Hey Hollywoodland: do you need another reminder that your diversity numbers suck, especially in the world of scripted cinema? Well too bad because here's another one, and it's coming from right underneath your nose. Documentarians are sort of killing it right now, and five black, female documentarians have Oscar-qualifying films under their belt. And you should definitely take note.
As it stands, the five in question are Gideon's Army by Dawn Porter, Free Angela and All Political Prisoners by Shola Lynch, Valentine Road by Marta Cunningham, The New Black by Yoruba Richen, and American Promise by Michele Stephenson.
It may come as a surprise to some that a genre so often relegated to indie movie houses — where rich, white people are in no short supply — has as diverse a pool of filmmakers as it does sensibilities. But you'd also be an idiot (and we know you can't be one of those, I mean you are reading this story. Right?).
Documentary films regularly heave their lofty, idealist ambitions onto the plight of "The Other." People, places, things, and situations are played out on screen — their uniqueness and/or outrage-inducing message on show for all to see and create a better understanding of our large and complicated world. Through stories big and small. So it's no surprise that those with a more complex and/or nuanced understanding of the subject matter at hand are black. (And I certainly don't need to provide you with an endless, nauseating list of all the ways in which we've disenfranchised and just generally made things terrible for black Americans, right?)
Check out the trailers for the powerful and award-winning docs, below:
Free Angela and All Political Prisoners by Shola Lynch
Valentine Road by Marta Cunningham
Gideon's Army by Dawn Porter
American Promise by Michèle Stephenson and Joe Brewster
The New Black by Yoruba Richen
As Jai Tiggett stated, "black documentary filmmakers - and black women in particular - are doing groundbreaking work that continues to be overlooked even within the doc and independent film space." Which is clearly echoed in the above documentaries' trailers. And though all five of the films on her list have been "awarded and recognized widely on the film festival circuit," they're "still struggling to get mentioned on the shortlists that will push them towards serious Oscar consideration." So we've decided to do our part because — guess what? Something like this deserves a more than a bit of amplification. Especially when you consider how some in the documentary landscape feel about their contemporaries. (Spoiler alert: it's very hypocritical!)
Like Leviathan and Sweetgrass documentarian Lucien Castaing-Taylor, who was quoted in an interview as being less-than-supportive of his contemporaries. "I hate most documentaries," he said. "The moment I feel like I'm being told what to think about something, I feel that I want to resist the authority of the documentarian." Which is pretty dumb, huh? Especially when you consider that a good documentary rarely ever tells the audience how to feel or what to think: it evokes emotion and opinion-forming based on the power behind the story being told. Maybe if more people took documentaries for the thought-provoking material that they are, there would be less of this and more of these films in the spotlight.
Sure, people find documentaries unsexy or uncool — but there's nothing cooler or sexier than an inclusive, diverse group of people bringing light to the overlooked crevices of the world around us. So get on board and step your game up, scripted films. You've got a LOT of work ahead of you and your nerdy-and-amazing little sibling doesn't care to slow down.