In an article about recent Black-led films, artistic renditions of images from three such films.

10 Contemporary Black-Led Films for Black History Month

Check out the most recent underground hits of Black cinema.
March 1, 2023
9 mins read

February is Black History Month — a time to celebrate Black people, intellect and culture, and cinema happens to be a great way to appreciate all three at once. Black-led films have been extremely successful in recent years, from blockbusters like “Black Panther” to critical darlings like  “Moonlight”. However, this month is an opportunity to focus on some lesser-known movies that deserve a little shine. Here are ten underrated Black-led films that came out in the 2010s and 2020s.

“Deidra & Laney Rob a Train” (2017; dir. Sydney Freeland)

“Deidra & Laney Rob a Train” is an offbeat young adult comedy about two sisters who pull off the heist of their lives to keep their family afloat. Deidra (Ashleigh Murray) and Laney (Rachel Crow) are high schoolers who dream of leaving their dull Idaho town. When their mom, Marigold (Danielle Nicolet) gets arrested, they come up with the titular train-robbing plan. It’s a crazy idea — so crazy it just might work. Despite the difficult subject matter, the film’s wit and heart make it a fun watch.

Available on Netflix

“Passing” (2021; dir. Rebecca Hall)

The past comes alive in “Passing,” a historical drama based on Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel of the same name. The film follows two light-skinned Black women: Irene (Tessa Thompson) and Clare (Ruth Negga). Former childhood friends, they now live in completely different worlds. Irene and her husband (André Holland) are fixtures in the Harlem Renaissance social scene, while Clare passes as white and hides her race from her husband (Alexander Skarsgård). When the two women meet again, Clare’s secrecy threatens both of their lives. The suspense and the complexity of Clare and Irene’s relationship are sure to draw in any viewer.

Available on Netflix

“Pariah” (2011; Dee Rees)

“Pariah” is a coming-of-age drama about Lee (Adepero Oduye), a teenage girl who is figuring out her identity as a lesbian. Lee’s coming out story is complicated by her parents’ tense relationship. Amid all the chaos, she finds refuge in writing poetry. Lee faces several challenges, including her budding relationship with a classmate named Bina (Aasha Davis). The film portrays the reality of homophobia while also embracing the joy of found families and Black lesbian culture. Ultimately, Lee’s journey is an inspiring tale of resilience and personal growth.

Available on Amazon Prime Video

“The Last Black Man in San Francisco” (2019; dir. Joe Talbot)

Based on the true story of lead actor and co-writer Jimmie Fails, this film is a stunningly-directed tale about gentrification and friendship that appeals to the universal need for a home. Fails is a San Francisco native who lives with his best friend Mont Allen (Jonathan Majors). Fails is obsessed with maintaining the Victorian house where he grew up (to the chagrin of its current owners), so when it is put up for sale, the eccentric duo moves in illegally. Suffering through family trauma and community turmoil, Fails and Allen fight to stay in the house.

Available on Showtime with FuboTV

“The Lovebirds” (2020; dir. Michael Showalter)

Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani star in this romantic comedy about a couple who go on the run after witnessing a murder. Leilani and Jibran are in a relationship rut, and they mutually decide to break up. Moments later, a killer commandeers their car, which thrusts them into the adventure of a lifetime. Through a wild night filled with kidnappers, frat parties, secret societies and an orgy, Leilani and Jibran solve the murder and rekindle their romance. This hilarious film is perfect for anyone looking for thrills, laughs and love.

Available on Netflix

“Miss Juneteenth” (2020; dir. Channing Godfrey Peoples)

“Miss Juneteenth” is a family drama about Turquoise (Nicole Beharie), the former winner of a pageant that celebrates Juneteenth and offers a scholarship to a historically Black college. Now an adult, Turquoise enrolls her reluctant teenage daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze) in the pageant. Meanwhile, Turquoise handles a complicated romance with her ex-husband Ronnie (Kendrick Sampson). “Miss Juneteenth” honestly portrays Black womanhood, mother-daughter relationships, generational trauma and Black Texan culture.

Available on BET+

“Atlantics” (2019; dir. Mati Diop)

This Senegalese supernatural drama film follows two star-crossed lovers named Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré) and Ada (Mame Bineta Sane). Forced out of work, Souleiman and his co-workers take to the sea in hopes of immigrating to Spain, but their boat goes missing. Meanwhile, Ada deals with an arranged marriage to another man. In the face of tragedy, the workers’ spirits transcend physical boundaries to enact revenge on the society that mistreated them. “Atlantics” is a ghost story about real life, love, loss and the possibility of open water.

Available on Netflix

“Sorry to Bother You” (2018; dir. Boots Riley)

LaKeith Stanfield shines as Cash in “Sorry to Bother You,” a dark comedy film in the same Afro-absurdist vein as the FX series “Atlanta,” Stanfield’s most notable project. Cash is a deadbeat who lucks into a call center job to the delight of his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson). Cash excels, and he’s eventually promoted to the coveted position of “power caller.” This prestige leads Cash to discover the horrifying plans of mega-corporation CEO Steve Lift (Armie Hammer). Riley’s film is a hilariously searing satire of racial capitalism that will leave you with lots to think about.

Available on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video

“Luce” (2019; dir. Julius Onah)

Social commentary and suspense intersect in “Luce,” eponymously named after an orphan (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) from war-torn Eritrea who was adopted by white, wealthy Americans. Now a high school student, Luce has a fraught relationship with his history teacher, Ms. Wilson (Octavia Spencer). After Luce writes a controversial essay in class, a web of lies forms out of thin air, tangling the relationships between Luce, his parents, his teachers and his classmates. The thriller film offers an unconventional perspective on interracial adoption, class privilege and Black identity. “Luce” benefits from simmering tension that will keep your attention until it explodes — no pun intended.

Available on Amazon Prime Video

“Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” (2022; dir. Adamma Ebo)

“Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” combines a comedic mockumentary style with heartbreaking drama. The film stars Sterling K. Brown and Regina Hall as Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs and First Lady Trinitie Childs, a power couple rebuilding their megachurch after sexual assault allegations against the pastor. They hire a documentary crew to chronicle the path to reopening their church. Despite the couple’s intentions, this is not the story of Lee-Curtis’s redemption. Instead, it’s the story of Trinitie’s sacrifice and rage. Hall and Brown’s biting humor and heartfelt performances bring this film to life.

Available on Amazon Prime Video

This month, take some time to look into some of these Black-led films. You might just find a new favorite.

Elizabeth Fulton, Emory University

Writer Profile

Elizabeth Fulton

Emory University
Film and Media Studies, English and Creative Writing

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