In 2015, activist April Reign’s hashtag #OscarsSoWhite began trending on Twitter in response to all 20 acting nominations for leading and supporting roles being given to white actors and actresses.
This hashtag brought awareness to the lack of racial diversity and inclusion in both representation and recognition throughout the film industry. It also affected other significant media formats where people of colour often struggle to be seen, heard, recognized and valued. In the years that followed April’s campaign against the overly white Academy Awards, there have been a few improvements in showcasing the black talent hard at work within the film industry.
In 2017, Moonlight became the first film featuring an all-black cast, including a black writer and director, to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. The following year, Jordan Peele became the first African American writer to win the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for his directorial debut Get Out.
Mahershala Ali made history as the first black actor to win two Supporting Actor Oscars for both Moonlight and Green Book. In 2019, Spike Lee was awarded his first Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for his contribution to the script for BlacKkKlansman.
The absurdity of these films being the first noticeable wins and recognition for black people from an academy that has been operating for nearly 100 years is not uncommon. Only six per cent of the writers, directors, and producers of U.S.-produced films are black. With fewer black people working behind the cameras, there are fewer opportunities for black actors and actresses to work and star in stories that celebrate black life, black struggle, black perseverance, and black victory.
Among the library of films that truly showcase the black experience, most frequently the films that narrate the spectrum of black life in America tackle the hardships of American chattel slavery, the Jim Crow period of the 1950s, and the hard work of activists and organizers during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 70s. In the 2000s, common storylines shifted to a focus on growing up in poverty and the tragedy of black life at the hands of police brutality and white supremacy.
There are many more black stories to be told that do not focus on pain, trauma, and hardships. Black children desire to see themselves represented in films that showcase characters that look like them in a more positive, encouraging light. Films such as Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther and its sequel Wakanda Forever portray the fictional nation of Wakanda as rich and powerful and its characters as royal and majestic. Films like Akeelah and the Bee, A Wrinkle in Time, Drumline, and Coach Carter champion black excellence. Films like Love and Basketball, The Photograph, and Entergalactic tell beautiful stories of black romance.
During black history month, these films and many others can serve as a reminder that black stories are incredibly rich and full of joy, championing success and persevering during adversity. In the spirit of celebrating diversity and inclusion, NCTS will be presenting a special black history month (by donation) screening every Saturday in February at The Shoebox Theatre at 1 pm.
Selected films are: Feb. 4, Do the Right Thing; Feb. 11, Fruitvale Station; Feb. 18, Get Out; and Feb. 25, American Skin.
If you’d like to reserve a seat at the microcinema (maximum capacity 20 seats), please send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (250)352-5833 to reserve your seat.
If you are not able to make it to these screenings, be sure to come to Reo’s Video to have a look at our wide array of films by and featuring black artists, both North American and international. Remember that members can borrow all Reo’s Video library titles for free – a pretty fantastic perk for only $20 per year.
Greg Marrast is a team member at NCTS, a close friend of Black Panther, and the curator of this special Black History Month film series at The Shoebox for the month of February.