Must-see films from Black directors

Mackenzie Bookamer, Arcade Editor

movie poster for phillip youman, a black director's, first feature length film burning cane which has won many awards
Courtesy of Burning Cane

To celebrate Black excellence in the film industry, here are some eye-opening films to watch by Black directors. 

Burning Cane (2019)

Phillip Youmans

“Burning Cane” is Youmans’ first feature film, and it garnered him much success in the film industry. He was the youngest and first African American to win the Founder’s Award for Best Narrative Feature at the Tribeca Film Festival. Youmans is a New Orleans native and produced “Burning Cane” during his final years of high school, ultimately releasing it in 2019 when he was 19 years old. This means he holds the distinction of being the youngest director to have a feature film be presented at the Tribeca Film Festival. As for the film “Burning Cane,” it is set in rural Louisiana and focuses on the delicate role religion plays in everyday life and how this can lead to dark manifestations. The film highlights how Helen, an aging mother living in the cane fields, struggles to balance accepting her long-standing religious beliefs and loving her son. The film is available on Netflix. 

Selah and the Spades (2019)

Tayarisha Poe 

“Selah and the Spades” is Poe’s directorial debut, and chronicles the life of Selah, a high school senior who is the leader of a ‘faction’ of students known for selling drugs in school. Her high school is broken up into other factions, all of which are vying to exert the most influence. This struggle for power causes Selah to turn to destructive actions, and fuels the conflict between characters during the film. All of this takes place under Selah’s peppy, cheerleader facade, adding to the dark message the film ultimately portrays. Think “Bring it On” with a sinister twist. Even though this is Poe’s first feature length film, it certainly won’t be the last. “Selah and the Spades” is available on Amazon Prime. 

Life, Animated (2016)

Roger Ross Williams

“Life, Animated” is a documentary about Owen Suskind, a boy with autism who begins to speak only after watching Disney movies as a kid. His parents then begin talking to him in the style of Disney characters to teach him how to communicate with the rest of the world. Throughout the film, Suskind develops into a young man capable of accomplishing any task he sets his mind to. “Life, Animated” is a truly heartwarming film, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary. Williams has also directed other documentaries such as “God Loves Uganda” and “The Apollo.” “Life, Animated” is available on most streaming platforms. 

These are just some Black directors that have found success with their films, but here is a list of up-and-coming directors to keep an eye out for, as their success is sure to come in the future.