By Nsenga K. Burton
In 2021, the box-office did not disappoint with outstanding films on the big screen and streaming apps. This list is an opportunity to elevate some films that may have been undervalued or overlooked for a variety of reasons including subject matter, perceived lack of star power, genre or release date.
“Boxing Day” (Amazon Prime Video) – Looking for global Black love or remembering what being in love feels like? You’ve found it in this funny, heartwarming film that takes viewers from the Dirty South to South London. Inspired by writer, director, and star Aml Ameen’s life, “Boxing Day” follows Melvin (Aml Ameen), a British writer and former soap opera star living in America, who returns home to London for Christmas to introduce his American fiancée, Lisa (Aja Naomi King), to his energetic British-Caribbean family.
“King Richard” (Warner Bros.) – If “teamwork makes the dream work” was a film, “King Richard” would be it. “King Richard” is the engrossing story of a father’s determination to write his talented daughters into the sports history books. Will Smith plays Richard Williams, the father who understands his daughters’ greatness and the context in which they are living, from the moment they were born.
Executive produced by the Williams sisters and Smith, the film offers a humanistic view of Richard Williams as a loving father who makes sure two Black girls from Compton can rewrite their destiny, rise to the highest heights and belong wherever they choose to be.
“My Name is Pauli Murray” (Amazon Prime Video) – The life of Rev. Pauli Murray is American history that is as important to the present as it is to the future. This documentary takes you on the journey of Murray, a non-binary African American woman, who was the first Black woman ordained as an Episcopalian priest and co-founder of the National Organization of Women (NOW). Murray’s legal theories were so brilliant and influential, Supreme Court justices Thurgood Marshall and Ruth Bader Ginsburg used them to win some of their most historic cases.
“Summer of Soul” (Fox Searchlight) –Iconic musician and bandleader Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson makes his filmmaking debut with the documentary that is as much a historical document as it is an homage to Black musical excellence. Thompson escorts viewers into a world of Black music, fashion and culture at the Harlem Cultural Festival held at Mount Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Park) over the course of six weeks in 1969. He reminds us of the cultural significance Black music played in a revolution that was not televised.
“Passing” (Netflix) – With a cast that includes Ruth Negga, Tessa Thompson, Alexander Skarsgard and Andre Holland and a story based on a novel written by American novelist Nella Larsen, “Passing” is a must-see movie about the reality of passing at a time when being Black equated to having no rights and a life with no value to empowered Whites other than as unpaid or low-wage labor. One wrong move by a Black person could result in certain death or an uncertain future.
“Fatherhood” (Netflix) – “Fatherhood” is a film about a happy family rocked by tragedy. In a refreshing departure from his usual role as the funny lead or sidekick, comedian Kevin Hart convincingly plays Matt, a broken-hearted father trying to raise his newborn daughter after the unexpected loss of his wife Liz (Deborah Ayinde). Alfre Woodard delivers a powerful performance as Marian, Matt’s mother-in-law who is working through grief and the fear of losing her granddaughter.
“Swan Song” (Apple TV+) – Cameron, a loving father played brilliantly by Academy award-winning actor Mahershala Ali, finds out he is terminally ill just before learning he has a second child on the way with his beautiful and doting wife Poppy (Naomie Harris). Presented with a life-saving and life-altering solution to his demise, Cameron must decide whether or not to change life’s trajectory or to stay the course and accept the future he knows instead of the unknown.