asian, Hispanic, Native American and LGBT communities? Moonlight has been a bright spot in representing both the Black and LGBT communities but we need more. So we at AAFCA are extremely hopeful that these 2016 Black films will have a domino effect in providing platform opportunities for films that represent other communities as well.”
While Robertson may be bullish on the future, it remains to be seen if 2016 marks a true turning point for the film industry. So, as they say in the business, stay tuned.