YUGEN10: BLACK STORIES FROM BLACK VOICES

In the wake of the death of George Floyd - the world has been shocked into action. People are out on the streets protesting, donating to charities and signing petitions. You may have shared a black square for #BlackOutTuesday, but this should really be only the beginning.

Diversity, inclusivity and culture are part of our core values at YUGEN. We cherish and appreciate beauty in all its forms and shapes. This makes it incredibly important for us to rise up with our black friends and community in an attempt to break systemic racism and injustice and uplift black voices.

In the past few days, we have made it our mission to dig down, research and educate ourselves in order to spread the message further and continue these important conversations. This edition of YUGEN10 provides a list of films that examine the black experience in the USA. Telling a range of stories and depicting both beauty and brutality, these films are works of black filmmakers, showing black culture through their own eyes.

 

Do The Right Thing (dir. Spike Lee, 1989)

Spike Lee is one of the most iconic black directors currently working. He has contributed an extensive oeuvre of work that explores various perspectives of the black experience. One of Lee's most influential films is his third feature Do The Right Thing, which despite being released in 1989, is incredibly reflective of current events. With his signature passionate and vibrant style, plus a hard-hitting mix of comedy and drama, Lee depicts both the unique community spirit of Black American culture and the rage felt by its members in reaction to the violence and injustices that brought upon them. 
Do THE RIGHT THING YUGEN
Available for purchase/rental on various VOD platforms.

Moonlight (dir. Barry Jenkins, 2016)

Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight - a film adaptation of playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney’s semi-autobiographical play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue - is a seminal piece of modern black (and queer) cinema. With its focus on a black gay man, Moonlight shines a light on a consistently marginalised aspect of contemporary American culture and does so with enrapturing beauty. Through three acts of his life, we see Chiron (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes) struggle against isolation and discrimination to determine his authentic self. Moonlight focuses on showing black lives in black spaces, rather than in contrast to whiteness, and in doing so, provides an illuminating depiction of contemporary Black America.
Moonlight Film
Available in some territories on Netflix or for purchase/rental on various VOD platforms.

I Am Not Your Negro (dir. Raoul Peck, 2016)

I Am Not Your Negro is based on Remember This House, the last and unfinished work by James Baldwin, a pioneer in the representation of queer and black struggles and one of the most influential writers of the American literary canon. Baldwin intended Remember This House to be a memoir about his relationships with Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. and this documentary takes these reminiscences and uses them to tell the story of racism and the civil rights movement in the USA. Driven by the incisive words of a truly formidable mind, I Am Not Your Negro produces an arresting exploration of the seemingly perpetual cycles of violence inflicted on black people and how they constantly push for a better tomorrow.
I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO FILM
Available for purchase/rental on various VOD platforms.

Get Out (dir. Jordan Peele, 2017)

Of all the films on this list, Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, Get Out, deals with the themes of racism and contemporary black life in the most stylised manner. When young African-Amerian Chris travels to meet the family of his white girlfriend, he is greeted with apparent genteel hospitality but beneath this façade is a brutal and twisted racist conspiracy. By using the drama and suspense of the horror genre to intensify the experience of being black in a white space, Peele’s film deals with issues like the dehumanisation of black people or the appropriation of their aesthetics. Get Out is a reminder that racism does not solely exist in the overt but often lies hidden, under the surface of a tolerant pretense. 
GET OUT MOVIEAvailable for purchase/rental on various VOD platforms.

 

Eve’s Bayou (dir. Kasi Lemmons, 1997)

Much like Moonlight, Eve’s Bayou also takes on a less-often explored aspect of the black experience, this time being from the perspective of a black woman. The film is also told by a black woman, being the first feature film for director Kasi Lemmons (the film is also one of the first films directed by a black woman to have an international release). Being set in 1960s Louisiana, one might expect a tale of segregation and violent racism, but the film focuses on the interior turmoil of an affluent black family. A magical realist tale that displays the mystical traditions of Southern Creole culture, the film is an entrancing look at the black family and the black woman’s role within it. Eve’s Bayou reminds us not just to see African-American people in regards to racism but also through the richness of their unique world.
EVES BAYOU FILM
Available for purchase/rental on various VOD platforms.

13th (dir. Ava DuVernay, 2016)

Ava DuVernay has established herself in recent years as a major figure in US cinema and has been named as a member of the vanguard for a renaissance in black film. Her works - whether they be features, documentaries or television series - largely take a direct approach in addressing the social issues facing black people in contemporary America. 13th is an excellent example of this style - the documentary carefully but powerfully disassembles the idea that slavery has been removed from American society and demonstrates how the Jim Crow laws, the war on drugs and the penal system have all worked to strip Black Americans of their rights as free citizens. Essential viewing to understand the systemic and institutionalised nature of racism.
13th Film Netflix
Available to stream on Netflix.

Fruitvale Station (dir. Ryan Coogler, 2013)

Ryan Coogler’s most famous addition to the canon of American cinema is probably Black Panther, the billionaire dollar earning Marvel film that enchanted the world with its celebratory use of African culture and dynamic afro-futurism. However, in terms of understanding the experience that black people face in America today, it is Coogler’s directorial debut Fruitvale Station that is the most significant. The film tells the story of the last day of Oscar Grant III’s life, a real, 22-year-old black man who was shot and killed by the police in 2009. Rather than a bombastic epic, Fruitvale Station is a subtle and humanising portrayal of a man, whose tragic, inevitable fate looms large throughout. While others politicise it, Coogler’s film puts the human story at the centre of the fight against police brutality.
Fruitvale Station Film Netflix
Available to stream on Netflix.

Boyz n the Hood (dir. John Singleton, 1991)

Boyz n the Hood has become one of the most significant and culturally influential pieces of black cinema. The story - which writer-director John Singleton was inspired to create based on people from his own life - explores gang culture within black communities in economically deprived areas of Los Angeles. Whereas films like Fruitvale Station or Do The Right Thing depict societal forces like the police directly inflict violence against black people, this film shows how marginalisation and impoverishment trap black communities in cycles violence that only harm themselves. It is both a tragic tale but also a hopeful one, as it contains a message of self-determination that serves as a guide to escape these cyclical injustices. 
Boyz n da hood film
 Available to stream on Netflix.
 

Dope (dir. Rick Famuyiwa, 2015)

In many ways, Dope is a modern continuation of the themes and messages found in Boyz n the Hood. Like Singleton’s film, Dope is set against the backdrop of an economically deprived neighbourhood of Los Angeles where drug dealing and gang culture is rampant. However, Famuyiwa’s film takes a far more light-hearted approach to its narrative, using comedy to tell the story of a Harvard-aspiring high-schooler who becomes embroiled in a drug sale. Taking cues from filmmakers like John Hughes, Famuyiwa presents self-determination and desire to escape one’s circumstances with buoyancy and charm and, in doing so, subverts the presentation of black men from urban areas such as that found in Dope. Rather than a one-note stereotype, the protagonist of Dope (Malcolm, as played by Shameik Moore) is a multi-faceted individual, thus making this film a breath of fresh air.
Dope Film
 Available to stream on Netflix.

Whose Streets? (dir. Sabaah Folayan, 2017)

With the current protests that are happening all across the world, it has once again reinforced the fact that it is challenging to get an accurate and in-depth perception of these events from traditional news media, which can often feel detached. That is why documentary films like Sabaah Folayan’s Whose Streets? are so important. Filmed on the ground amidst the Ferguson Uprising, which occurred in response to the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown, the film communicates its message with a sense of passion and urgency. Whose Streets? captures the emotion of the protestors and activists dedicated to fighting the systems that oppress and murder black people. It is a powerful immortalisation of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Whose Streets FilmAvailable for purchase/rental on various VOD platforms.

We are aware that these 10 are far from enough, so if you want to go a step further, here are a few others that we found inspiring: 

Selma (dir. Ava DuVernay, 2015)

12 Years a Slave (dir. Steve McQueen, 2015)

Malcolm X (dir. Spike Lee, 1992)

Glory (dir. Edward Zwick, 1989)

Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement (dir. Laurens Grant, 2016)

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (dir. Stanley Nelson Jr., 2015)

 

It's time to educate yourself, open your eyes, watch carefully and then speak up!

 #SILENCEISCOMPLICITY

 

by Jonny McKinnell 

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