Ha-tien Nguyen / Podcast Editor

A story deserves to be told,

Doesn’t matter if it’s new or old.

We won’t disappear,

We’ll always be here,

Remembered as the brave and bold.

Documentaries can be glimpses of forgotten pasts as well as dives into the shocking, saddening, but often beautiful, moments of today. I’ve always had a soft spot for documentaries, not only as someone with an avid craving for knowledge, but also due to a love for the human experience. The genre gives viewers the chance to deeply connect with the films’ subjects, finding similarities, as well as recognizing differences, highlighting our own individuality.

When I first began this article, my focus was going to be on simply Black character-driven documentaries, such as “Hoop Dreams” (1994). However, as I began researching and writing my first draft, I realized that many of these films were directed by white people. I don’t think this negates their significance, but I believe there is an importance to having Black stories present in front of the camera as well as behind the camera.

Here are three of my favorite documentaries that highlight the emotions and experiences of Black people through the lenses of Black filmmakers.

‘Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror’ (2019)

In the spring of 2018, director Jordan Peele won the Academy Award for best original screenplay for his directorial debut “Get Out” (2017), making history as the first Black man to win the award. Peele’s win, along with the critical acclaim of the film, marked a significant moment for horror films created by Black producers and actors, opening the genre to the public and inviting Black filmmakers to tell their scary stories. Although horror films such as “His House” (2019) and series like “Lovecraft Country” have furthered the genre’s impact, the movement has had its fair share of highs and lows throughout history. It’s this framing that introduces us to the 2019 documentary “Horror Noire.”

Directed by Xavier Burgin, “Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror” explores Black representation in the genre, from its beginnings in the early 20th century to reappearing tropes like the non-white character being the first one to die. Based on a book of the same name, the documentary gives a chronological look at the films that influenced Black horror with commentary from critics as well as impactful actors and directors, such as Tony Todd, Rachel True, Ernest R. Dickerson and many more.

A majority of the horror commentary takes place inside a movie theater, where pairs and trios sit together to discuss the influence of certain films as well as facts about the production. This format was an interesting decision because while clips of the film are spliced in throughout, the interviewees are watching these moments on the big screen too. In doing so, we share the same reactions and we see the excitement and memories return for the viewer.

If you’re a fan of horror, looking for new movies to add to your watch list, or interested in the intersection of race and horror, then I highly recommend watching “Horror Noire.”

Courtesy of Spoonersnofun.com / Duwayno Robertson

‘Afro-Punk’ (2003)

While there is a wide range of ideologies that fall under the punk umbrella, an important feature of all punks, one that I’ve witnessed firsthand, is care for community. Whether helping a fellow fan stand up in the pit or engaging in the protection of your peers against institutional powers, punks aspire to create a protected atmosphere. However, these kinds of spaces historically often become dominated by white, cisgender men, thereby setting up a barrier that makes it difficult for new fans to feel comfortable, as seen in the documentary “Afro-Punk.”

Released in 2003, “Afro-punk” investigates the experiences of Black people involved in the punk scene across the U.S. Focusing on personal anecdotes from musicians and fans alike, director James Spooner illustrates the recurring dysphoria of being Black in a scene largely led by white artists.

The feeling of isolation is a major theme throughout the documentary. Not only did Black fans express feeling lonely while within the white punk scene, they felt a similar distance established by Black people outside of the scene. As a result of this loneliness, fans either took steps to look as if they belonged in the punk scene, such as by straightening their hair, or left to establish a more Black-led space. However, among these stories of isolation existed moments of community; times when fans would rage together. Spooner points toward the flaws of the scene while highlighting the beauty that can exist in punk.

“Afro-Punk” is a pivotal DIY documentary that raises important questions about exclusion and acceptance, all accompanied by a head-banging score.

‘Black Is … Black Ain’t’ (1995)

Marlon Riggs was an influential documentarian in the late ’80s and early ’90s who explored not only what it meant to be Black in America, but also how his race intersected with his sexuality as a gay man. A majority of his work featured personal anecdotes about the difficulties with understanding his identity, as well as deep examinations of queerness and Blackness in culture. Riggs passed away in 1994 due to AIDS complications and his final film, “Black Is … Black Ain’t” is a testament to his work as an artist.

“Black Is … Black Ain’t” asks what it means to be Black, investigating not only its beauty but the ways it coexists with gender and sexuality. Using archival footage, interviews with Black scholars and activists such as Angela Davis and Michelle Wallace and recordings of Riggs, we get an expansive look at the role of labels in defining ourselves.

The film uses interviews and quotes from famous Black figures to provide a comprehensive look at how descriptors such as “Black” or “African” have been imbued with new meanings throughout time and, as a result, have sparked new conversations about the idiosyncrasies in identity. Along with these broad discussions though were intimate moments with Riggs, specifically recordings of him on a hospital bed. He’s aware of his failing health, acknowledging the fact that he’s losing weight and directly telling the cameraperson how he wants certain shots to be implemented in the film. Yet, he possesses hope and a smile as he imitates the sounds of jazz music and laughs with those around him. Riggs is able to find comfort in the time he has left as well as in himself.

Riggs gives a quote in the film that’s really stuck with me: “There is a cure for what ails us as a people, and that is for us to talk to each other.” It’s a thought that I not only echo but I also think this documentary sets out to explore the idea. “Black Is…Black Ain’t” is a reminder that each of us possess rich, thoughtful experiences and rather than combat one another or isolate ourselves because of them, we can listen. 

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Eythen Anthony (he/him) (23C) is a Creative Writing and Psychology major from West Virginia. His writing has been featured in the Viral Plays Project and the Lenaia Playwriting Festival. He's also a finalist for the 2019 Crossword Hobbyist Crossword Scholarship. In his free time, Anthony enjoys collecting Blu-rays, attending punk shows and reading. Contact Anthony at eythen.aaron.anthony@emory.edu.