We are probably inside of another Golden Age of Television and Film, particularly as it pertains to TV with its numerous outlets like traditional network, basic and premium cable options, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and YouTube. All of these platforms are vying for more audience, quality content, and programming from and for people of color. There were a lot of TV programs and first-run theatrical films that were noteworthy from 2016. Here is MIQ’s Definitive Top 10.
The Carmichael Show
What I like about this show is that it sort of reminds me of those great Norman Lear comedies from the 70s like All in the Family, but from a black family’s perspective. The hot topics of the day are discussed, conflicts are resolved, and this all gets achieved through a variety of comedic deliveries via the smart deadpan humor of Jerrod Carmichael, his over-the-top father David Allan Grier, and a vocally high-pitched, Jesus-praying mother played by Loretta Devine.
Issa Rae is very relatable throughout this 8 week series which takes places in L.A. Her character (Issa Dee) and the show at large is smart, witty, and a tad sexually awkward. She works hard (alongside some hilarious out of touch white co-workers), plays hard and loves hard, except when she engages in one spontaneous indiscretion. It’s almost impossible not to see yourself or someone you know through the eyes of the Insecure characters. Enjoyable programming.
Marvel’s Luke Cage
As a long-time fan of Marvel superheroes, I was elated to find out that this super strong black male character from Harlem, USA was finally coming to the screen. My initial instincts told me this action-packed program would’ve first been introduced in theaters, but Netflix made a better call by developing and bringing this tortured hero for hire to life over 13 episodes with its predominantly black cast, headed by Michael Colter, Alfre Woodard, the lovely Simon Missick (who plays Misty Knight) and Mahershala Ali.
O.J. Made in America
I would’ve listed the superbly acted mini-series starring Courtney Vance and Sarah Paulson, which aired on FX, but then this 5 part documentary produced by Ezra Edelman for ESPN Film’s 30 for 30 aired in June. For those of us who lived this, it was a vivid reminder of what life in Southern California was like, depending on which side of the tracks you were on. From the racial divide, suspect police culture, to the rise of O.J. Simpson and the murders of Nicole and Ron, and the fall-out afterwards, this documentary is beyond riveting.
I resent the notion that this is an emotional chick flick, as some have implied. Queen Sugar is one of the best programs currently on TV, courtesy of the OWN Network. Filmmaker Ava Duvernay intelligently delivers a powerful story over 13 episodes about family, heritage, black ownership, and age old conflicts that date as far back as slavery and the civil rights era. Queen Sugar chronicles the lives of the estranged Bordelon siblings in Louisiana, who took ownership of precious farmland after the death of their patriarch. Superbly acted by Kofi Siriboe, Dawn-Lyen Gardner, and Rutina Wesley.
Honorable Mentions: Atlanta, The Get Down, Survivors Remorse, Empire, Power, Blackish, American Crime, Greenleaf
Birth of a Nation
This movie was stripped of any potential Oscar accolades due to the off-screen allegations against its principal producer, director and lead actor Nate Parker. Nevertheless, Birth of a Nation was an ambitiously powerful film, well-acted, boasting a high-quality script, and with little to no budget, initially. It was certainly a timely story. There are those today who compare the uprising of slaves to the protest against police brutality, but that’s for another debate.
Between Fences and Moonlight, this has been a phenomenal year for Black cinema. Personally, I recall seeing this Pulitzer Prize-winning play by August Wilson back in the late 80s. It was revived on Broadway by Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in 2010, the same pair of actors who incredibly bring some gut-wrenching performances to the big screen. Kudos to the supporting cast, including Mykelti Williamson for his compelling performance of Gabe Maxson, and once again to Denzel Washington, who directed the film.
It’s always refreshing to learn about historic achievements that the schools don’t teach. Hidden Figures is one such example. The story centers on a dedicated team of African-American, female mathematicians in the 1960s who played a pivotal role in ensuring the launch and safe return of Nasa’s astronauts; superbly delivered by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, and Kevin Costner.
In September, I saw both actors Kofi Siriboe and Mahershala Ali in this wonderful, indie urban film, titled Kicks. This movie was sorely overlooked. It’s another day in the life film of a kid from Richmond, Calif. by the name of Brandon, splendidly played by Jahking Guillory, who was jacked for his pair of original Air Jordan sneakers by some gang-members. He and his buddies go through hell and high water to get them back. Filled with plenty of social statements and moments of humor, Kicks hopefully will see a surgence via cable.
Mahershala Ali is one of the hardest working men in the movie business today, and Moonlight will be the vehicle to make him a household name. Straight or Gay, this is a must-see film, if just to gain a greater and honest understanding of the inner-conflicts and struggles that can occur when love and sexuality collide, particularly during one’s formidable years. It’s beautifully delivered by the three actors who play the main role of a developing Chiron, while a Best Supporting Actress nomination is more than probable for Naomi Harris. Perhaps the best film of 2016.
Honorable Mentions: Queen of Katwe, Loving, Miles Ahead, 13, Captain America: Civil War