During the week of the 88th Academy Awards, we got three black veteran creators (producer Debra Martin Chase, writer/producer Devon Shepard, and casting director Tracy "Twinkie" Byrd) to give us a raw look at the issue of racism in Hollywood, from the inside-out. It's a dope conversation on why the Oscars are so white, with one of my personal favorite pieces being how black stories are being told...or not told. Without looking outside of the box, it's hard to break down many of the stereotypes that plague black films and television shows, and with two trailers that recently dropped, it looks like Hollywood might finally be listening.
Take Fox's upcoming Hidden Figures, which stars Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae, and Octavia Spencer. The film uncovers the true-life tale of Katherine Jackson, a mathematician, physicist, and space scientist who, along with her colleagues, helped John Glenn become the first American to orbit the Earth. It's something we've seen before—fans of
Mos Def Yasiin Bey will remember Something the Lord Made, a 2004 film about black cardiologist Vivien Thomas and how he helped lead modern heart surgery—but in 2016, a film highlighting the true story of three smart af black women calculating the trajectory for Project Mercury? That's some black excellence.
Keep in mind that, while Hidden Figures director Ted Melfi has already said that the film isn't "a reactionary movie," he understood that "it will be seen as one, which is unfortunate." Sometimes, timing is everything.
Also recently released is the trailer for the much-anticipated Moonlight, which is written and directed by Barry Jenkins and is an intriguing coming of age tale about a young man living in Miami during the height of the War On Drugs, taking us through his struggles with love, his sexuality, and his masculinity. It's told through three different stages of his life, and appears to feature an awesome performance from Trevante Rhodes, as well as Mahershala Ali, who is not only in Hidden Figures as well, but plays the main villain Cottonmouth in Luke Cage, and is also in another coming of age film due out this year, Kicks.
Again, it's not that these films are reinventing the wheel when it comes to the portrayal of black Americans on film; the tales of rough inner city life, racism, and the lack of diversity in the workplace (as well as feelings towards LGBTQ people) aren't anything new. And while the hope would be that films like Hidden Figures and Moonlight can create some kind of awards buzz (which, based on the trailers for both, should be in the bag), the more important feat is giving moviegoers the option to see depictions of black life that they might read about, but is hardly represented on the big screen. While we'll see critics go bananas for another epic slave film or for well-done biopics on rap vets like Straight Outta Compton or the upcoming 2Pac film All Eyez On Me, the black male experience in America isn't just here to be told through the stories of hip-hop legends.
Truth be told, it would've been marvelous to have had a black woman direct Hidden Figures (which was helmed by a white man), but these are just baby steps. It's hard enough getting proper representation for people of different colors and sexual orientations on screen; I'm OK with having Hidden Figures be the foundation for change. We can't stop here, though. We need to continue bringing on the diverse projects, with intriguing stories being told for all walks of life, so that the young black (or other minority) creatives out there who have captivating projects to tell can feel empowered enough to present these to studios. Hopefully, with these projects gaining more exposure (and doing better at the box office), we'll start to see a snowball effect, where we're not having to write thinkpieces about what's wrong with Hollywood and any problems with diversity. We have to start somewhere, and with Hidden Figures and Moonlight, it feels like we have a truly awesome launch pad.