Slate's The Black Film Canon

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Seven years ago—when #OscarsSoWhite was a hot topic and Obama was still president—Slate published the Black Film Canon, a list of 50 of the best and most culturally significant films by Black directors. Critics, scholars, and the filmmakers themselves, including Ava DuVernay, Robert Townsend, and Gina Prince-Bythewood, weighed in with their picks. The result was a collection of films spanning almost 100 years, several continents, and a wide range of genres and styles: from Oscar Micheaux’s silent-era classic Within Our Gates to Djibril Diop Mambéty’s freewheeling road-trip movie Touki Bouki to F. Gary Gray’s iconic comedy Friday.

And then, just months after the Black Film Canon came out, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight made history with a Best Picture Oscar win and Jordan Peele’s Get Out spawned a new cultural lexicon while reigniting the long-neglected Black horror genre. Just a year after that, Black Panther became an unprecedented box-office juggernaut. Since then, many other Black filmmakers, both seasoned and on the come up, have seized on an increasing number of opportunities to tell stories in bold ways: creators like Janicza Bravo, Boots Riley, and Garrett Bradley. Some adjudicators of cinematic prestige—like the once-a-decade Sight and Sound critics’ poll and the Criterion Collection—have finally come around to acknowledging important Black filmmakers after decades of all but ignoring them. Simply put, we’re now living in a different world for Black film.

Yet, as ever, barriers remain. This year’s Oscars saw yet another nominations controversy. The forces that have worked to sideline Black filmmakers have not disappeared. Even as the landscape has shifted, there’s more power than ever in understanding the films that brought us to this moment and the new ones taking us into the future. So it seems only fitting to revisit the Black Film Canon and update it to reflect the rush of great movies that have arrived since 2016, as well as reconsider the films made before 2016 that we missed the first time around. This time, in partnership with NPR, Slate polled a group of experts—a mix of industry and critical authorities from our previous list, as well as some newcomers—and we’re thrilled to present the results in our New Black Film Canon. Use it as an opportunity to appreciate the breadth of artistry Black filmmakers have brought to the movies—and as an unbeatable viewing list deep with surprising treasures.

The project excludes movies about black people but directed by non-blacks (A Raisin in the Sun, Coming to America). It is also not a poll: it’s an unranked list presented chronologically.

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  1. 1 -

    Within Our Gates

    1920, in 7 top lists Check
  2. 2 new

    Eleven P.M.

    1928, in 1 top list Check
  3. 3 -1

    The Blood of Jesus

    1941, in 2 top lists Check
  4. 4 -1

    La noire de...

    1966 — a.k.a. Black Girl, in 9 top lists Check
  5. 5 new

    Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One

    1968, in 7 top lists Check
  6. 6 -2

    The Learning Tree

    1969, in 4 top lists Check
  7. 7 -1

    Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song

    1971, in 12 top lists Check
  8. 8 -3

    Shaft

    1971, in 10 top lists Check
  9. 9 -2

    Super Fly

    1972, in 4 top lists Check
  10. 10 -2

    The Spook Who Sat by the Door

    1973, in 2 top lists Check
  11. 11 -2

    Touki bouki

    1973 — a.k.a. Journey of the Hyena, in 9 top lists Check
  12. 12 -2

    Cooley High

    1975, in 4 top lists Check
  13. 13 -2

    Car Wash

    1976, in 2 top lists Check
  14. 14 -2

    Killer of Sheep

    1978, in 14 top lists Check
  15. 15 -2

    Ashes and Embers

    1982, in 1 top list Check
  16. 16 new

    Cane River

    1982, in 1 top list Check
  17. 17 -3

    Losing Ground

    1982, in 4 top lists Check
  18. 18 -3

    Rue Cases Nègres

    1983 — a.k.a. Sugar Cane Alley, in 4 top lists Check
  19. 19 -3

    Hollywood Shuffle

    1987, in 2 top lists Check
  20. 20 -3

    Do the Right Thing

    1989, in 25 top lists Check
  21. 21 new

    Looking for Langston

    1989, in 4 top lists Check
  22. 22 -4

    Tongues Untied

    1989, in 11 top lists Check
  23. 23 new

    Chameleon Street

    1989, in 3 top lists Check
  24. 24 -5

    House Party

    1990, in 2 top lists Check
  25. 25 -5

    Mo' Better Blues

    1990, in 1 top list Check
  26. 26 -5

    To Sleep with Anger

    1990, in 8 top lists Check
  27. 27 -5

    Boyz n the Hood

    1991, in 9 top lists Check
  28. 28 -5

    Daughters of the Dust

    1991, in 9 top lists Check
  29. 29 -5

    Juice

    1992, in 1 top list Check
  30. 30 -5

    Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.

    1992, in 1 top list Check
  31. 31 -5

    Malcolm X

    1992, in 7 top lists Check
  32. 32 -5

    Sankofa

    1993, in 2 top lists Check
  33. 33 new

    Alma's Rainbow

    1994, in 1 top list Check
  34. 34 -6

    Crooklyn

    1994, in 3 top lists Check
  35. 35 -6

    I Like It Like That

    1994, in 1 top list Check
  36. 36 -6

    Devil in a Blue Dress

    1995, in 4 top lists Check
  37. 37 -6

    Friday

    1995, in 2 top lists Check
  38. 38 -6

    Waiting to Exhale

    1995, in 2 top lists Check
  39. 39 -6

    The Watermelon Woman

    1996, in 7 top lists Check
  40. 40 -6

    Eve's Bayou

    1997, in 6 top lists Check
  41. 41 -6

    Love & Basketball

    2000, in 6 top lists Check
  42. 42 -6

    25th Hour

    2002, in 7 top lists Check
  43. 43 -6

    Their Eyes Were Watching God

    2005, in 1 top list Check
  44. 44 -6

    When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts

    2006, in 6 top lists Check
  45. 45 -6

    Medicine for Melancholy

    2008, in 2 top lists Check
  46. 46 -6

    Night Catches Us

    2010, in 1 top list Check
  47. 47 -6

    Pariah

    2011, in 7 top lists Check
  48. 48 -6

    Middle of Nowhere

    2012, in 1 top list Check
  49. 49 -6

    12 Years a Slave

    2013, in 22 top lists Check
  50. 50 -4

    Selma

    2014, in 7 top lists Check
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Last updated on Feb 27, 2023 by Fergenaprido; source