Published on: 15 October 2020 in Industry
Black History Month 2020: Directors UK members share their favourite screen moments
Reading time: 12 minutes and 56 seconds
Recently, we asked our members tell us their favourite screen moments from Black directors to help celebrate Black History Month 2020.
We received a fantastic response full of screen moments that have inspired and engrossed the Directors UK community, with scenes that span genres — from documentary to TV drama to short film. Scroll below to see an incredible range of directing craft, and read from the members that have been inspired.
Moonlight (2016) directed by Barry Jenkins.
There are many moments in Moonlight that inspire me, but the one scene that stands out for me is when Little is learning to swim in the sea. This is a metaphor of a baptism and represents the transition into a new life. Juan is a father figure to Little and represents the father Little never had. Little is Juan’s surrogate son in his childless relationship with Theresa. Juan is also a mentor guiding Little towards his destiny. All of this is captured in the image of Juan holding Little in the water.
Ladies Day (2018) directed by Abena Taylor-Smith
This debut short film from Abena Taylor-Smith, supported by Creative England is nine minutes of joy. Watch out for the hair salon scene where Abena comically brings together multiple generations in a lively and warm moment filled with gossip and hair spray, whilst still maintaining the lead character’s inner awkwardness and anxiety derived from casual homophobia and banter in the salon.
Do the Right Thing (1989) directed by Spike Lee
About to take a bite from his slice Buggin’ Out’s eyes catch the walls of the Pizzeria. On there hang framed portraits: Frank Sinatra, Liza Minelli, Al Pacino, Bobby De Niro, Pavarotti, etc. Perturbed, the young Black man calls out to the middle aged Italian-American owner Sal and asks: “Ay, Sal, how come you ain’t got no Brothers up on the wall here?” Sal responds: “You want ‘Brothers’ on the wall? Get your own place you can do what you wanna do.” It’s the best illustration of UK/US industry attitudes to diverse representation in Film and TV.
Follow Kieran on Instagram at @thebournedirection.
Get Out (2017) directed by Jordan Peele
Get Out is a remarkable film that redefined the horror genre. My favourite scene is the guests arriving in black cars to the garden party where they warmly greet Walter, the Black groundskeeper. It’s visual storytelling that’s so subtle you don’t realise its importance until it’s too late. The film is an exercise in how to hide everything in plain sight without telegraphing your plot. It’s gripping, funny and scary as hell. Jordan Peele made an entertaining, original horror film with a great plot and performances — that it also takes on white liberal racism, code-switching and white feminism in 104 minutes is breathtaking.
Follow Christine on Twitter at @christinelalla.
Symbiopsychotaxiplasm, Take One (1968) directed by William Greaves.
I love this film for its playfulness, wit and daring. Shot in Central Park in 1968, Symbiopsychotaxiplasm, Take One is a film about the making of a film. The form is bold--sometimes Greaves shows us the same action from three different perspectives. Other times, he shows us a fictional scene, the crew shooting it, and passers by watching. My favourite part is the crew meeting in the production office to criticize him. And then a shot comes up beside it...Greaves, standing on a boulder in the park, lost in thought. Hilarious, uncomfortable, messy, brave...and unforgettable.
Follow Erin Cramer on Twitter at @erin__cramer.
Handsworth Songs (1986) directed by John Akomfrah
Handsworth, Birmingham, 1985. Another part of another city in turmoil. Brixton, Toxteth and others had had their moments. Now it was the turn of the black residents of Handsworth to vent their anger against the racist vein of blood running through some sections of British society. Thatcherism encouraged a zero-tolerance attitude to protest, which included the vicious treatment of the miners during their strikes at the same time. Police brutality and racial tensions were widespread.
But out of the ashes of this latest upheaval in Birmingham came Handsworth Songs commissioned by Channel 4 in its pioneering years. Directed by John Akomfrah and produced by the Black Audio Film Collective, Handsworth Songs mixes newsreel and still photographs against a rich tapestry of sounds and music as it details the experiences and reflections of those who were there.
The moment in the film that set my imagination on fire was the montage of images set to a reworked version of ‘Jerusalem’ which captured the ugly underbelly of a white establishment that didn’t care, and their inability to understand the human imperative of treating all people equally, whatever the colour of their skin or ancestral origins. The irony of using ‘Jerusalem’, a song that asks whether Jesus, an immigrant, once walked on this ‘green and pleasant land’, and yet celebrated by many as an anthem of Englishness, gives this sequence a raw, honest and breath-taking reality.
Hunger (2008) directed by Steve McQueen
Steve McQueen’s atmospheric first feature was a devastating telling of the troubles in Northern Ireland through Bobby Sands hunger strike. Michael Fassbender’s performance was exceptional and McQueen’s unwavering direction and steady pacing, made me feel like I was watching a man waste away. He clung to life and I felt his struggle to stand up for his beliefs, whatever the cost. It was amazing that McQueen was given the opportunity to direct a feature film that was not about his race, which is not the norm for directors of colour.
Timbuktu (2014) directed by Abderrahmane Sissako
Very hard to choose just one scene, but the final shots of the film where the children are running across the desert was particularly moving and poignant, it encompassed both the defiance and desperation of the characters, as well as the grace and the deep humanity of the story.
Coach Carter (2005) directed by Thomas Carter
Ken Carter, played by Samuel L. Jackson, approaches the gym which has been locked due to the players underachieving academically. To his surprise, he finds his basketball team sat at desks studying, something he had insisted on them doing in the library, but had been met with resistance. In the scene we see how the tough love shown by Coach Carter has moulded a group of ill-disciplined players into a team.
Timo Cruz, played by Rick Gonzalez, who is arguably the most disruptive player stands and he articulates perfectly the power “Our Deepest Fear” written by Marianne Williamson.
The scene illustrates how the power of motion picture can move and motivate the viewer.
Samson and Delilah (2009) by Warwick Thornton
This film is as beautifully poetic as it is tragic. A portrait of young aboriginal love on the run set in the stunning landscape of Alice Springs. The callous climax of the teenage characters we’ve followed through their journey never left me.
Follow Aurora on Twitter at @aurorafearnley.
Yeelen (1987) directed by Souleymane Cissé
Yeelen is full of memorably composed shots. One that has stuck with me shows Soma, a powerful man who practices magic, conveying hostility and anger simply in how he wields a fly-whisk.
One of the threads in the film is Soma’s conflict with his son, whose ascendance he perceives as a mortal threat. Epic, but also with moments of wit and humour, this film opened my eyes to what cinema is capable of as an art form. (At the time, I understood very little of the film’s context and culture. Film is a great instigator of further education!)
Follow Anke on Twitter at @ankelue.
Crooklyn (1994) directed by Spike Lee
Spike Lee’s vibrant, coming-of-age film Crooklyn, holds a particularly moving moment for me in the scene where Troy, the young protagonist, finally breaks through her denial and begins to accept her mother’s death. Spike uses sweeping, circular camera movement to encapsulate the swirling, confused consciousness rising from her nightmare. And then, by just keeping the camera still and allowing the brilliant performances from Delroy Lindo and Zelda Harris to play out, the moment lands simply and painfully. It gets me every time, no matter how many times I watch the film.
I wanted to convey the remoteness of the location & stay connected to the emotion of the team’s arrival.— JermainJulien.com 🎥🖤🎬 (@JermainJulien) June 25, 2019
One of our drone team wasn’t able to attend on the day, so I stepped in and caught the drone. Had no monitor to see the image. #DeathInParadise #DirectorsCommentary 🎥🖤🎬 pic.twitter.com/OoEHeC1Qgh
There are so many scenes/shows that I want to shout out about, I can’t single one out – so:
Christiana Ebohon-Green for deft, nuanced directing on the backstreet abortion storyline on Call the Midwife with guest star Ann Mitchell.
Darcia Martin for one of my favourite Father Brown episodes when Flambeau seeks out Father Brown’s help – elegant, and fun.
Jermain Julien for classy, sassy work on Wolfblood, and the coolest drone shot on Death in Paradise (see above), he even catches the drone himself (whaaaaattttt, I’d lose a finger).
Alrick Riley for glorious bonkersness on the season finale of Dirk Gently.
And lastly Amma Asante for a beautiful love scene in Where Hands Touch, shot from a unique perspective that made me sit back and re-evaluate how we tell our stories.
Follow Delyth on Twitter at @delyththomas.
Buck and the Preacher (1972) directed by Sidney Poitier and Bran Nue Dae (2010) directed by Rachel Perkins
This 1972 film was Sidney Poitier’s first as a director. It’s a comedy Western starring Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte as cowboys who lead a group of freed slaves to safety, saving them from plantation owners who have sent racist outlaws after them. There’s a wonderful scene when, after robbing a bank, The Preacher, Buck, and Buck’s wife (played by Ruby Dee, who worked closely with Sidney in many films and was also a fellow civil rights activist) are chased by the outlaws. Just as they are about to be caught they reach a line of Native Americans which parts to allow them safe passage through and then immediately closes, saving them from the racist gang. It’s a wonderful moment where the two groups show solidarity for each other.
Rachel Perkins is an Australian director with indigenous heritage. This is a coming of age musical set in the 1960s about an Aboriginal Australian who runs away from his boarding school. There’s a scene where Willie (played by Rocky McKenzie) is about to be punished by Father Benedictus (played by Geoffrey Rush) but before he can strike the boy’s hand Willie pulls away and bursts into song, the lyrics of which start with ‘there is nothing I would rather be than to be an Aborigine and watch you take my precious land away’. It’s a joyous song and dance number that undermines the authority of the priests and speaks of 1960s Australia.