Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Sundance Festival Debuts Several Must-See Black Films

As the COVID-19 pandemic continued to hold its grip on our return to normalcy, the Sundance Film Festival kept things moving forward by offering its attendees a virtual experience for the second year in row. Although a limited number of events were held in Park City, Utah, and at satellite theaters across the country, the switch from in-person to virtual did not cost the festival its greatest commodity: an array of quality films on the horizon. Therefore, in the spirit of Black History Month, make note of a few must-see films and documentaries about and by persons of color heading to your local theater or your favorite streaming platform soon. 


I thought perhaps I was being a bit over-zealous when I selected Director Carey Williams' film "Emergency," as my festival kickoff pick, since it debuted at 11 p.m. on a Thursday night. I needn't have worried since the rollercoaster ride writer K.D. D├ívila takes viewers on not only kept me wide awake, it also kept me on the edge of my seat. "Emergency" follows straight-A college student Kunle and his carefree best friend, Sean, as they plan for the most epic night of their lives by attempting to be the first Black students to complete their college's legendary end-of-semester, frat row, multi-parties stroll. However, their plans are suddenly and frighteningly interrupted when a quick pit stop home finds them discovering an unidentified white girl passed out on their living room floor. Faced with the decision of calling the police and possibly risking their own lives under such questionable circumstances, Kunle, Sean, and their Latino roommate, Carlos, must find a way to de-escalate the situation and save a life while not risking their own, simultaneously pitting the roommates--and their ideologies surrounding police brutality--against each other. Although leveraged by several comedic moments, the laughs will in no way allow viewers to avoid asking themselves that critically important question: "What would I do in this situation?" "Emergency" is slated for a spring release in theaters and on Amazon Prime. 


When I saw Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter of the legendary Roots hip hop band listed among the executive directors of the documentary, "Descendant," I was confident it would not disappoint, especially after viewing Questlove's much lauded 2021 Sundance debut, Summer of Soul. Directed by Margaret Brown, "Descendant" tells the story of the Clotilda--the last slave ship that illegally arrived off the coast of Mobile, Alabama in 1860--and its enslaved ancestors who mobilized after emancipation to form Africatown, which still exists today and remains populated by the ship's descendants. Although the ship was intentionally destroyed after its final voyage in an attempt to erase history, the desperate search for any pieces of the ship's remains are fueled by a community fighting against the threat of also being erased due to "industrialized racism" and their fight to keep their rich heritage and legacy alive. Of important note, after "Descendant" debuted, it was announced that it had been picked up for worldwide distribution by Netflix and Higher Ground, Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company. Now if that doesn't give it the stamp of approval, nothing will. Check it when it drops later this year. 

jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy

It's safe to say that the antics of Kanye West as of late have been akin to a trainwreck you can't look away from. Ironically, I couldn't look away from "jeen-yuhs" either, but for a completely different reason. Now make no mistake about it: Kanye is always going to Kanye, but it's something engaging about seeing young Kanye; southside of Chicago Kanye; producer-only Kanye, desperate to be a something more than a beats maker and even more desperate to convince those around him that he could be. The documentary, which was born one fateful night at Jermaine Dupri’s birthday party in 1998 when Clarence "Coodie" Simmons, a Chicago public access TV host, first interviewed the 21-year-old, follows West and his move from Chicago to New York City to land a record deal. Simmons decided to keep his camera rolling, and recorded West for years, highlighting the hustle of his now friend and budding producer through his rise to global icon. Although Sundance only debuted part 1 of the trilogy, which included scenes of a young Kanye pacing the Roc-A-Fella hallways playing any staffer who--often irritably--would pause from their duties to give his early version of "All Falls Down" a passive listen to the intimate conversations captured between Kanye and his mother, Donde, it was enough to make me look forward to parts 2 and 3 for a closer look at the man behind the music and often the mayhem."jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy" is set to debut on Netflix February 16th. 

We Need to Talk About Cosby

Sigh. Actually, make that super heavy sigh. Before comedian and now director W. Kamau Bell's documentary of the fall of America's favorite TV dad--Bill Cosby--could hit the screen, the debates had begun regarding whether Bell should have embarked on this project at all, which many saw as a betrayal to the black community. However, just as Bell stated the loss of an icon was one that he struggled with personally, it quickly becomes evident that he was not alone and that "we" all needed to talk about this loss as a family. This is why--akin to Bell's relaxed yet quirky conversational approach to the hard-hitting subjects he features on his weekly CNN series, United Shades of America,--the documentary feels less like "trial by armchair jury" and more like that late-night conversation you have sitting around with family after Thanksgiving dinner, when everyone is too full and too tired to keep it anything less than real. With that, Bell digs into Cosby's nearly 50 years in show business as one of the most recognizable Black celebrities in America and what his work and actions say about America then and now. With commentary from such notable analysts as Jemele Hill, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Dr. Todd Boyd, fellow actors and long-time friends of Cosby, and, most importantly, several of Cosby's victims-turned-survivors, "We Need to Talk" urges us to reconsider not only what we know about Cosby but also about the culture that produced and celebrated him. The documentary which is currently airing on Showtime, is delivered in four, hour-long segments. 

That's it; that's all for now, folks. As you trudge through these last few months of a more-brutal-than-expected winter, may these hot releases and the promise of those to come, keep you entertained until we're all back outside. Continue to stay safe!

Photo Credits: N/A