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Film Movement of 2011: Ava DuVernay, AFFRM & Black Cinema's Subtle Core

There's a stir taking place in black cinema. It's quiet. Indie. And it's happening in theaters, and social networks all around.

What is black film? Does it exist outside of Tyler Perry movies? Is there such a thing as "art house" when it comes to black film? Sure, people know Will Smith and Denzel Washington but I'm not talking about movie stars... what's happening in black cinema is much more subtle, under-the-radar, ground-breaking.

I won't attempt to sum up a whole movement in one post. This is more of a quick version. A starter-kit. An unofficial "Part 1" documenting a shift in black cinema. Independent film is going through some amazing changes with new talent bursting on the scene like Brit Marling and Another Earth, platforms like Kickstarter and several other examples that Reel Artsy has spotlighted throughout the year. If the Subtle Core were a music genre, it would be a version of Dream-Pop because of its "focus on ethereal textures and moods... almost whispered... lyrical delivery."

Black Cinema & The New Subtle Core (or Subtle is What We Aim For)

In the Subtle Core, tone is key. These films ask hard questions. They're character driven and invoke a sense of emotion, revealing unexplored spheres of black life. Sometimes they're funny. But at their core, they reach for the dramatic moments. I like to think of them as descendents of French New Wave, in an offbeat modernized hybrid way.

A look at three black films that capture the spirit of the movement.

1. Medicine for Melancholy - Barry Jenkins is a leader in the pack. Watching Medicine for Melancholy was one of those magical movie moments. I saw his film at a theater that served vegan movie snacks and I remember having several conversations about it being the kind of movie that "black cinema needed." While not released in 2011, it marks a substantial awakening among "art house" black cinema goers. It featured a noteworthy soundtrack with bands like Au Revoir Simone (if you're not familar with their synth-pop style you're missing out) and it was nominated for a couple Independent Spirit Awards.

2. I Will Follow - This film rocked the black cinema world with its tender story and brilliant marketing plan. A new name in black cinema emerged as Ava DuVernay's AFFRM got movie critics and fans buzzing about Salli Richardson's breakout performance.

3. Restless City - I saw this film at the AFI Film Fest last year and I automatically knew it belonged in a category alongside Medicine for Melancholy and I Will Follow. It's a story about an African immigrant living in NYC, and it's a beautiful step forward in what I've affectionately labeled as "Subtle Core."

Other films associated with the movement: Pariah, Mooz-lum, Yelling to the Sky

Actors/ filmmakers/ innovators: Barry Jenkins, Ava DuVernay, Evan Ross, Wyatt Cenac, Tracey Heggins, Salli Richardson, Omari Hardwick, Ty Hodges, Pete Chatmon,, Chinonye Chukwu, Cinema In Noir

#SubtleCore Twitter list:

For those familiar with these films please share your comments. How would you describe the movement in black cinema? New to these films? Check out the trailers below.


Candice Frederick said...

nice post! Medicine for Melancholy!

deb said...

So looking forward to this Nu wave of film makers and films. As they reach beyond comedy and occasional love stories.Bringing a new depth of talented screen writers,actors and directors making films everyone can relate too and enjoy.

Dankwa Brooks said...

Having seen 1, 2 & 3 I have to say I liked 'I Will Follow' the most. I thought 'Medicine for Melancholy' was ok. I thought 'Restless City' was good, but what stood OUT was the OUTstanding cinematography.

Karen said...

The cinematography in Restless City was impressive!

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