Depending whom you ask, 2013 has either been a “banner year” for Black films or one that leaves much to be desired. Maybe it’s both. But in the last couple of months, much of what I’ve read on the subject has tended toward the latter sentiment. More major films about Black characters have been released in 2013 than in recent years—and they are a stylistically diverse group. Thematically, though, they have quite a bit in common: 42, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Fruitvale Station, and 12 Years a Slave are all based on true stories and center on male protagonists struggling to overcome the daunting effects of institutional racism.
“I am sick and tired of slave and servant movies,” Hermene Hartman proclaimed recently in Huffington Post. After Jozen Cummings, writing for The Root, saw a very different sort of film, The Best Man Holiday, he said he was “proud to see a film in which Black men were smiling, and (spoiler alert) not dead or arrested at the end.” These are rightful reminders that the simple media narrative of a “renaissance” in Black representation on film is not so simple at all.
Hollywood and the big TV networks remain mostly backward-looking when it comes to stories of Black life—look no further than the History Channel’s recently announced (and utterly unnecessary) remake of Alex Haley’s Roots. It’s not that films like The Butler shouldn’t be made. It’s that there is much more to life as a modern-day Black individual in America than the legacy of slavery and the struggle for civil rights. Still, if you’re going to complain about “slavery movies” and other historical fare, you should look hard to see if there are other movies out there that actually do tell the kind of stories you’re asking for. (Shani O. Hilton did just that in her smart essay for BuzzFeed.)
Several fictional films about contemporary Black life were released this year, although most of them got little attention compared to the likes of Fruitvale Station, et al. Mother of George, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, and Big Words, for instance, all received critical praise. And below, you’ll find three more movies that you can—and should—stream right now.