7 Black Movies to See if You Can’t Bear to See Birth of a Nation (or Even if You Do)

Top row: Ashton Sanders in Moonlight; Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in Fences. Bottom row: Madina Nalwanga and Lupita Nyong’o in Queen of Katwe; Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton in Loving.
Top row: David Bornfriend; Paramount Pictures. Bottom row: Disney; Focus Features.

Ever since Nate Parker’s film The Birth of a Nation earned a record $17.5 million distribution deal and walked away with the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival back in January, the movie has been positioned as the film most likely to solve Hollywood’s #OscarsSoWhite problem.

But Parker’s past rape allegations may have hurt the film’s prospects, not only among Oscar voters but also with the moviegoing public. Writer Roxane Gay, in an op-ed for the New York Times, made it clear why she won’t go to see it. But Goldie Taylor, over at the Daily Beast, explained why she is going to see the film—which arrives in theaters Oct. 7—despite the controversy swirling around it.

But what’s been lost in all the Birth of a Nation chatter is that there are several films led by black filmmakers or black actors that may also be a part of the Oscar conversation. Here are some upcoming movies worth checking out even if you do, or do not, go see The Birth of a Nation.

1. The Magnificent Seven

Opens: Friday
Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke

This isn’t technically a “black” movie in the typical Hollywood sense, but since Denzel Washington is the biggest name in the credits and he’s reteaming with Training Day director Antoine Fuqua, we’re going to claim it.


In this remake of John Sturges’ 1960 film of the same name (which was a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 classic, Seven Samurai) Washington plays bounty hunter Sam Chisolm, the leader of a gang of outlaws who band together to protect a town from an evil industrialist.


Oscar prospects: Not great ­­­(the original, now recognized as a classic, only received one Oscar nod—for best music score). But, hey, don’t count out Denzel. Besides, the movie does look like a lot of fun.

2. Queen of Katwe


Opens: Friday
Starring: Lupita Nyong’o, David Oyelowo

Director Mira Nair (Mississippi Masala) tells the true story of a young Ugandan chess prodigy named Phiona Mutesi (played by newcomer Madina Nalwanga) who uses her gift to become an international chess champion, with the goal of helping her and her mother (Lupita Nyong’o) escape poverty. David Oyelowo plays a missionary who starts a chess club and becomes Phiona’s mentor after seeing her potential.


Oscar prospects: Pretty good, considering that you have previous Oscar winner Nyong’o with Oyelowo (I’m still feeling salty that he didn’t get nominated for Selma, but whatever, Hollywood). And reviews have been good for Nalwanga, who is starring in her first role.

3. Moonlight


Opens: Oct. 21
Starring: André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris

This coming-of-age tale by black director Barry Jenkins follows a young black man during three different stages of his life as he grows from a shy boy to a troubled teenager and finally a grown man who faces conflicts over drug addiction, masculinity and sexuality in 1990s Miami.


Oscar prospects: Excellent. At the film’s debut at the Toronto Film Festival, The Wrap reported that the audience rose in rapturous applause as the credits rolled. And Rolling Stone called the movie a “masterpiece,” saying that it is a strong contender for best movie of the year.

4. Loving


Opens: Nov. 4
Starring: Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton

Loving v. Virgina is the landmark Supreme Court case that forever changed the definition of marriage in this country by striking down laws that made it illegal for interracial couples to marry. This film is about Richard and Mildred Loving, whose only sin was to fall in love and then dare to get married while living in Virginia in 1958. They actually had to leave the state and go to Washington, D.C, to wed just to evade Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law.


Oscar prospects: Early Oscar buzz is pretty good for both Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton, who play the couple in the film. The Daily Beast also reported strong Oscar buzz when the film screened at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

5. Fences

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in Fences

Opens: Dec. 16, New York and Los Angeles; opens nationwide Christmas Day
Starring: Denzel Washington and Viola Davis

In this film, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reprise their roles from the 2010 Broadway revival of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, for which they both won Tony Awards. Washington, who plays an ex-baseball player struggling to take care of his family in Pittsburgh during the 1950s, also directs.


Oscar prospects: Washington and Davis bring Oscar buzz to anything they’re in, especially together. Look for Washington in the best director category, too.

6. Collateral Beauty


Opens: Dec. 16
Starring: Will Smith, Naomie Harris, Ed Norton, Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet

Will Smith stars as an ad executive who struggles to deal with the sudden death of his daughter. He copes with his grief by writing letters, not to people, but to time, love and death. In a quirky twist, those letters get answered.


Oscar prospects: He failed to get a nod for last year’s Concussion, which was seen as a serious role (though some had a problem with that accent), so whether he’ll get a nomination for this film is up for debate.

7. Hidden Figures


Opens: Jan. 13, 2017
Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, Kevin Costner

Based on the true story of the black female mathematicians who helped NASA and the country win the space race in the 1960s.


Oscar prospects: Deadline reports that based on the social media buzz around the film’s trailer, Fox 2000 is planning a two-city showing in late December so that the movie may qualify for this year’s Oscars, which will be announced in February 2017.

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