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The Top 12 Black Movies of 2021

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Night of the Kings from Philippe Lacote

It’s extremely powerful and affirming to be able to relate to an incredible character. For a long time, the predominant whiteness of the movie industry had failed to accurately reflect the real experiences and identities of Black audiences, which is why Black cinema is a necessary corrective to a century without diverse representation.

A Black film can be defined as a movie created by Black filmmakers and centered on their lives and stories, something which has been a real rarity throughout history, and in doing so connects to people who have otherwise felt marginalized. Spike Lee has told Vulture, “People of color have a constant frustration of not being represented, or being misrepresented, and these images go around the world,” which is why it’s so important for Black films to exist.

Updated July 2022: MovieWeb is always on the lookout for the best films and series so that our lists can be as authoritative and comprehensive as possible, and so this article has been updated with new entries as a result. Please enjoy this collection of the best movies from 2021 about the Black experience.

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This strong, human desire has been present in cinema since its inception. ‘Race films,’ as they were called, were made by early Black cinematic trailblazers like Paul Robeson and Oscar Micheaux outside the studio system, as the Hollywood machine would never allow them to be produced. Beloved by Black audiences, the movies were largely ignored and forgotten by an industry which couldn’t have cared less, and only a hundred of these survive. It wasn’t until the 1970s that Black cinema truly hit the mainstream, but even then it was denigrated by the term “Blaxploitation,” referring to the landmark films of Gordon Parks and Melvin Van Peebles, amongst others.

Ultimately, Black stories and characters in mainstream culture were usually shaped by white directors, screenwriters, and producers until fairly recently, which is why Rotten Tomatoes has “The 115 Best Black Movies of the 21st Century” but no similar article for the 20th. Finally, thanks to the stories and struggles of brilliant artists, some of the most successful and acclaimed films of 2021 were birthed from the minds and efforts of Black creators, and the opportunity is developing where Black directors are vital to a film’s authenticity and delivery.

Ryan Coogler has stressed how important it was to have a Black director for Black Panther, saying, “Perspective is so important in art. It’s an important thing.” Black cinema is about having people of color tell their own stories rather than reenacting them through the lens of white filmmakers; it’s about storytelling from an honest perspective, one with the potential to change the stories of others. These are the best Black films of 2021.

Andra Day’s intense portrayal of the legendary Billie Holiday inserts so much empathy and humanity into the gritty, upsetting film The United States vs. Billie Holiday. A great singer herself, Day plays Holiday from the gut, winning a Golden Globe and receiving an Oscar nomination for tapping into the classic artist’s brilliance and despair with incredible honesty. Lee Daniels has been a hero in Black cinema ever since he became the first African-American to solely produce an Oscar-winning film (Monster’s Ball) back in 2001, and also through his work on Precious and The Butler; here he laments the tragedy of a great musician who was dealt a bad hand. The film is dark and graphic in its depiction of addiction and violence, but Day shines amidst the misery in one of the year’s best performances.

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