5 films by Black directors to celebrate Black History Month

Minza Mirza, General Life&Arts Reporter

In telling stories about Black experiences across a wide range of time periods and historical contexts, Black directors cultivate thought-provoking and impactful messages reflected in their projects. To honor Black cinema this Black History Month, The Daily Texan compiled a list of films from numerous genres and approaches created by Black directors. 

“Black Girl” (1966) by Ousmane Sembène

Ousmane Sembène, otherwise known as the father of African cinema, encapsulates Blackness within postcolonialism in just shy of 60 minutes. “Black Girl” follows Diouana, a Senegalese woman (Mbissine Thérèse Diop), who leaves Dakar, Senegal in hopes of a fortunate life, only to become a maid for a neglectful couple in France. Through her reserved yet resentful narration, Sembène explicitly depicts the protagonist’s optimistic essence spiraling into misery. 

Bringing the film to audiences shortly after Senegal’s independence from France, Sembène demonstrates the pervasive pain and damage colonialism inflicts by contrasting the loss of Black identity with white indifference. 

“Pariah” (2011) by Dee Rees 

Following the theme of assimilation, but adding a queer and modern perspective, Dee Rees’ “Pariah” invites viewers to empathize with its characters. Adepero Oduye serves as an intensely realistic lead as Alike, a closeted teenager from Brooklyn navigating her transition into adulthood.

Rees’ take on the queer coming-of-age experience within conservative households offers depth and consideration often overlooked in films. The personal camera usage, Oduye’s sensitive stature and the film’s poetry and music all work together to achieve a grounded and raw depiction of homosexuality within constraint. 

“His House” (2020) by Remi Weekes 

Commenting on postcolonialism through spiritual horror, Weekes offers his perspective on assimilation through a refugee couple escaping from a war-ridden South Sudan to start anew in a barren Britain town. Just as they finish their traumatizing journey, they undergo another: the haunting of their deceased daughter. 

The unsettling visuals and score convey the exhausting process of immigration, and more so, the guilt tied to those who are able to leave. Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku deliver painfully tender performances that call attention to issues of race and class.

“A Dream Is What You Wake Up From” (1978) by Larry Bullard and Carolyn Johnson

Like Rees’, Larry Bullard’s documentary and narrative hybrid centers around Blackness in America. The film explores family values through dissecting three families’ relationships and the societal pressures they face. Bullard focuses on domestic abuse and marginalization of women in his approach, blaming systemic oppression for their prevalence.

Bullard’s open-ended commentary presents no solutions or conclusions. Instead, it indirectly beckons the audience to come forward and reevaluate the systems they live through. 

“Sorry To Bother You” (2018) by Boots Riley 

Boots Riley’s critique on capitalism seems a bit more playful than Bullard’s, but leaves its audience with a similar feeling of open-endedness. The film takes place in an alternate Oakland where the protagonist Cassius Green (LaKeith Stanfield) climbs up the ladder in the telemarketing industry, a bittersweet success that drives him to make extreme choices between fruition and morality. 

Riley maneuvers his critiques with absurdism and comedy to convey the relationship between capitalism and slavery. The film incorporates real anti-capitalist efforts, such as unionization, and  metaphysical elements to emphasize the ethical chaos of a capitalist world.