In 2019, some of the Blackest moments in movies weren’t always in Black films, but many were. We offer 19 of the moments that made us laugh, cheer and think when we went to the movies this year.
Jordan Peele’s American horror story, US, started 2019 gunning for Blackest cast of the year with Black Panther alumni Lupita N’yongo and Winston Duke starring as the married parents Gabe and Adelaide Wilson. While Gabe, in his Howard U sweatshirt wielding an aluminum bat, warning, “If you wanna get crazy, we can get crazy!” is a strong contender for Blackest moment of this film, we have to give it to another more nuanced scene.
While vacationing at their beach house in Santa Cruz, Adelaide is coping with an overwhelming sense of dread that her husband seems oblivious to. In fact, with the kids down to sleep, Gabe tries to make moves on his wife, sliding his thick thighs into a woefully undersized bed, inviting her to join him.
"I think that scene really is a conversation of just how disparate of an experience they're having at that time," Duke told BET.com after laughing at the internet's infatuation with his thickness. "One of [Gabe's] biggest weaknesses is he's not a good listener, and that plays into all the '-isms' that he represents, to me. He represents ultimate privilege and the privilege of not knowing about an experience because he doesn't go through it."
Thoughtful and brawny is why Duke is a leading man. – Jerry L. Barrow
What Ment Want is a modern remake of the Mel Gibson film of similar premise titled What Women Want from back in 2000. Starring the fiery and uncompromising Taraji P. Henson, Aldis Hodge and former college football great Brian Bosworth, Henson plays the only female sports agent, Ali Davis, in a firm filled with testosterone and cronyism. Davis is magically given the ability to read men’s minds and what results is a plethora of bawdy laughs stemming from adult situations.
One of those said situations is after Ali and her new flame Will (Hodge) have spent the night together and his son, Ben, appears at the side of the bed wearing Ali’s black panties on his head. “I hope that it’s OK that I borrowed your mask,” he says innocently before invoking Black Panther. “Welcome to Wakanda!” Will wakes to the scene and implores his son to “Close your mouth, don’t breathe!”
“We had fun with that scene because Adam (Shankman) just let us be free and add as much color to the characters as possible,” Hodge told BET.com. “That was a fun day, trying to get him to put on the underwear. When he realized what it was he was like, ‘Hold up, fam.’ So, I had to put the underwear on my head to show him it was cool.” – Ricardo Hazell
In High Flying Bird Andre Holland plays an ambitious—if not desperate—sports agent named Ray Burke, who's trying to keep his head above water during an NBA lockout. One of his clients is an anxious rookie named Eric Scott (played by The Land’s Melvin Gregg), who has yet to set foot on the court but has already landed himself into some off-court drama.
From the opening tip, the movie (shot on an iPhone by famed director Steven Soderbergh) is dripping with the Blackness that the world has latched onto and commodified for financial gain. Burke and Scott are having a heated exchange in an expensive restaurant about Scott’s decision to take a high-interest loan during the lockout.
“When he’s lecturing Eric he clearly loves him and wants him to do well,” Holland told BET.com. “But there’s a distance he wants to try to keep.”
Burke’s disgust is palpable, but it still doesn’t hold a candle to when Bill Duke’s Coach Spence admonishes any and everyone (including himself) for comparing the NBA to the institution of slavery, insisting that they recite, “I love the Lord and all His Black peoples,” when they commit said offense.
Written by Moonlight’s Tarell Alvin McCraney, High Flying Bird is a compelling reflection on Black power in business and how they “created a game on top of a game.” – Jerry L. Barrow
Little, the modern-day take on films like Tom Hank’s Big, starred Regina Hall as Jordan Sanders, a powerful head of her own tech firm who is forced to relive her childhood as punishment for being cruel. As funny as Hall is in the role, co-stars Issa Rae and the precocious Marsai Martin grabbed most of the screen time and laughs.
In one scene, Issa Rae’s April has reached the end of her rope in dealing with the miniaturized and sassy version of Jordan (Marsai) and decides to go “old school” in disciplining her boss. But it backfires with hilarious results as Jordan turns the tables. The lopsided fight prompts a security guard to call for back-up declaring, “We have a BMW situation, Black Mama Whoopin!”
When the spanking isn’t going as planned, April goes for Jordan’s true weak spot—her bag-- and distracts her with it just enough to dole out some Black mama justice. --Ricardo Hazell
In The Fast and The Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw Brixton Lorr (Idris Elba) is a cybernetically engineered soldier with superhuman strength, unmatched intelligence, and is armed with a fatal pathogen that has the potential to wipe out half of the population from the face of the earth. In order to take out this threat, lawman Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and lawless operative Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) form an unlikely alliance by putting aside all of the issues that they had in the past and they team up to stop Lorr from annihilating the global population.
Idris Elba becomes one of the best villains in modern action films, embracing his Blackness all the way. Playing Brixton, he flips his Pacific Rim soliloquy on its head by heralding the apocalypse, instead of canceling it. He declared in an improvised line, “I’m Black Superman!”
“My character goes into a big maniacal speech about why we have to get the virus, why humanity is gonna kill itself, and why having enhancements is a good thing. At the end of it, I just decided to blurt out, ‘I’m Black Superman,’” recalled Elba. “Everyone laughed, I did it again and it made the movie.” Black Power looks good on the screen. -- Rashad Grove
After taking down a member of the High Table, the international assassin's guild’s most prominent hit man, John Wick (Keanu Reeves), quickly discovers that he is now without the protection of the organization. With a $14 million bounty on his head, Wick must battle his way through New York City as the most cold-blooded killers in the world seek to take him out.
Making her debut in the trilogy, Academy Award-winning actress Halle Berry plays Sofia, an ex-assassin, former friend of John and the manager of the Continental Hotel in Casablanca. She assists John after he presents her with a marker, which is an old favor that she owes him in return for saving her daughter years ago.
Sofia is a badass Black woman in John Wick 3 wielding two K-9’s and firearms with ease. In one scene, Sofia takes out over a dozen henchmen, execution-style, with her dogs by her side, all while looking fabulous the whole time. You don’t get any Blacker than that.
A box-office hit, John Wick: Chapter 3 Parabellum grossed $326 million worldwide, becoming the highest-grossing film of the franchise in a span of just 10 days. Because of the success of the sequel, John Wick: Chapter 4, is in development with plans to be released on May 21, 2021. We need Sophia back! --RG
After Thanos obliterated nearly everything moving in Avengers: Infinity War, the surviving members of the Avengers and their allies attempt to pull off the impossible by reversing the catastrophe in the blockbuster Avengers: Endgame.
In one early scene, Danai Gurira’s Okoye informs Black Widow, now leading the Avengers, that sub-oceanic earthquakes have been happening off the coast of Africa. Black Widow asks if the earthquakes need to be handled, but Okoye cuts her a dismissive look and says that nothing should be done. “It's an earthquake under the ocean. We handle it by not handling it.”
The line is delivered with that knowing attitude that has made Okoye a favorite, but observant fans believe there is more beneath the surface—literally. Audiences have speculated that this is a hint to an appearance by Namor the Sub-Mariner in Black Panther 2.
As for more collective Blackness, the moment when T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), Okoye, Shuri (Letitia Wright), and the rest of the warriors from Wakanda show up to the battle, full of Black power, Black Girl’s Magic, and vibranium, the contingent from Africa definitely takes the movie up a few notches. -RG
The latest installment in the Shaft series, with Samuel L. Jackson returning in the title role, was a rollercoaster ride of action and comedy that successfully updated a character many consider to be the first black superhero of the silver screen.
In this 2019 remix, John Shaft is back to bustin’ as many jokes as shots. He’s reunited with his long-lost son, an FBI analyst portrayed comically by young actor Jessie T. Usher, to track down drug kingpin Pierro "Gordito" Carrera, who put out a hit on Shaft while his soon-to-be mother, played by Regina Hall, was in the car.
RELATED: What Kind Of Father Is Shaft?
Much of the allure of John Shaft over the years is his unfiltered masculinity, as well as his resolve to stick to a moral code. However, Shaft's "baby boomer" directness is juxtaposed by a kinder, gentler form of masculinity exhibited by the younger Shaft.
In one of the coolest and Blackest scenes, Shaft bears witness to the skills of his progeny when Shaft, III drunkenly takes on a would-be bully at a nightclub. Capoeira lessons that his mother insisted he take as a child come in handy as he goes full Eddy Gordo leaving his “shoot first ask questions later” dad speechless. – RH
In the first of his two star-making turns in 2019, Kelvin Harrison, Jr. plays Luce Edgar, an all-star high school athlete who was adopted from his war-torn Eritrea. Luce is directed by Julous Onah and also stars stars Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Norbert Leo Butz, and Tim Roth.
Luce is a drama that explores W. E.B. Dubois’ concept of double consciousness in a new way, as Luce, a former child soldier, adapts to his home in America. Despite being an exemplary student and athlete, he struggles with expectations based on both his past and his present condition. Octavia Spencer plays his hard-to-please history teacher, Harriet Wilson, who holds Luce to a higher standard because of his academic success but harbors distrust because of where he was born.
The weight of being a child soldier who is now a model student, yet being stereotyped for both at the same time, leaves Luce feeling trapped. In one scene he is practicing a speech that he will deliver to the entire school and as the words fall from his mouth, tears begin to stream down his face.
“I came here to America, to this school, and I found myself,” he begins. “When I first met my mother, she couldn’t pronounce my name. She tried over and over to get the emphasis on the syllables correct, but…she just couldn’t. So, my father suggested they rename me.”
In this one moment it’s conveyed how two seemingly well-meaning people can be completely tone def and inept at meeting the needs of a Black child in America, and how that child must carry the burden of being stripped of his past--his name--while still being held in contempt for it. -JLB
In the film industry, the genre of science fiction has historically lacked adequate representation of African Americans. From actors, producers, directors, and writers, science fiction films, for the most part, have left Black people out. But we love science fiction too!
Thankfully Netflix’s See You Yesterday comes to the rescue, starring talented newcomers Eden Duncan-Smith as C.J. Walker and Danté Crichlow as Sebastian Thomas, C.J.'s best friend. Giving a nod to Back to the Future, Michael J. Fox shows up as one of their teachers at the Bronx High School of Science.
Directed by Stefon Bristol and produced by Academy Award winner Spike Lee’s 40 Acres and a Mule, the film narrates the exploits of two teenage science prodigies who spend their every waking moment minute researching and working on their latest homemade invention: backpacks that give them the ability to time travel. Fantasy and reality meet when C.J.'s older brother is killed, and they decide to test their invention by going back in time to save him.
See You Yesterday celebrates the power of Blackness by simply centering the genius of Black children in the film. The film displays the creative capabilities of Black children when they have access to resources such as STEM and how they can harness their imagination and giftedness to combat evil in the world. A Black woman in STEM as a superhero is the essence of Black excellence. See You Yesterday affirms the greatest asset we have in the Black community; Our children.
In a brilliant way, See You Yesterday uses the intellect of young Black kids and their love of science to analyze the reality of African Americans who are the targets of violence by rogue police officers. -RG
The Netflix film, Juanita, starring Alfre Woodard, Blair Underwood, Michael Henderson and Adam Beach, is a story of a middle-aged divorcee who has grown so tired of the weight of her life, that she decides to take out a map and hop on a bus in Columbus, Ohio, then hitchhike with a truck driver to a tiny dot of a town near Butte, Montana. Along her journey Juanita runs into a cast of characters of diverse backgrounds, including a First Nations restaurant owner named Jess.
If nothing else, the story was one of human kindness and love, especially self-love in the end. But the funniest scenes were filled with Blair Underwood, who portrayed a bumbling, broke, begging version of himself within the confines of Juanita’s fantasies. At one point, Blair Underwood is with Juanita in the throes of passion, his face gliding along her inner thigh, gazing lovingly into her eyes, and musters all the sincerity his soul can muster, and asks “Can I borrow $50, no $60?” The best part? The scene was written by Woodard’s husband, Roderick Spencer.
“I knew he could find Juanita and her voice,” Woodard told BET.com. “And the first thing he said was, ‘OK, the world is looking over this woman, looking past her, and so, every woman needs a fantasy life, so… Blair Underwood!’ But, even her fantasy lover is trifling – ain’t that something!” -Ricardo Hazell
Editor’s Note: Alfre’s performance alongside Wendell Pierce in Clemency deserves an honorable mention
In a post-Tony Stark world, young Pater Parker (Tom Holland) is trying his best to recover from the events of Avengers: Endgame. Not only is he adjusting to the 5-year “blip,” he’s finally trying to capture what is left of his childhood. With an overseas field trip to Europe planned, Peter is eager to leave the web-slinging behind to focus on getting with MJ, but Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson, is trying to recruit him to look into a new threat. “You have a job to do, and you’re coming with us.”
Peter insists that Thor or one of the veteran Avengers should be able to help, but Nick says that they aren’t available. Peter then counters that he’s “just a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man,” and Nick refutes him with the Blackest comic book film quote of 2019: “Bitch, please. You’ve been to space.” Jackson told BET that this was “A T-shirt line,” one of his famous tweetable and shirt-worthy quotes (like “Yes, they deserve to die and I hope they burn in hell!”).
The ad-libbed barb in Spider-Man: Far From Home was a departure from previous Marvel films where such language was given a Captain-America-esque admonishment or left on the cutting room floor. “The rules change so much,” says Jackson. “It’s an interesting rule change that throughout all of those hardcore Marvel movies we couldn’t curse. Now all of a sudden, it’s ok.” – Jerry L. Barrow
In a film brimming with Blackness, it’s hard to narrow it down to one moment in Queen & Slim. When you have a love story starring Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith that starts with a Tinder date in a Cleveland diner that leads to a cop being shot in self-defense, the bar for relatability starts out pretty high. But there is one scene in this impromptu journey to freedom that speaks to the Black experience in the most subtle and beautiful way.
Identity and appearance are never-ending topics in the Black community, and when our duo seeks refuge with Queen’s uncle Earl (Bokeem Woodbine), they must alter their appearance and switch cars to throw off the law. In addition to donning some pimptastic attire, they both have their hair cut.
As we watch Slim have his beard shaved clean and his hair clipped into a fade, and Queen’s braids lovingly untwisted to reveal her natural locks beneath, we are witnessing a Baptism of sorts as they are reborn. It’s a ritual that Black people have adopted in America for generations to both survive and heal, offering a moment of respite for our heroes and the audience. -JLB
The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a compelling film that addresses how gentrification impacts African Americans. Based on a true story, the plot follows the life of Jimmie Fails and his best friend Montgomery “Mont” Allen (Jonathan Majors) as they attempt to reclaim the Victorian house that he grew up in built by Jimmie's grandfather, who was also named Jimmie, in the Filmore District of the city.
When the neighborhood got too expensive, the real Jimmie and his father were displaced, moving to shelters and housing projects. Jimmie and Mont are launched into a life-changing journey that reconnects them to their past, tests the limits and bounds of their friendship, and it reorients them into a brand-new understanding of what home is.
The film opens with a powerful scene of Jimmie and Mont riding together on a skateboard, viewing the city of San Francisco with all the diverse people that comprise it. They finally reach the house that Jimmie’s grandfather built and then a voice yells out, “This is our home!” With that pronouncement, a beautiful ode to the beauty and necessity of Black male friendship begins and reclaiming what was taken away from Black families.
With a stellar cast of Danny Glover, Tichina Arnold, Rob Morgan, Mike Epps, and Finn Wittrock, The Last Black Man in San Francisco beautifully captures the power of belonging, memory, ancestry, gentrification, and the feeling of watching the world pass by. -RG
Dolemite Is My Name is what happens when inspiration and genius collide in a burst of creativity, documenting the unprecedented rise of an American dreamer. Rudy Ray Moore’s albums were essential grown-folk listening in many, many Black homes during the 70s and 80s. Called “The Godfather of Rap,” Moore’s creative branches directly affected the roots of a bubbling hip-hop movement still confined to parks and rec centers. It was only right that Eddie Murphy was the person to bring this man’s story to the big screen.
A thing that Dolemite is My Name effortlessly demonstrates is the connection between the contemporary nightlife of the Chitlin' circuit in the early 70s, and how that cultural phenomenon provided the catalyst for many careers. This is illustrated in the first meeting between Lady Reed (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and Rudy Ray Moore.
While exchanging blows with her philandering ex, Lady Reed was unaware that Rudy had noticed her ferocity and fearlessness as she laid out a grown-ass man without even flinching. After a brief convo, she reveals that she can actually sing, but has never considered being in the spotlight. In a touching and revealing moment, Rudy shares the "magic" for his success, creating personas to perform on stage, and encourages Lady Reed to do the same. After that sincere pep talk, a star is born and her life is changed forever. Not all Black love is romantic, and Dolemite Is My Name proved that in one scene. -Ricardo Hazell
Black and Blue is an action-packed thrill ride staring Naiome Harris and Tyrese Gibson that reveals how power can be used against vulnerable communities.
The plot follows a U.S. Army veteran, Alicia West (Harris), who makes her return to her hometown and becomes a rookie policewoman in the city of New Orleans. Alicia immediately learns first-hand of the long history of racial tension between the community and the police department that she now represents.
While responding to a 911 call, Alicia unintentionally captures the murder of a young drug dealer on her body cam. Now, she finds herself on the run from both the criminals and the officers who desperately want to get rid of the footage that will incriminate them. To save her own skin she teams up with Milo Jackson (Gibson) who happens to be the only person from the community who reluctantly agrees to assist her.
After Alicia gets shot and is knocking on any door she can find, in true Black fashion, the people from the neighborhood refuse to help her because they understand she is blue and not Black better than she does. Black people fully understand that interactions with the police have the potential to go the wrong way with tragic consequences. Sadly, this is a daily reality of the Black experience in America.
Black and Blue zero’s in on one of the Blackest realities of our culture; A deep fear and distrust of the police even when an African American is wearing the badge. -RG
Directed by Trey Edward Shults, Waves stars Kelvin Harrison Jr. as an intensely driven high school athlete named Tyler growing up in present day Florida. Sterling K. Brown plays his father, Ronald, who is a stern task master who is uncompromising in his beliefs and his governance over his children.
Tyler, a varsity wrestler, is pushing himself to the limit physically and emotionally. He is in constant pain and begins to self-medicate, which begins to effect other aspects of his very packed life.
In one telling scene he is transcribing notes for his mother, Catharine (Renée Elise Goldsberry) who is a therapist. Ronald walks in to check in on Tyler’s progress and their conversation about responsibility and expectations is like the famous “I brought you into this world,” scene from The Cosby Show with Cliff and Theo, except with all of the humor sucked out of it, and double the tension.
Ronald is critiquing everything about Tyler’s work, from the formatting to his pace. Tyler is visibly aloof and Ronald demands his attention before going into a two-headed speech that most Black children have heard at one time or another:
“Don’t shake your head at me, chump. This is my house. You don’t like how I run things, you can get out…” Ronald rips into his son before changing his tone. “Everything I do is for y’all... Everything... I only want the best for you, son... I’m trying to give you the tools to succeed in this world…I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- the world does not give a shit about you and me. We’re not afforded the luxury of being average. Gotta be 10 times better just to get anywhere... I don’t push you because I want to. I push you because I have to.”
Unfortunately, Ronald’s parenting style may be at the root of a tragedy that tears the family apart. --JLB
HARRIET, starring British actress Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom, and Janelle Monae, was beautiful from a technical standpoint and was wonderfully directed by Kassie Lemons. While it endured its fair share of criticism, a success by any other name is still a success ($42 Million gross on a $17 Million budget), whether from a box office perspective or a creative one.
Among the film’s accomplishments was showing Harriett Tubman as a real-life shero who undertook feats that were impossible to comprehend; running the Underground Railroad, being an agent for the Union Army, and the first woman to lead a military expedition in the United States.
However, though tough-as-nails, the friendship that she builds with Marie Buchanon, played by recording artist and actress Janelle Monae, was integral to the growth of the character. When the two first meet, Buchanon, a woman born free who owns the rooming house in Philadelphia, shows Harriet how even a former slave fresh from the plantation, is deserving of every bit of respect, comfort and intellectual discourse afforded to any other woman of the day.
“Yes, I am a woman, yes, I am Negro, and yes, I own the place,” she says addressing Harriet’s disbelief head-on. “Get your jaw off the floor. My mama was freed when her master died. She was pregnant with me, so I was raised free, here in Philadelphia. You can have the last room on the left upstairs.” But then Marie says she needs a bath because she “stinks like a barnyard animal.” Harriet replies:
“You was born free. Guess you never had de stink of fear. Of runnin’ fo yo life.” The way Harriet checks Marie sets the tone for their friendship perfectly and reminds us that at the core of the hero is a woman. All woman. -Ricardo Hazell
Just Mercy is the on-screen adaptation of lawyer Bryan Stevenson's memoire documenting his selfless work to free wrongfully convicted people on death row. Michael B. Jordan serves as producer and star, taking on the role of Stevens, a recent graduate of Harvard Law who takes the case of a Black man named Walter, aka 'Johnny D' (Jamie Foxx) who insists that he has been framed for the murder of a white woman in his hometown.
One particularly poignant scene early in the film sets the tone for what is to come and is easily one of the Blackest moments on screen. Brian has driven out to meet with Johnny D’s wife, Minnie (Karran Kendrick), and as he exits his car his eyes are set on the family home, brimming with people spilling out of the doors. Brian goes to extend his hand to Minnie and she instead wraps him in a grateful hug.
“Thanks for driving all the way out here. Most lawyers barely make time to call,” she says before introducing Brian to their kids, John and Jackie. “I hope you don’t mind. A few of our neighbors dropped by to hear what you have to say.”
“Just a few?” he says with a grin. The dialogue that follows answers many of the questions we have about Johnny D’s trial and why Brian’s work is so necessary. For every incarcerated man or woman, there is an entire community suffering with them, praying for justice, and this scene captures that beautifully.
– Jerry L. Barrow
Photo Credit: Universal Studios, Paramount Studios, A24, Netflix