2017 was a great year for black movies and TV shows, but one would not know it if one looked only at most critics’ year-end top 10 lists.
That’s why The Root presents to you the best black films and TV shows of 2017—but first, a few caveats:
1) Power is not on the list because the acting on the series is consistently terrible—even if the plot is engrossing. 2) She’s Gotta Have It didn’t make the list because the show was too preachy and the great acting and innovative direction could not make up for its narrative flaws. 3) Dear Black People just missed the cut because, well, there was so much good black TV this year.
Let’s begin with the top five movies:
If a white filmmaker had made this small, contemplative superhero origin story, it would have been enough to convince studio executives to give him a chance to make a big-budget genre film. Instead, many have still heard of neither the film nor J.D. Dillard, the black writer and director. Sleight takes seriously the question of what would happen if a superhero were to come out of a South Central, Calif., milieu. This is one of the most original superhero films of 2017.
4. Strong Island
This is a beautiful, devastating film about the 1992 murder of the filmmaker’s brother that occurred on New York’s Long Island and how, because the victim was black and the perpetrator white, justice remains elusive. Yet while Yance Ford explores the crime, he is more interested in what grief did to his family because they were forced to move forward without resolution. This is required viewing.
Directed by Dee Rees of Pariah fame and co-written by her and Virgil Williams, this Netflix original film examines how racism and war forever change two families—one white, the other black—struggling to survive in early-20th-century America. Mary J. Blige gives a powerful performance as the matriarch of the Jackson family. I expect her to receive an Oscar nomination for her role.
2. Girls Trip
The comedy of the year follows a group of black women as they reconnect in New Orleans during the Essence Festival. If you haven’t seen this, shame on you—but be warned: You’ll never look at grapefruit the same again.
1. Get Out
This is the movie of 2017. While it has been analyzed and discussed ad nauseam, the fact that Jordan Peele called this a documentary, not a fictional tale, is one of the most insightful comments he could have made about the film.
Next, the best television:
In the same way that we take LeBron James for granted, we also take for granted this show’s consistent greatness. It tells the hard truths about being black in America without losing sight of the joy that being black can bring. The fact that it does this on network TV and has not yet been canceled is a testament to the writing and acting on the show.
Although it was canceled, this was one of the most original shows of the year. There were many narrative questions left unanswered, but that does not take away from the fact that this season was brilliant.
This season of Greenleaf was an honest examination of homophobia, class, family and pettiness within the black church. It doesn’t hide the revered institution’s imperfections; nor is it cynical about the good that can be found between those four walls. This and Queen Sugar are proof that Oprah has become the 21st century’s patron saint of black visual art.
2. Queen Sugar
It was hard to put this at No. 2 because of the beauty and honesty of the show, which, in no small part, is because black women are deeply involved in the writing, direction and running of the show. Yet while the direction and writing of this show are top-notch, the performances of the actors in the series that is in the No. 1 spot, plus the sheer ubiquitous nature of that show’s cultural conversation, are what place it just above this one.
Part of why Issa Rae’s HBO original series became a social media phenomenon is that each character in the show is so well-written, you can see why they make the poor decisions they do while still being angry with them for making those choices. The only thing I would change is the male lead’s name. He is out here messing it up for everyone named Lawrence.
I mean, I am Team Lawrence, but I ain’t team that dude.