by Abaki Beck and Michelle Kiang
Town crier enters stage left: There is systemic racism in America! This impacts every aspect of our society, including the film industry! For many many years, including the last two, this has resulted in only white actors being nominated for an Oscar, despite the fact that people of color are just as talented as white people!
Glad we’ve gotten that established. Many others have written extensively about #OscarsSoWhite, racial diversity, and the importance of representation, which you can read about here, here, or by googling. Now, what are we going to do about it? Ava DuVernay and Ryan Coogler are hosting an event the night of the Oscars to raise money for Flint. We shall be watching some of the amazing POC made films this year. Why not grab the popcorn and binge watch? I mean - um, host your own film festival. Bonus: popcorn is a food native to the Americas! #DecolonizeYourDiet
We present to you….THE FIRST ANNUAL (DE)CONSTRUCT & DECOLONIZE THE ACADEMY AWARDS, brought to you by POC Online Classroom
BEST FILM CREATED IN ACCESSIBLE FORMAT
At the center of the film Tangerine are two trans women of color who live in LA and work as sex workers. The film is a “day in the life” - Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) found out her boyfriend/pimp was cheating on her when she was in jail, and is out to find the woman he was with. Meanwhile, her best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor) is preparing for her debut singing performance in a nightclub and making sure Sin-Dee doesn’t get involved in too much drama. The film is wonderful: its characters are funny and relatable; it’s visually beautiful and artistically filmed; and its soundtrack perfectly matches the mood of scenes. Due to budget constraints, the entire film was shot on iPhones. Pretty damn impressive.
BEST FILM THAT’S NOT IN THE COLONIZERS LANGUAGE
Maria, the film’s main character, is a young Mayan woman living in Guatemala’s highlands. Her family is hoping to wed her to a coffee plantation foreman, but Maria has her eyes set on a local coffee picker named Pepe. She dreams of a life for her and Pepe in the United States. Unfortunately, she gets pregnant, and due to pregnancy complications encounters “modernity,” something her rural family had not anticipated. This film, in addition to being impressive in that it was only shot in Kaqchikel, an indigenous Mayan language, is also visually stunning with raw, personable acting.
BEST FILM THAT WILL MAKE YOU CRY MULTIPLE TIMES THROUGHOUT
Beasts of No Nation
Beasts of No Nation (2015) is an stunning, heartbreaking, deeply human, and beautifully executed film about child soldiers in an unnamed West African country. Directed and adapted by Cary Joji Fukunaga, the film is based on a novel by, Nigerian-American author, Uzodinma Iweala, and stars Abraham Attah and Idris Elba. Attah, who was casted on a soccer field in Ghana, plays Agu, a young boy who loses his family to war and is forced to become a child soldier, and he does an incredible job playing a character who undergoes so much trauma and loss. Elba, who stars in the HBO series The Wire and should probably be the next James Bond, brings the destruction and smallness of man’s capability for evil in his portrayal of the Commandant. Every shot in the film is as beautiful as it is intentional, and the whole film looks like a carefully-put-together work of art. Beasts of No Nation explores how to make a boy into a monster, and centers humanity as it tells the story of the loss of it. Through death in numbers and through the death God, we watch Agu, still a child, survive as best as he can in a beautifully stylized and deeply disturbing hell. The beauty of the landscapes and frames never make up for the tragedy and reality of actual children in our world who are forced to experience war like this, or war in any way.
BEST FILM EMBRACING INTERSECTIONALITY AND COMMUNITY
A Place In the Middle (full film below)
Available on Vimeo, A Place in the Middle (2014) is a 25 minute documentary about the power of anti-colonial resistance and embracing traditional culture to create a more connected and respectful world. The film tells the story of a young girl in Hawai’i who dreams of leading the boys only hula group at her school and a teacher who empowers her through the teachings of traditional Hawai’ian culture and her own experience “in the middle” of man and woman. The film is a part of a larger project which aims to educate people on gender diversity and inclusion and provides many valuable resources, check it out!
BEST FILM ABOUT, WELL, BREAD
We chose this film for a very specific reason (besides the fact that it's amazing): Not all POC films are about racism or poverty. Supporting POC film and art is about supporting the creativity and knowledge of people of color. This can be supporting space for them to tell their own stories, or promoting quirky, fun, or straight up bizarre art they may create. Croissant Man, by Tulicia Singh, is a 9-part series about a depressed artist Croissant. It combines comedy, drama, and puppetry. Check it out!
Want to watch more great POC movies? Here are more film suggestions from other great websites!
Speaking of film festivals, communities of color throughout the country host their own film festivals to celebrate and honor their work and creative genius. Here are just a few to check out and support:
Red Nation Film Festival: An annual American Indian and indigenous film festival founded in 2003
American Black Film Festival: Since 1997, this film festival has celebrated films made by and for people of African descent
Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival: A film festival for Asian international and Asian American artists since 1983
Mizna Arab Film Fest: An Arab American film festival hosted every year by a Twin Cities media and literary organization
Thanks for reading! Enjoy the movies (and any others you may watch), engage critically, and have a happy Sunday!