While Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation officially liberated enslaved people in the United States on January 1, 1863, the actual end of slavery would not come for several more years. After the war, holdout Confederate areas refused to acknowledge that this brutal practice had been abolished. On June 19, 1865, however, Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, to release the remaining 250,000 people bound in slavery. This day of independence was soon celebrated in Texas as Juneteenth.
On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden made Juneteenth a national holiday. Communities across America celebrate this second Independence Day with local parades, family BBQs, community concerts, and historical remembrances. Activist Dione Sims tells ABC News that above all Juneteenth is a celebration of joy, “a show of support, not just for the African American community, but the fact that Juneteenth represents freedom for all.”
So we're showcasing five films by Black filmmakers whose stories inspire, amuse, and move.
In Kasi Lemmons’ Harriet, Cynthia Erivo brings the legendary freedom fighter Harriet Tubman to life. Born into slavery, Tubman escaped to freedom, but chose to put herself in danger by returning to lead scores of others to freedom via the Underground Railroad. For the filmmakers, Tubman’s unflagging belief in the inevitability of freedom makes her story both poignant and resonant. “It’s not a slavery movie,” explains Lemmons to The Atlantic. “It’s really about freedom and what you’re willing to do for it—not just for you, but for others.” For Lemmons, Harriet’s life was one of passion and empowerment. “Lemmons’ achievement is to tell a story that does not accept slavery as a tragic and immutable fact, and to dramatize the people who took action against it,” writes The Guardian.
While Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman appears as a period piece set in 1970s’ Colorado Springs, the director makes clear that his real focus is the world we live in now. Based on Ron Stallworth’s memoir, the film recounts how an African American detective (John David Washington) concocted an ingenious plan to infiltrate the local chapter of the KKK with the help of his white partner (Adam Driver). Stallworth tells the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Spike did a masterful job of telling my story and weaving the historical connections between the Confederacy, Charlottesville, David Duke and Donald Trump.” For NPR, “If hate groups were insidious four decades ago, argues Lee in his most ferociously entertaining (and just plain ferocious) film in years, how much more dangerous are they today?”
Talk to Me
In Talk to Me, director Lemmons celebrates one of the Civil Rights era’s most unlikely heroes. Ralph “Petey” Greene (Don Cheadle) was an ex-con who rose to fame as one of Washington D.C.’s most unpredictable radio personalities by his outrageous sense of humor. As Time notes, “He was hip, cool, angry, funny and, in the radio of his day, unique.” But the night Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, Greene stayed on the radio, bringing calm to a troubled town. Talk to Me “perfectly captures the vibe of a person, a place, a time and a way of being, and even gets, indirectly and without a whiff of sanctimoniousness, to the heart of what being an American ought to mean,” writes Salon.
Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul.
Writer/director Adamma Ebo brings the world of Southern megachurches into sharp, comic relief with her mockumentary Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul. In the aftermath of a public scandal, the pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown) and his wife, Trinitie Childs (Regina Hall), attempt to rebuild their reputation and lure back their congregation by creating a documentary about their good works. Both stars excel—Hall’s portrayal of a wife hilariously failing to put the best foot forward deserves, Entertainment Weekly writes, “some kind of prize for the soul she pours into this part.” For Ebo, who grew up in churches similar to the one she portrays offers her satire with all due respect. “We wanted to find a balance of questioning and critiquing this institution, and still celebrating it,” Adamma Ebo told IndieWire.
A Thousand and One
In A.V. Rockwell’s A Thousand and One, a young mother, Inez (Teyana Taylor), struggles to raise her son in New York City in the late ‘90s and ‘00s. Rockwell infused this story with her own personal history of growing up Black in Harlem. “What really compelled me to tell this story so urgently was seeing firsthand the impact of gentrification on the Black communities of New York City,” Rockwell told Essence. In Rockwell’s hands, Inez’ story is also a celebration of Black mothers whose unstoppable love creates a future for their children. As Deadline writes, “A Thousand and One is a love letter to mothers, sons, daughters, the poor, displaced and the hustlers of NYC.”