Movies » Film Features

Black stories across film genres


From horror to romance, thrillers, and superhero blockbusters, there’s endless breadth to the work being made by black creators on screen.

Last week CITY put together a list of films and television series that tackled the topic of racism throughout history. But there are so many more types of stories being told by black filmmakers: from horror to romance, thrillers to superhero blockbusters, here’s a new batch of film recommendations that collectively showcase the breadth and variety of work being made by Black creators on screen. And there’s much more out there, don’t think you need to stop here.

“Creed” (2015): The middle child in Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan’s trilogy of film collaborations (after “Fruitvale Station'' and prior to “Black Panther”), this rousing “Rocky” spin-off follows the son of Rocky’s arch-rival Apollo Creed as he tries to make a name for himself in the world of pro boxing. An expertly-crafted crowdpleaser that’s anchored by Jordan in a true movie-star-caliber performance.

“Daughters of the Dust” (1991): Julie Dash became the first African-American woman to direct a film distributed theatrically nationwide in the United States with this beautiful, lyrical tale about a family from the Gullah community on South Carolina’s Saint Helena Island, coming together to celebrate their ancestors before some of them leave their home for the mainland.

“Devil in a Blue Dress” (1995): Carl Franklin’s masterful 1940s-set neo-noir stars Denzel Washington as Easy Rawlins, an unemployed World War II veteran turned private eye who agrees to investigate the disappearance of a missing white woman, but finds himself in over his head when the case connects with a deadly political scandal.

“Eve’s Bayou” (1997): This haunting coming-of-age story follows the dangerous chain of events that unfold after a young girl (Jurnee Smollett) discovers her father (Samuel L. Jackson) having an affair. Filmmaker Kasi Lemmons wraps the tale in a rich, Southern Gothic atmosphere.

“The First Purge” (2018): The politically-minded “Purge” horror franchise gets a prequel directed by Gerald McMurray, rewinding back to when America’s authoritarian regime first began testing out the idea for an annual holiday legalizing all crime (including murder) for 12 hours. A throwback to exploitation filmmaking that has a real bite to it.

“Ganja and Hess” (1973): Director Bill Gunn uses the story of a doctor’s assistant who develops an unquenchable thirst for blood to tackle race, addiction, sex, and societal ills in his strange, borderline experimental remix of vampiric lore.

“Girls Trip” (2017): Tiffany Haddish’s career took off like a rocket with her hilarious turn in this raucous comedy following four girlfriends who take a trip to New Orleans that spirals out of control. The chemistry of the film’s cast grounds the raunchy hijinks with some real heart.

“House Party” (1990): Rap-comic duo Kid ’n Play (Christopher Reid and Christopher Martin) star as best friends who decide to throw a wild house party while their parents are out of town. Some admittedly dated humor doesn’t detract too much from a likeable teen comedy that’s a low-key landmark in indie filmmaking.

“Hollywood Shuffle” (1987): Robert Townsend directed, starred in, and co-wrote (along with Keenen Ivory Wayans) this blistering satire of Black representation in Hollywood. A bitterly funny and tragically still-timely gem.

“Little Woods” (2018): Nia DaCosta landed this year’s highly-anticipated “Candyman” reboot after directing this powerfully-acted drama about two sisters (Tessa Thompson and Lily James) trying to scrape by in a depressed bordertown in rural North Dakota.

“Love & Basketball” (2000): Next-door neighbors since childhood, Quincy (Omar Epps) and Monica (Sanaa Lathan) fall for one another while pursuing their dreams of playing professional basketball. Writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood brings a lived-in intimacy and thoughtfulness to this appealing romance.

“See You Yesterday” (2019): Brooklyn teenage geniuses C.J. and Sebastian (Eden Duncan-Smith and Dante Crichlow) set out to master the art of time travel in an effort to save C.J.'s brother from being wrongfully killed by a police officer. A striking, ambitious debut from writer-director Stefon Bristol.

“Set It Off” (1996): Four women facing desperate circumstances turn to bank robbery in F. Gary Gray’s crime-thriller. Jada Pinkett, Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox, and Kimberly Elise are an impeccable ensemble, and Gray brings a deep empathy to this story of women stuck in a broken system that leaves them precious few options to pull themselves out.

“Sorry to Bother You” (2018): Hip-hop artist Boots Riley made his indelible directorial debut with this surreal, punk rock, anti-capitalist satire about a struggling young black man (Lakeith Stanfield) who lands a job at a telemarketing firm and discovers the key to climbing the corporate ladder by learning to use a “white voice” when making his calls.

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018): Brooklyn teen Miles Morales crosses into a parallel dimension and ends up joining forces with the various Spider-People of those alternate realities to defeat a shared threat in this ultra-stylish, Oscar-winning modern classic of animation. The directorial team includes Peter Ramsey.

“Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” (1971): Widely credited with kicking off the blaxploitation genre, Melvin Van Peebles produced, scored, edited, directed, and starred in this radical and influential film as a poor black man on the run from the law. Overcomes its budget limitations (and some questionable taste in the opening scene featuring Melvin’s son Mario) to be a potent expression of rebellion and revolt.

“Sweetheart” (2016): This lean, mean, and wildly entertaining creature-feature from director J.D. Dillard stars Kiersey Clemons as a young woman stranded on a deserted tropical island, but soon discovers she’s not as alone as she first thought. This is pure fun.

“Tales from the Hood” (1995): An eccentric funeral director tells four tales of horror to three drug dealers who’ve come to buy from his place of business in this cult-classic from director Rusty Cundieff. Blending social commentary, genuine scares, and a dark sense of humor, this is a high watermark in the horror anthology genre.

“Waiting to Exhale” (1995): Based on Terry McMillan's novel, this beloved drama is the emotional story of four Black women (played by Whitney Houston, Angela Bassett, Loretta Divine, and Lela Rochon) whose friendship gives them the support they need to take control of their lives after mistreatment at the hands of the men in their lives.

“Widows” (2018): Steve McQueen’s underrated crime-drama finds the wives of four thieves banding together to carry out a heist their husbands died trying to pull off. With an aces cast led by the great Viola Davis, this film perfectly blends entertaining thrills with a thoughtful perspective on race and class.

“A Wrinkle in Time” (2018): Ava DuVernay adapts Madeleine L'Engle’s classic fantasy novel, about a young girl (Storm Reid) who sets off on an epic quest to find her missing scientist father, and creates something that’s touching, witty, and wonderfully uncynical.

Adam Lubitow is a freelance writer for CITY. Feedback on this article can be sent to CITY’s arts & entertainment editor, Rebecca Rafferty, at [email protected].