BHM: Six Black Film and Television Creators To Watch

Six promising black film and television creators that'll help keep your finger on the pulse of Black creatives.

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If you’re paying attention at all, even a little bit, you’ll be deeply aware of the fact that the entertainment industry would be nowhere without the influence, ideas, and talents of Black creators. In celebration of Black History Month, I wanted to take some time to highlight six of the Black creatives pouring life into the film and television industries before February wraps up. I chose these six because though they may range from decorated creatives to up-and-coming talents on the precipice of greatness, I feel like they aren’t firmly rooted in the zeitgeist enough (at least not for my liking) and deserve to be household names. I’m writing this list with the idea that it will prove a springboard into the work of these folks and encourages you to support the work of other Black artists at large.  Do the work.  Diversify your intake. Hopefully, this list will be an ample place to start.  Happy Black History Month and happy reading.

Bradford Young, cinematographer

There are far too few Black cinematographers working on buzzy Hollywood features.  In fact, I’d be willing to bet most of America can’t name one.  However, one of the most successful Black DPs lending their eye to a directors vision is Bradford Young.  Young is someone who’s work you almost definitely know, you just don’t realize it yet.  Well, allow me to key you in. 

Malcolm & Marie, Film Review

Have you seen Arrival, the 2016 release by Dennis Villeneuve starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner?  How about the 2018 entry into the Star Wars universe, Solo: A Star Wars Story?  Get around to watching Ava DuVernay’s 2014 feature Selma or Emmy-winning mini series, When They See Us (2019)?  You’ve probably guessed what these all have in common— they were all shot by Bradford Young.  Young has the incredible ability to make grandiosity seem intimate.  His Oscar-nominated work on Arrival humanized extraterrestrial interaction in a magical way and his enormously engrossing work on both of the aforementioned DuVernay projects was so punishingly visceral, it made the audience feel as if they, too, were there in the streets of Alabama and New York City, respectively.

Melina Matsoukas, director

This is another person who’s work I guarantee you will know should you have your finger even lightly resting on the pulse of pop culture.  Before Melina Matsoukas gave us her brilliant first feature, Queen and Slim in 2019, she was literally defining music video culture for a decade.  Having worked with Lady Gaga, Ne-Yo, Whitney Houston, Rihanna, Solange, Snoop Dog, Katy Perry, and perhaps most notably, Beyonce, her music videos has amassed over a billion views on YouTube.

You remember the “Formation” video that reinvigorated America’s interest in music videos and reshaped what we thought they could be?  Matsoukas directed that.  This is a person who helped define cool, sexy, confident, over and over again with each passing project and should Queen and Slim be any indication, she will continue to do so for years to come.

Tarell Alvin McCraney, writer

MacArthur Fellow, or “Genius Grant” recipient, Tarrell Alvin McCraney is one-half of the writing duo behind Moonlight, the 2016 Academy Award winning Best Picture about a boy called Chiron coming to terms with his identity and sexuality in the face of abuse and poverty while growing up in Miami.  McCraney won an Oscar for Moonlight’s screenplay, based on his own unpublished semi-autobiographical work, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, effectively making him the first openly gay Black man to win an Oscar in any category (an award he won with the film’s director, a personal hero of mine, Barry Jenkins).

Joji – Nectar, Album Review

McCraney went on to write the screenplay for Steven Soderbergh’s sports drama, High Flying Bird, and went on to create the Peabody Award-winning television show, David Makes Man.  McCraney is also the current chair of the playwriting department at the Yale School of Drama, a program he graduated from himself in 2007.  McCraney, a truth teller across many genres, is an inspiration to people who think that a piece of their identity, whether that be sexual orientation or race, needs to hinder what creative work they can offer to the world. 

Nia DaCosta, writer/director

Get in on the ground level with this one, folks.  Nia DaCosta is about to blow up.  With only one feature film under her belt, the remarkable 2019 release, Little Woods, DaCosta was tapped to direct the high-profile, Jorden Peele-produced Candyman sequel, who’s release we can expect this year (fingers crossed).  But even more excitingly, DaCosta is part of this very fresh new wave of directors Marvel is adding to their cinematic lineup. 

She is directing the Captain Marvel sequel, making this Brooklyn native the first Black woman to direct a Marvel film and, at just 31 years of age, the youngest MCU feature director ever.  I have no doubt that DaCosta will bring the same eye for detail and humanity that she offered in Little Woods to her forthcoming big-budget projects.  For me, she will usher in a much needed emotional change to the often clinical MCU.

Trevante Rhodes, actor

I’ll never forget hearing Trevante Rhodes utter to Andre Holland, “you’re the only man who’s ever touched me…the only one” through scattered breath, followed by a relief-soaked grin, in the final moments of Moonlight.  It was the perfect moment to sum up what I’ve come to love about him most.  Objectively, he is undeniably handsome and built with more muscle than a world-class athlete, but he still remains so open, comforting, and raw in his quiet, intimate onscreen moments. 

NASA Discovers Water on the Sunlit Surface of the Moon

It would be so easy for Hollywood to pigeon-hole him into the action hero box, which he also does quite well (see: Bird Box, 2018), but he keeps surprising us with the projects he chooses, where he is given the space to be sensitive and unassuming, where he can convey so much without have to say much at all.  And I mean, who needs to utter a word when you have that smile resting under that gaze (respectfully, as the kids would say)?  Is my jealousy showing?

Michaela Coel, actor/writer

It is of utmost importance that, if you don’t already, you know who Michael Coel is.  To string two cheeky sayings together, this woman is a creative tour-de-force to be reckoned with.  If you know me at all, you know I cannot possibly offer up enough positive praise for this English multi-hyphenate creator/writer/star of both I May Destroy You and Chewing Gum. 

As an actor, there is something so powerful about Coel’s striking features coupled with her singularly inviting aura, the kind of presence that softly invites you to the table but demands your attention as soon as you’ve sat down.  And as a writer, the way she’s able to sew her own life into her narrative work in ways that feel empathetic, cathartic, and powerful is incredibly aspirational.  If you have dreams of being a media creator of any kind, you simply must invest in yourself by investing time in the work of Michael Coel.