Black films were really big in 2016 — but just wait for 2017 to get going
From a Black Lives Matter doc to Henrietta Lacks to Tupac to Idris Elba to a new ‘Jumanji’ — fresh black films are arriving fast and furious
The year 2016 was everything for black filmmakers and actors.
Director Barry Jenkins dominated with Moonlight, which won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Drama and is up for eight Oscars. Hidden Figures topped off critical success by becoming the highest-grossing best picture Oscar contender at the domestic box office. Plus, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences became significantly more diverse, and black movies and stars were nominated for scores of awards at this year’s Oscars. It’s the first year that a black creative has been nominated in each of the acting categories.
Off the top, it looks like 2017 is set to make sure #OscarsSoWhite remains a mere footnote in the history of Black Twitter. F. Gary Gray, director of 2015’s Straight Outta Compton, will be coming on strong in ’17. And Benny Boom, director of 2009’s Next Day Air (aka our Saturday morning favorite) will be dropping a little something good this year as well. Dee Rees, famed director of 2015’s Bessie, is also slated to release a project.
Also, be on the lookout for Get Out, The Incredible Jessica James, Crown Heights, Kiki, and Mariannes Noires. These movies are sure to hit TV, streaming services, and the box office red-hot this year. Their storylines range from eerie thrillers to touching documentaries to dramas; they’ve got you covered all ’17.
Actors Jada Pinkett Smith and Sterling K. Brown, as well as newcomers Kortnee Price and Demetrius Shipp — will be showing up and showing out in dramas, comedies, and action films. And of course, what would 2017 be without biopics and historically-themed films to keep moviegoers grounded in black experiences past and present? The films that were greenlit in 2016 by major studios will be making noise at box office and via streaming services over the course of the next year. Here’s an advance.
Release: March 10
Set at fictional, historically black Frederick Douglass University, Burning Sands takes a disturbing look at the “price paid for elite brotherhood“— the rituals of fraternity hazing. It’s the directorial debut for Gerard McMurray, who worked as an associate producer on 2013’s Fruitvale Station. As the “‘line brothers’ enter the final stretch of pledging, the rules of hell week unfold with little exposition.” The film — loaded with panic, clearly dislikes the practice of hazing — but also places it on overt and painful display for viewers. This film is a tough look in the mirror for many — but it’s necessary.
Kong: Skull Island
Release: March 10
Featuring: Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Jing Tian, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell
This film will serve as a reboot of the King Kong franchise and is the second set in Monsterverse, home to Godzilla as well. Favorite Samuel L. Jackson portrays Preston Packard, a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and leader of the helicopter Devil’s Squadron — they take up a final assignment to survey Skull Island. Jackson seems like the only actor who can go from being our favorite coach in a drama to starring in a sci-fi flick to an action-packed film hunting oversized mammals. Also: Don’t leave while the end credits are still running.
Deidra & Laney Rob a Train
Release: March 17
Featuring: Ashleigh Murray, Danielle Nicolet, Rachel Crow
In an effort to help make ends meet, two sisters Deidra (Ashleigh Murray) and Laney (Rachel Crow) decide to rob trains. As bills start to pile up, the young ambitious girls pull off a series of elaborate thefts to keep themselves afloat. Now, I know the actor playing Laney sounds a little familiar. That’s because she is. Remember Rachel Crow from 2011’s season of The X Factor? Well, she is all grown up now. We can’t wait to see her in this film, although she’ll always be the sweet girl with the amazing voice well beyond her years.
Release: March 24
Featuring: Naomi Scott, Becky G, RJ Cyler, Ludi Lin
“Are we more like Iron Man? Or Spider-Man?” This film, the first Power Rangers project of the 21st century, reimagines the franchise with a cast of (mostly) newcomers. The nostalgia factor is strong — ’90s kids, this one’s for you.
The Fate of the Furious
Release: April 14
Featuring: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Nathalie Emmanuel
The Fast and Furious franchise is one of the most successful of all time — and its success is driven by diversity — so it’s no surprise that The Fate of the Furious is set for theaters this spring. This installment is directed by Straight Outta Compton’s African-American director F. Gary Gray, and all of the franchise’s favorites are back, including Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Tyrese Gibson, and Luda. After the sudden and tragic death of Paul Walker, many Furious fans wanted the series to come to a close. Is this the final episode?
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Release: April 22
Featuring: Oprah Winfrey, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Courtney B. Vance, Ninja N. Devoe, L. Warren Young, Jock McKissic, Rose Byrne
[Your Face Goes Here Entertainment/HBO]
Based on Rebecca Skloot’s 2010 book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, this film stars Oprah Winfrey as Henrietta Lacks’ daughter as she tells the story of how her mother’s hospital visit for stomach pains ended up with her sample cells — without her knowledge or consent — being taken and used ultimately as critical foundation of cancer research that resulted in groundbreaking advances. Brilliant Renee Elise Goldsberry of Hamilton: An American Musical, portrays Henrietta Lacks. Currently, Lacks’ family is suing Johns Hopkins University for using their late mother’s cells without her permission. Although a made-for-TV film makes it ineligible for an Oscar nod, we still believe this story will be as compelling as ever. Definitely one of 2017’s must-see films.
Release: May 19
Featuring: Amandla Stenberg, Anika Noni Rose
Everything, Everything is about a girl Maddy Whittier (Amandla Stenberg) who is forced to live life confined to her hermetically sealed house because of an illness. She falls in love with the boy next door, who refuses to let their love be separated by her sickness. This movie explores young interracial love and a challenging mother-daughter dynamic. Maddy’s mother is played by Anika Noni Rose, who is protective of her daughter and fears losing her to her sickness. Stenberg is already a spectacular actress. We love to see her in these new roles that reflect her acting capabilities and match her outspokenness on social issues.
All Eyez On Me
Release: June 16
Featuring: Demetrius Shipp, Danai Gurira, Jamal Woolard, Stefon Washington, Kat Graham
[Morgan Creek Productions]
All Eyez On Me will focus on the life of Tupac Shakur through his unsolved Las Vegas murder in 1996. Set to be released on what would be the legend’s 46th birthday, the rap star is portrayed by newcomer Demetrius Shipp, and the film is directed by famed music video director Benny Boom, 44 (the film’s third director). Boom has directed clips for 50 Cent, Ciara, Meek Mill and Nicki Minaj, to name a few. But don’t expect a just another rap video. “This is an icon of our generation,” Boom said last year. “And I’m here to tell his story.”
Release: July 21
Featuring: Queen Latifah, Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith, Tiffany Haddish
Four lifelong friends take a trip to New Orleans for the Essence Music Festival. After the success and magic that was 1996’s Set It Off, we’re always here for seeing Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett Smith share a screen. Directed by Malcolm Lee (Roll Bounce, The Best Man Holiday) Stony and Cleo are back — well, sort of, and although this film stars only one-half of the Set It Off dream team, we will take it. Nobody does it quite like them, and we’re expecting some good laughs. Grab your best girls, or link with the fellas and get ready for the ultimate #friendshipgoals flick.
The Dark Tower
Release date: July 28
Featuring: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Abbey Lee, Katheryn Winnick
In an Old-West-like setting, Idris Elba stars as Roland Deschain, an apocalyptic gunslinger in search of a mysterious man in black and the fabled Dark Tower. Elba’s character wants to preserve his apocalyptic world. The film is inspired by author Stephen King’s eight bestselling novels and is rumored to be a continuation of the seventh book in the series, The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower. Writer/producer Akiva Goldsman has some thoughts about the casting of the talented Mr. Elba: “I understand that people who are thoughtful about the storytelling and the racial politics of the storytelling might want to understand how that informs that storytelling, and I respect that and I hear that, and those things are not things we didn’t think about or don’t think about. The racist a–h—s should go f— themselves.”
The Hitman’s Bodyguard
Release: Aug. 18
Featuring: Samuel L. Jackson, Ryan Reynolds, Gary Oldman, Salma Hayek
This action-comedy stars Samuel L. Jackson as hitman Darius Kincaid who, as the title suggests, is being protected by a bodyguard named Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds). Kincaid and Bryce have a history of fighting on opposite sides and cannot stand each other. But as always, in the name of good, the two must work together to get to The Hague, Netherlands, in 24 hours, all while avoiding an evil dictator (Gary Oldman). Jackson as a hitman is never a bad idea.
Release: Aug. 25
Featuring: Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones, Rene Russo
[Broad Green Pictures/Studio]
Comedy. Morgan Freeman is an ex-mob attorney who is in a witness protection program. His golf rival is an ex-FBI agent (Tommy Lee Jones). The two will be forced to put their sports rivalry to the side to thwart a hit. Freeman wins again.
Release: Oct 13
Featuring: Chadwick Boseman, Sterling K. Brown, Keesha Sharp, Jada Kay
[Open Road Films]
This film, about Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court justice, features the red-hot Sterling K. Brown as Joseph Spell, a man on trial for attempted rape and attempted murder. The backdrop is racism in the North, and anti-Semitism. Marshall is portrayed by Chadwick Boseman, who is more commonly known for being Black Panther in last year’s Captain America: Civil War. Reginald Hudlin (2012’s Django Unchained and 1990’s House Party) is directing. “It’s a thriller, not a biopic,” Hudlin said in January, “about an early case of one of the greatest lawyers in American history.”
Release: Nov. 17
Featuring: Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Amy Adams, Ben Affleck
[Warner Bros. Pictures]
Plot details are under wraps, but the film apparently takes place in the months following the events of last year’s Batman vs. Superman. Superman (Henry Cavill), Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and a motley crew of metahumans combat villains looking to steal a group of Mother Boxes. Stage actor Ray Fisher stars as Cyborg (he made a cameo as the same character in Batman vs. Superman). Who’s playing Green Lantern? Well, not an African-American, despite that fact that a black actor, Phil LaMarr, voiced him in the cartoon many of us grew up on, Justice League Unlimited.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Release: Dec. 15
Featuring: John Boyega, Lupita Nyong’o, Adam Driver, Andy Serkis
[Walt Disney Pictures]
The plot for this next installment of Star Wars films is still tightly sealed — although it will reportedly pick up where 2015’s The Force Awakens left off, with Rey handing Luke Skywalker his old lightsaber after finding him living in exile. And we do know Finn (Boyega) and Maz (Lupita Nyong’o) are returning. Blerds, stand up!
Release: Dec. 22
Featuring: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Nick Jonas
[Matt Tolmach Pictures]
A reboot of the 1995 original, this new version features four teenagers encountering wild animals, and all kind of traps. Dwayne Johnson’s character transforms from shy and meek to brave explorer, and Kevin Hart’s character changes from a stereotypical jock to genius. Johnson and Hart uniting on-screen — as they did in last year’s Central Intelligence — does sound pretty funny. In any case, they seem to be having a good time on the set.
Release date: TBD
Featuring: Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Noomi Rapace, Lucy Fry
In Bright, which was part of a $90 million deal that came down to a bidding war, Will Smith teams again with Suicide Squad director David Ayer for this fantasy-esque film. In it human detective Smith works with Orc detective (Joel Edgerton) to combat crime and take control of a powerful wand. This should be an interesting role for Smith because, of course, he has limited experience playing a detective surrounded by aliens and/or nonhuman creatures. It’s only right we support this one. With any luck, they’ll finally take the hint and bring Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to Netflix. We’ve been waiting.
City of Saints and Thieves
Kerry Washington is looking to work with Insecure executive producer/director Melina Matsoukas on City of Saints and Thieves, which is based on a bestselling novel. Will Packer (Ride Along, Think Like a Man, Stomp The Yard) will likely produce. The story is about Tina, a young woman who has been living on the streets of Kenya since the death of her mother. She’s soon recruited into a gang — and intends to seek revenge for her mother’s murder, but finds that things are not as they appear. The plot sounds thick and emotional.
La Vie Magnifique De Charlie
Featuring: Kortnee Price, Nikki Lashae, Lailaa Brookings, Ashley Evans
[Bobby Huntley Films]
Charlie, shot in Atlanta over six weeks on a low budget, follows Charlie and two friends on a wild and tumultuous day. Following the death of her sister, Charlie is perhaps too upbeat during her grieving process. Writer/director Bobby Huntley describes Charlie as a “passion project.” You may recall Huntley from the 2015 NE Heartbreak The Movement which was an effort by New Edition fans to bring the group’s story to the big screen (the movement was launched before BET’s recent biopic and is not associated with it). The Charlie trailer packs an emotional punch.
Featuring: Jason Mitchell, Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Rob Morgan, Mary J. Blige
[Black Bear Pictures/Netflix]
A “devastating historical tragedy in the post-WWII Mississippi Delta,” Mudbound, directed by Dee Rees (2015’s Bessie; 2011’s Pariah) and based on Hillary Jordan’s acclaimed 2008 novel, follows two men — one black, one white — who have come home from war and must readjust to life in rural Mississippi. “It’s not didactic, it’s not preachy,” Rees said in January, when the film was wowing the Sundance Film Festival crowd. “The thing I love about it, is its multiple points of view.” Jason Mitchell (Eazy-E in 2015’s Straight Outta Compton) stands out as Nazi fighting war hero Ronsel Jackson. Mary J. Blige portrays sharecropper Florence Jackson. It’s a historical piece, but some things don’t really change. “The drama,” says The Hollywood Reporter, “[is] fueled by sentiments still troublingly relevant in contemporary America.”
Featuring: Chanté Adams, Mahershala Ali, Nia Long
[Forest Whitaker’s Significant Productions]
Roxanne Shanté, a 14-year-old rapper from the Queensbridge housing projects of New York, is able to hold her own in the male realm of hip-hop. With production credits by Pharrell Williams and Forest Whitaker, this film is her story, and according to Rolling Stone it “eschews the creation myths, superhero narratives and obsessive musical focus of films like 8 Mile, Straight Outta Compton and Notorious, preferring a portrait of a teenager balancing school, poverty … pregnancy and domestic abuse.” From her mother’s (Nia Long) boyfriend stealing their life savings to experiencing a tumultuous relationship of her own with neighborhood hustler (Mahershala Ali), the film keeps it very real.
Featuring: Brittany Farrell, David Whitt, Tory Russell
This documentary follows the lives of several activists in Ferguson, Missouri, after Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in 2014. It’s the directorial debut of activist Sabaah Folayan, with co-direction by visual artist Damon Davis. If the goal is to tell the accurate story of Ferguson’s uprisings in an attempt to set the record straight about the community, it looks like it succeeded. Per Indiewire it’s a “compelling narrative, beginning with the community’s mournful protests in the days following Brown’s murder, to the militarized police tactics that needlessly escalated the situation, and ending with a united resurgence of the movement after the non-indictment of Brown’s killer, Officer Darren Wilson.”