As we await Marvel’s Black Panther next month, it’s time to reflect on the Black creator content in the movie and television realm that we were blessed with in 2017. In 2017 we had Girls Trip, Netflix’s Dear White People, Insecure Season 2, Chewing Gum Season 2, Def Comedy Jam 25, and She’s Gotta Have It to name a few. There seems to be more Black artists telling their own stories through the lens nowadays and the quality also seems to be advancing and speaking to our current climate and generation.
This isn’t more evident than in Justin Simien’s Dear White People, the follow-up to his 2014 film about Black students at the fictional Winchester University. DWP focuses on the lives of these young Black students while also commentating on the current political climate. In Season 1, Chapter IV, there is a scene where Sam and Reggie watch a news report about a young Black boy named Caleb Jones, who was gunned down by a police officer and in the beeline, the anchor said traces of marijuana were found in Jones’s pocket as if it justified his slaughter. This event leads to Sam joining the Black Student Union and starts Sam and Coco’s divide.
Another relevant commentary is in Chapter V when Reggie attends a party hosted by one of his friends and the song “Trap Niggas” comes on. His white friends repeat the word “nigga” in the song and when Reggie and his friends tell the white boy to stop saying the word, a fight eventually happens and the campus police arrive. The cop immediately asks for Reggie’s ID and later draws a gun on Reggie when he is questioned by the Black student. Reggie is faced with his mortality in this situation like other Black people around the U.S. such as Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, along with many others.
Dear White People is a show for Black people, millennials, and anyone interested in quality entertainment. It has its flaws for sure with some of the dialogue feeling unnatural at times, but is an overall great show.
In the earlier part of 2017, we received Get Out, a thriller/horror movie from Jordan Peele. I haven’t seen this movie myself, unfortunately, but I’ve heard great things about it. The premise follows a Black man who is tricked into a false sense of security around a group of white people who he later learns are insane, placing him in a life or death situation. Get Out was recently nominated for two Golden Globes, including Best Musical/Comedy and Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy (for Daniel Kaluuya) which seems highly disrespectful to the film. Wish I could say more, but I’ve yet to see it.
A real comedy that needs to be recognized is Girls Trip, directed by Malcolm D. Lee and starring Regina Hall, Queen Latifah,Tiffany Haddish, and Jada Pinkett-Smith. Girls Trip is a perfect film to watch if you need a break from the more serious stuff in life. It’s a movie about four Black women having fun and getting into hilarious situations with a little bit of friendship beef and relationship issues thrown in. This was also the first time Tiffany Haddish had a lead starring role and was undeniably the most enjoyable part of this film. She will blow up from this movie.
Issa Rae also graced us last year with Insecure Season 2 and it ended up being even better than the first season. Issa was still awkward, Molly’s in a weird situation, and Lawrence is still trying to get himself together. It was a fun journey with a season finale that has us questioning what’s to come next. Season 3 can’t come soon enough.
Another Black girl who is without a doubt more awkward than Issa, is Tracey of Chewing Gum. Chewing Gum was created and written by the star of its show, Michaela Coel. It’s quite a lot of work for one person and this British comedy can be quite funny. As mentioned, Tracey is awkward as hell and in Season 2, she is still trying her hardest to lose her virginity. The show is ripe with a British humor, so it may not be for some people and at times I had a hard time understanding what people were saying. Much like Season 1, Season 2 was only six episodes long likely because this is a ton of work for Ms. Coel who is in the lead role, and writes all the episodes. While I don’t enjoy the show as much as others on this list, I do find it competent and will be on Netflix whenever it returns for Season 3.
Perhaps one of the most recognized Black creators last year was Lena Waithe, who wrote Aziz Ansari’s Master of None Season 2 “Thanksgiving” episode. “Thanksgiving” focuses on Lena Waithe’s character, Denise, and her relationship with her family across multiple Thanksgiving holidays as well as her coming out to her mother as a lesbian. It’s my personal favorite episode of Master of None and I love how Black it is, how funny it is, and how emotional touching it is. Lena Waithe received an Emmy Award last year for the spectacular episode and has her own called The Chi, which premiered January 7 on Showtime, about the life of young Black people in Chicago.
In regards to films, a Netflix movie focusing on the underground hazing of college fraternities released last year in March was probably one of the year’s best films. Burning Sands was directed by Gerard McMurray who was also a frat brother, thus adding a connection and personal perspective. Burning Sands approaches the subject manner in a serious fashion and questions the worth of brotherhood in fraternities and the effect it has on college students. Burning Sands ends with a powerful scene you will never forget. It is a powerful film that will keep you thinking after you watch it.
We also saw the return of Def Comedy Jam last fall with a Netflix special celebrating the 25th anniversary of the stand-up comedy show. We saw the creator of the show Russell Simmons himself along with former show host Martin Lawrence alongside comedy legends Steve Harvey, Dave Chappelle, Katt Williams, and Cedric the Entertainer, to name a few. I was a small kid when Def Comedy Jam aired and with its liberal use of profanity, I don’t have much memory of it. But this was still entertaining as hell to watch and it was fun to see where the comedians are today.
Dear White People was my favorite of the year until Spike Lee dropped the series remake of his debut film, She’s Gotta Have It. I adore this show so much. Spike Lee and his featured writers created a series that is unapologetically Black, artsy, feminist, and sociopolitical. DeWanda Wise as Nola is terrific and you can’t take your eyes off of her. The supporting cast also does a great job. Nola’s journey as a Black, sexually-free artist was a magnificent sight to follow throughout. This show also has some insane music choices as well. The show ended on a strange note with a cliffhanger, but we will see what’s coming next as the show has been renewed for a second season.
This was the last of the phenomenal Black created content of 2017 I watched. There was plenty to be upset about in 2017, but one of the highlights of the year was the amount of great Black-created content we received during the year. We even got decent content with predominantly Black casts from non-Black creators such as The Get Down Pt. 2 and The Incredible Jessica James. 2018 has just begun and I can’t wait to see what Black creators have in store for us.
By: Shawn Reynolds
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