This year’s celebration of cinema is guaranteed to be bodacious, Black and beautiful.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place from June 9 to June 20, and it is a welcomed sight after a full 365-plus-days under lock, key, and quarantine.
Featuring a lineup that includes 66 films from visual creatives around the world, the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival boasts 54 whopping world premieres. Curated from nearly 3,000 submissions, it is safe to say that the film community is ready for their voices to be heard. According to Tribeca News, 60% of this year’s contributions are “directed by women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ filmmakers, which is something that should make #OscarsSoWhite followers happy AF.
“After a year of closed cinemas, canceled gatherings, and all-virtual everything, it is with joy and hope that we finally invite New Yorkers out of their homes and back to the movies,” said Cara Cusumano, Festival Director and Vice President of Programming for the Tribeca Festival. “Tribeca 2021 will bring once-in-a-lifetime big-screen experiences to filmmakers and audiences alike as we reconnect, re-imagine, and reopen through the shared experience of film.”
An all-star panel of jurors including Sanaa Lathan, Warrington Hudlin, Delroy Lindo, and more, are on board to award these distinctive films that range from sci-fi to documentaries to the all-around abstract. With that said, it is our pleasure to share this list of projects that come from Black directors, producers, and/or feature Black talent. Check out the rundown below.
A documentary directed by Dan Chen (The Disunited States of America) finds viewers witnessing the viral phenomenon involving the students of the TM Landry Prep School. Ambitious and driven to find a way through to higher education, Accepted spotlights these students who have given the prep school an incredible 100% acceptance rate into the country’s most elite colleges—that is until an explosive New York Times article exposes the controversial teaching methods behind the successes.
Produced and directed by John Maggio (The Perfect Weapon), this documentary chronicles the legendary and iconic renaissance man Gordon Parks and his stellar career. Taking viewers from his time as a staff photographer for LIFE Magazine, through to his artistic development photographing everyday Americans, A Choice of Weapons gives many different viewpoints to appreciate the evolution of Parks as a novelist, rebel, and groundbreaking filmmaker.
Told by Alvin Ailey himself, this documentary, which is directed by Jamila Wignot (Cultureshock), finds audiences interwoven into the wonderful and awe-inspiring world of ballet. Ailey features never-before-seen dance footage from his world-famous dance company, while recounting his life story, from a humble and shy Texan teen to becoming one of the most recognized and iconic choreographers of his generation.
Directed by Sacha Jenkins (Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men) and written by Jenkins, Steve Rivo, Jason Pollard, BITCHIN’ is a high-octane, incredibly entertaining profile of funk/R&B icon Rick James. Music lovers and cinephiles are brought together to witness the peaks and valleys of the Stone City O.G., revealing a complicated and conflicted soul that was rebellions to the end, and yet gave us indelible moments never to forget.
Directed by Mobolaji Olambiwonnu (Resist), Ferguson Rises chronicles the tragedy, transcendence and hope that stemmed from the 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown, Jr. by Officer Darren Wilson. Taking place six years later, Olambiwonnu sits down with friends of Michael Brown, including Dorian Johnson, who was with him that day, Michael Brown’s father, and community members to tell a new story that reveals the humanity within the people of Ferguson and revel in the hope they represent in all of us.
Directed and produced by Giselle Bailey (Slutever) and Nneka Onuorah (First and Last), this documentary makes its world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival and is a timely one at that. The recent Twitter ban in Nigeria is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the struggle people face against rampant discrimination. Bailey and Onuorah explore the lives of several charismatic, non-conformist youth who fight through social media and bold creativity to live their lives out loud, while The Legend of the Underground sparks a cultural debate that challenges the ideals of gender and civil rights in West Africa.
Directed by CJ Hunt (producer on The Daily Show), this funny and insightful documentary chronicles the New Orleans city council’s vote to remove four confederate monuments. As evident by the climate within the country, the people’s demand turns into halted progress, led by death threats. When that happens CJ sets out to understand just why an army with a major L on its record from 1865 still holds so much power in America.
After screening The Neutral Ground, there is a live conversation with CJ Hunt, executive producer Roy Wood Jr. (The Daily Show), and Pulitzer-Prize winning creator of the 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones will find them confronting the continuing legacy of America’s Original Sin.
Directed and written by Nana Mensah (An African City), Queen of Glory is about a young Ghanaian-American named Sarah Obeng (Mensah), who is more than ready to abandon her Ivy League doctoral program to follow her married lover across the country. But before she can hit the road, her plans are drastically altered when her mother’s sudden death leaves her the owner of a neighborhood bookshop in the Bronx.
Ben Proudfoot has been telling anyone within earshot about the legend of Lucy Harris. Ever heard of her? In this Brandon Somerhalder-lensed short subject documentary, Queen of Basketball chronicles the unsung journey of basketball’s greatest living legends. Lucy Harry, an owner of three national trophies, scored the first basket in women’s Olympic basketball, and the first and only woman to be drafted to the NBA gets her flowers in this must-not-miss feature film.
This coming-of-age story set in Brooklyn, New York is directed by Corinne van der Borch (The LuLu Sessions) and Tone Grøttjord (All That I Am), and focuses on Sheppard sisters: Tai, Rainn, and Brooke. The three were propelled into America’s consciousness in 2016 after a trio of spectacular first-time wins at the Junior Olympics. The film offers a rare intimate glimpse into the hope, belonging, and the metaphorical and literal sisterhood of three young athletes who are finding their voices and want to pass the baton of self-empowerment through track-and-field. Sisters on Track is a heartfelt story not to miss.
Written and directed by Andre Gaines (The Lady and the Dale), this honest portrait of comedian and activist Dick Gregory comes at a time when the world of funny lost Paul Mooney, and documents the former’s many reinventions throughout the decades. The One and Only Dick Gregory will find viewers reliving or learning about the comic’s evolution from celebrity to civil rights hero to clean eating advocate and beyond. Executive produced by Kevin Hart and Lena Waithe, this Juneteenth programmed doc features the voices of Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Harry Belafonte, and more.
Directed by Josh Ruben (Scare Me) and starring Sam Richardson (Veep), this whodunit is a mix of Rian Johnson’s Knives Out meets John Carpenter’s The Thing. Richardson plays Finn Wheeler, a forest ranger who is a fresh arrival to the town of Beaverfield, which is harboring a scary secret: a continual werewolf threat. It is up to Finn and a cast of characters to figure out who is the threat and escape before they, too, become an all-you-can-eat meal.
Closing out the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival is an as-yet-to-be revealed documentary produced and starring comedian Dave Chappelle. In it, the Mark Twain Prize-winning funny man chronicles his efforts to provide comic and financial relief to his Ohio community during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and the aftermath of George Floyd’s heinous murder by Officer Derek Chauvin. It will make its debut June 19 at New York City’s famed Radio City Music Hall.
The 2021 Tribeca Film Festival begins on June 9 and concludes on June 20. Click here for the full schedule, ticketing details, and in-person and virtual screening times.
Kevin L. Clark is an editor and screenwriter who covers the intersection of music, pop culture and social justice. Follow him @KevitoClark.