Arts

5 Incredibly Empowering Movies For Black Youth

In the wake of a powerful Black Lives Matter movement across North America, following the tragic deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and other meaningful events, our writers Malaika Lindsay, Brittany Christian, and Jewel Tynes review five empowering movies that are sure to uplift and inspire  youth in the Black community who continue to face systematic racism and social injustices. The article has been edited by Faria Ahmed.

Chadwick Boseman’s Legacy as the ‘Black Panther’

Chadwick Boseman had an outstanding acting career. His ability to bring all of his characters to life and blend into his roles perfectly (despite his unfortunate illness during the last four years of his life) was incredible. Before Black Panther, Boseman had other movies that portrayed a Black man defeating odds against racial discrimination. For instance, the actor had played Jackie Robinson in the widely recognized film 42, which spoke about how Robinson became the first African-American to play in the Major Baseball League. By doing so, he successfully ended segregation in the said league, opening doors for many other African-American players.

Image: Chadwick Boseman Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Boseman has been a part of at least 15 movies, including 21 bridges, an action/thriller concerning NYPD detectives and conspiracies, and Get On Up, which tells the story of the ‘Godfather of Soul’ James Brown among others. Boseman’s talent will not be forgotten and has truly made a large impact. Four of his films are available on Netflix at the moment: Captain America Civil War, Marshall, Da 5 Bloods and finally Message from the King.

42

Although most people are quite familiar with the household name Jackie Robinson, whether they’re interested in baseball or not, it felt appropriate to revisit this legend who broke barriers, not only in sports, but across America during racial segregation. Throughout his career, Boseman felt it was important to be cast in movies that positively represented Black people in the media, where it usually tends to be lacking or only prevalent in roles that reinforce negative stereotypes. 

Image: Chadwick Boseman
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Grappled with setbacks along the way, Robinson experiences difficult challenges that anyone who wants to be the first in something has to take on. Examples include Jesse Owens and Gabriel Douglas, who became the first African American to break barriers in their sport. Robinson even experienced hate and racism from his future teammates, with them even going as far as drawing up a petition to prevent him from playing on the Brooklyn Dodgers team. He took insults and derogatory terms and threw them back at his adversaries by proving himself through his skill and talent. These actions paved the way and set examples for ball players and other athletes who were to come after him.

This heartfelt movie that’s based on a true story is an important story in history that must constantly be told. Some of the scenes in this film were difficult to sit through especially when you take into consideration that these offensive actions were carried out not even 75 years ago by grandparents and great grandparents who are still alive today. However, as was shown in scenes with baseball executive Branch Rickey, even though some people are in fact very cruel, they aren’t all the same. Robinson had a small support group of people with him at all times that rooted him all the way to victory and to a successful career.

Beyonce’s Black is King

Black is King has had a profound impact on the Black community. While some argue that the movie’s depiction of black issues does not accurately mirror the current day situation, but that may not be entirely accurate. The Lion King has been close to the hearts of all those in the black community. Through ‘Black is King’, Beyonce attempted to send a message that every black person can be their own king or queen.

Image: Beyonce Black Is King Still. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The movie turns scenes that audiences would see in The Lion King into an interpretation of what every black person ihas to experience, and how they are always trying to find out who they are. The black community has been oppressed in various ways throughout history. That oppression has forced many in the community to forget their power as individuals and as a community, and this movie does and excellent job of reminding them of their abilities. Black is King gives the audience a boost in confidence, reminding them of their potential and right to be proud members of the community and walk around with their heads held high. That is what being a king or queen is about in this story. The use of music, dancing, drama and fashion play a crucial role in this exuberant production and helps deliver the message to a wider audience. The young black kings and queens are sure to love this real-life depiction of The Lion King., and It will inspire them to want to radiate their inner power like their ancestors.

Hidden Figures

This film quickly rose to the top of the box office back in 2016 and became a beloved fan favorite. It tells the untold, true story of three African-American women who played a profound role at NASA during the race to space. It has uplifted and empowered people across North America, really enforcing the message that one can do anything they set their minds to. It became an exemplar not only for females in the Black community, but for females worldwide to be inspired to join the STEM program and break the norm of being the minority within this field. 

Set in 1961, the audience is met with three powerful women who weren’t confined to the typical gender roles of their time. They were not at home fulfilling the traditional roles expected of wives where their jobs were mainly to support the husband and take care of the children. Conversely, the audience sees the successful single mother Katherine,, played by Taraji P Henson, supporting her three daughters, and two stable nuclear families portrayed by the characters of Mary (played by Janelle Monae) and Dorothy (played by Octavia Spencer).

In one particular scene, we see Mary getting dressed at night to go and pursue her degree while her husband stays at home and cares for the children. The strength and determination of these women stand out, considering the time when the women were already faced with social taboos and burdens, and women of colour ranked even lower in the scale of social privilege.

Viewers follow the story of a mathematician, an engineer, and a computer programmer, who experience constant uphill battles of racism and sexism from coworkers who do not want to see them succeed. One of the quotes from the movie that excellently defines the struggle of people of color in America at that time is “every time we have a chance to get ahead, they move the finish line”. However, this revelation did not deter them; these were three strong and smart women who knew their worth. They were not afraid to speak their minds or know when to demand more out of their jobs and that’s exactly the kind of representation that Black youth in this generation need today.

Nappily Ever After

The saying from Coco Chanel “a woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life” is highly relevant to the plot of this empowering movie starring Sanaa Lathan. This Netflix original movie takes an interesting spin on this quote by delving deeper into what lies behind these transformations. Nappily Ever After is an inspiring movie about self-discovery for any woman struggling to love their natural curls; however, it also reminds the audiences of the exceptionally difficult experiences of black women and the subjective oppression they experienced with regards to their hair and look, while trying to fit into the traditional white-blonde beauty standards of North America. While the movie is a great source of positive energy for all women, it is a must-watch for women of colour as it reminds them to recognize some of the unfair (and often unattainable) beauty standards imposed on them. The movie looks beyond the perceived beauty standards and informs women that they do not have to be prepped or groomed in a certain way in order to be accepted by society.

Image: Sanaa Lathan, Credit: Wikimedia Commons

From the invention of the heated hair straightening comb, natural black hair has been treated as inappropriate for the workplace, not beautiful for social events, and just something that needs to be managed or modified into something more acceptable and traditionally beautiful as sleek, straight hair that most women possessed. According to this BBC article, when Black people were protesting against racial segregation during the Civil Rights Movement, they re-embraced the “Afro” hairstyle which were more similar to Black hairstyles of their ancestors and less in line with mainstream white beauty standards. In this movie, a similar moment of self-empowerment is seen when the lead actress finally gives up on this painful need to fulfill the mainstream “elegant” hairstyle of perfectly straightened and shiny black hair and shaves it off, thus freeing herself from the shackles of society.

This movie reinforces the idea that perfection doesn’t lie in Eurocentric standards and women can be beautiful no matter if they have kinky, curly, straight, short, long or no hair. 

One of the biggest takeaways from this movie lies in the dialogue: “don’t ever let someone’s negative opinion of you become your reality”. This was reflected by the main character, Violet, who owned her newfound freedom with executed poise and grace after shaving off all her hair. Although she let go of what she deemed to be the perfect man and the perfect job in her eyes, she was able to embrace her natural hair and beauty by accepting who she really is.

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