2013 will go down in history as the year Black cinema forever turned a corner. While mainstream outlets like the NY Times declared 2013 the “breakout year in Black film” and BuzzFeed cynically observed “we’ve been here before” (we haven’t), moviegoers ultimately had the final say at the box office.
First time directors like Sheldon Candis (“LUV”) and Ryan Coogler (“Fruitvale Station”) gave fresh and distinct voices to the young Black male narrative. Terence Nance broke out of the box with a fantastical journey of love in the animated “An Oversimplification of Her Beauty.”
2013 also proved to be a success for Black film both critically and financially. Steve McQueen’s “12 Years A Slave” is proving to be a forerunner in next year’s award circuit, already garnering seven Golden Globe nominations and four SAG award noms. “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” generated over $116 million in U.S. ticket sales and an even more impressive $45 million overseas — a rare feat considering most Black films directed by Black directors rarely do well at the foreign box office. Mainstream (read: White) film critics and analysts who dismissively low-balled “Best Man Holiday” with a soft $19 million opening, were left with egg on their faces when it came in at #2 spot with a $30 million, right on the heels of “Thor: The Dark World.”
Black independent film is still holding strong as AFFRM (African American Film Releasing Movement) released its sixth feature, “Big Words.” AFFRM’s founder Ava DuVernay, who made history as the first African-American woman to win Best Director at Sundance, marked another milestone as the first Black woman to direct a network primetime series created by a Black woman (Shonda Rhimes), starring a Black actress (Kerry Washington).
The Urban Daily has rounded up their favorite (and not so favorite) releases this year.
1. “The Butler”
Director: Lee Daniels
Cast: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Yaya Alafia
A touching family drama set against the living history of the Civil Rights movement. Initially dismissed as just another domestic movie, screenwriter Danny Strong avoids making Cecil Gaines a static character, but rather a man who learns to evolve with the times and grow into his truth and power.
2. “12 Years A Slave”
Director: Steve McQueen
Cast: : Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’O, Michael Fassbender, Adepero Oduye, Brad Pitt
Part cinematic revelation, part searing indictment on the atrocities of the slave trade in America, Steve McQueen paints a perfect portrait of the ugliest chapter in our nation’s history.
3. “After Earth”
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Zoe Kravitz
The project that forever be remembered as Will Smith’s box office Achille’s heel. While most critics mercilessly savaged the futuristic saga, there was actually touching commentary about the growing pains of adolescence and grief.
4. “The Call”
Director: Brad Anderson
Cast: Halle Berry, Morris Chestnut, Abigail Breslin
Movie Gross: $51 million
What starts off as a chilling and heart-pounding thriller, becomes a victim of head scratching plot holes. Abigail Breslin proves why she’s one of the best younger actresses in Hollywood.
5. “The Happy Sad”
Director: Rodney Evans
Cast: Cameron Scoggins, Charlie Barnett, Leroy McClain, Sorel Carradine
Based on Ken Urban’s stage play, Rodney Evans serves up a refreshingly honest look at modern day relationships and sexual fluidity. Cameron Scoggins and Charlie Barnett are the heart and soul of this multi-racial ensemble.
Director: Tina Chism Gordon
Cast: Kerry Washington, Craig Robinson, David Alan Grier, S. Epatha Merkerson
While it was fun to see Kerry Washington in a more light-hearted role, there was a decided lack of chemistry between Washington and Craig Robinson.
7. “Go For Sisters”
Director: John Sayles
Cast: Yolonda Ross, LisaGay Hamilton, Edward James Olmos
A powerful story of two former high school BFF’s whose lives take very different paths. LisaGay Hamilton is fantastic as a mother racked with guilt and worry over her wayward son. Ross is a revelation as a former drug addict dodging the ghosts of her checkered past.
Director: Sheldon Candis
Cast: Common, Michael Rainey Jr., Danny Glover, Dennis Haysbert
What does it mean to be a man? Director Sheldon Candis effectively explores the fallacies of violence and hyper-masculinity through the eyes of 11 year old Woody (Michael Rainey Jr.) as he spends the day with ex-con uncle, Vincent (Common).
9. “Mandela Long Walk To Freedom”
Director: Justin Chadwick
Cast: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Terry Pheto
A superior project to Jennifer Hudson’s “Winnie”, “Long Walk To Freedom” is a fitting tribute to one of history’s most iconic freedom fighters.
10. “Mother of George”
Director: Andrew Dosunmu
Cast: Danai Gurira, Isaach de Bankole, Yaya Alafia, Anthony Okungbowa
Gurira turns in a quiet but powerful performance as a newly wed Nigerian bride under pressure to pressure from her family to conceive. Yaya Alafia balances the equation as a young woman navigating the divide between her traditional African roots and embracing America’s modern brand of womanhood.
11. “Blue Caprice”
Director: Alexandre Moors
Cast: Isaiah Washington, Tequan Richmond
Based on the horrifying Beltway sniper attacks of 2002, Isaiah Washington both mesmerizes and terrifies as an unbalanced ex-Army vet who descends into madness. Tequan Richmond’s unspoken need for love and a father figure makes his fall from grace that much more heartbreaking to watch.
12. “Fruitvale Station”
Director: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz
Michael B. Jordan carries the movie from start to finish with an emotional authenticity most actors would kill for. Jordan jumps from loving father and boyfriend to angry and menacing ex-thug so fluidly, making his character perfectly imperfect.
13. “Best Man Holiday”
Director: Malcolm D. Lee
Cast: Nia Long, Taye Diggs, Morris Chestnut, Monica Calhoun, Melissa DeSousa
Lee reunites this dysfunctional group of college friends for a surprisingly mature and poignant look at love, marriage, and friendship in the 21st century.
14. “Baggage Claim”
Director: David E. Talbert
Cast: Paula Patton, Taye Diggs, Djimon Hounsou, Derek Luke, Jill Scott
A formulaic, paint-by-the-numbers romantic comedy, the two saving graces of this project are the chocolicious man candy and Jill Scott as a sexually assertive flight attendant.
Director: Brian Helgeland
Cast: Chad Boseman, Nicole Beharie, Harrison Ford
Stepping into the role of the iconic Brooklyn Dodger, Chadwick Boseman gives a very human and compelling performance. Nicole Beharie brings light and grace to her role as Robinson’s wife, Rachel.
Director: Darrell Roodt
Cast: Jennifer Hudson, Terrence Howard
Yes, she has an Oscar, A Golden Globe and a SAG award under her belt, but Hudson isn”t seasoned enough of an actress to portray someone as iconic as Winnie Mandela.
17. “Big Words”
Director: Neil Drumming
Cast: Yaya Alafia, Dorian Missick, Gbenga Abbinagbe
A nostalgic love letter to the good ole days of hip-hop and dreams deferred. While “Big Words” could have benefited greatly from seeing the characters in their glory days, the movie effectively captures the struggle of letting go and moving forward.