New and Streaming in Black History Month 2021
What to watch and where to watch it
February is here, and with it comes hoards of content to celebrate Black History Month — including the Harriet Tubman $20 bills that Biden plans to push out.
The film industry usually bets on the energy of Black History Month to release projects like civil rights biopics and the occasional Black comedy or blockbuster, as was the case with Black Panther, which was released with much hype in February 2018. This year is no exception.
With much of Hollywood having screeched to a halt for a large part of 2020 during the pandemic, many of the films slated for February release have been long anticipated following theatre closures and have only recently found homes on streaming platforms. Others were made because of the pandemic or found new energy after the Black Lives Matter protests of the summer.
Black History Month won't see large gatherings and big theatrical releases, but with a new president and the results of June's promises from the industry about representation starting to show, high energy remains for this year's film releases.
Here are some of the best:
What could they be fighting about over that macaroni and cheese...
Malcolm & Marie — Feb 5, Netflix
In the trailer for Malcolm & Marie, Zendaya dramatically makes instant macaroni and cheese in a ballgown. Just from that, I'm hooked.
The highly anticipated drama from Netflix stars Zendaya and John David Washington and is shot in black and white. A quarantine film project by Euphoria creator Sam Levinson, the film has been described as an attempt to strip back the excess of most romantic dramas and hone in on the characters and their relationship.
Filmed in one house with minimal production, the project sounds ambitious. Following Zendaya's Emmy for her role in HBO's Euphoria and John David Washington's major role in the blockbuster Tenet, Malcolm & Marie is already generating potential award show buzz.
Judas and the Black Messiah — Feb 12, HBO
From the title alone, it's clear that Judas and the Black Messiah tells the story of Black Panther, Fred Hampton, from a new perspective. The film focuses on William O' Neal, played by LaKeith Stanfield, the man who served as an informant for the FBI in the investigation leading to Hampton's assassination.
The film's writer and director, Shaka King, said, "I think a lot of times when we think about these freedom fighters and revolutionaries, we don't think about them having families… and plans for the future — it was really important to focus on that on the Fred side of things … On the side of O'Neal — [we wanted] to humanize him as well so that viewers of the film could leave the movie wondering, 'Is there any of that in me?'"
The film premieres on HBO and in cinemas on February 12th as part of HBO's series of simultaneous releases. The project has garnered both pre-emptive acclaim and criticism, especially with Daniel Kaluuya's role as Fred Hampton resparking the debate about Black British actors playing Black American activists.
Nevertheless, the film finds new momentum in the wake of the current social and political landscape. The film asks what it means to be an activist, what it means to negotiate the tensions between the self and the state, and the consequences of making either choice.
"Hip Hop Uncovered" — Feb. 13, Hulu
Hulu's new documentary series Hip Hop Uncovered explores 40 years of hip hop music, from its emergence and its subsequent criminalization to its current mainstream status.
The six-part series features interviews from prominent artists and Hip-Hop personalities but focuses on the lives and stories of Big U, Deb Antney, Bimmy, Trick Trick and Haitian Jack — a cast of some lesser known affiliates of artists from Biggie and Tupac to Nicki and Waka Flocka Flame.
The documentary series will premiere on FX on February 12, then come to Hulu in two episodes per week for three weeks.
The United States vs. Billie Holiday — Feb. 26, Hulu
The long awaited Billie Holiday biopic, The United States vs. Billie Holiday, will finally be released by Hulu on February 26th, after major battles and delays in its distribution.
The ambitious film follows in the thematic footsteps of other recent films exploring how the FBI targeted Black activists. The story centers around Holiday's fight to perform the song "Strange Fruit" and how her political messaging made her the target of FBI surveillance and defamation as part of the War on Drugs.
Big names have all come together to carry the weight of the story, from director Lee Daniels of The Butler to a screenplay by award winning playwright Suzan Lori-Parks, based on the book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari. The film also stars LaKeith Stanfield of Get Out and Sorry to Bother You, Trevante Rhodes of Moonlight, and Andra Day, Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter known for "Rise Up."
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