The Watchlist: Beautifully Filmed Black Skin

I had an epiphany a few years ago. I realised that I had never seen beautiful dark skin on the silver screen: skin that is representative of the nuances of darker skin tones. It sounds insane, considering that we are in Kenya. Cinematography is a tricky thing. Translating what is in the mind's eye of a writer, director, or director of photography into moving images is tough. Images often tell a magnitude of lies from height to weight and even skin tone. I started watching movies and TV with cognisance in the mid-90s. At that time, there was a boom in Black-American TV shows; from Moesha and Sister Sister to The Wayans Bros, there were black faces all over the small screen. In movies, Will Smith's star was in ascent, and Denzel Washington's leading man status was in top gear. I saw Black people all the time on the screen, and they seemed okay-looking. The 2010s were a sort of renaissance in Black film and TV in Hollywood, with shows like Insecure, Chewing Gum, She's Gotta Have It, and Atlanta getting serious funding, and therefore, access to the tools needed to film Black skin properly. In Africa, the Nigerian film industry is omnipresent, and independent African and Africa-based films have been on the rise; Supa Modo, Rafiki, Timbuktu and Mediterranea are a few examples. So, what does it take to film Black skin properly? This video on the history of filming dark skin and this video on the human effort to correct this issue do a better job explaining the topic than I ever could. While the above movies and serialised TV shows are well-shot, these following movies are the ones to watch to get an appreciation of what good cinematography and good direction can do. Enjoy! If Beale Street Could Talk This is American director Barry Jenkins third movie, and his first after winning the best picture Oscar for 'Moonlight'. This is also the movie that inspired this article. Adapted from James Baldwin's novel of the same name, If Beale Street Could Talk is the story of the injustice meted out to Black men by America's criminal justice system. The movie follows a young couple, Fonny, and Tish, as they fall in love with each other and then get separated when Fonny is falsely accused of rape. Their families work to get him released, but sinister forces are working to keep him in jail. Every frame in this movie feels like a picture. Hues of browns, greens and yellows work in concert with Nicholas Britell's moving score - listen to the stand out song here and watch this video by Brittel explaining the creation of the score-, and delicate camera movements that make the movie feel like a seamless well choreographed dance. Watch If Beale Street Could Talk on Netflix. The Last Black Man in San Fransisco I love this movie. This is an original story by lead actor Jimmie Fails and director, screenwriter Joe Talbot that is semi-autobiographical. The story is centred on Jimmie's obsession with the house he was partially raised in and his efforts to restore a way of life now gone. Shadowed by his best friend Mont (Jonathan Majors), Jimmie seeks to restore the house, and through an unintended legal circumstance, he moves into the house. The movie deals with themes of childhood abandonment, male mental health, male friendships, gentrification, and the failure to launch or Peter Pan syndrome, where people fail to transition into adulthood. This movie is tender. It takes a loving look at the flaws of the lead character. He is on a break from reality, a prolonged break but a break nonetheless. His family is frustrated by his choice to obsess over the house instead of building a life, but they are largely aloof or absent. The Last Black Man in San Francisco is as beautiful a movie as you are ever going to see. Honourable mentions are Lovecraft Country and Moonlight both available on Showmax.    
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