2022 was weird, exciting, and sometimes fulfilling. Media fanatics and pop culture enthusiasts came with refreshing reviews, jaw-dropping hot takes, and intriguing theories that make media consumption all the more fascinating. In the midst of all the chaos ensuing in the world, it was great to be met with wonderful media.
The year saw the return of industry giants like Tyler Perry and Jordan Peele while also including fascinating talents like Mariama Diallo and Elegance Bratton. Each director made a bold and clear statement this year with their films. Some movies let us escape into fantasy far from our own reality. Other films threw the hard truth in our faces and left audiences astounded in the aftermath. All of these films provided a foundation or an additional step to already existing discourse about Blackness and its many shades, figuratively and literally speaking.
Some of these films swim in familiar territory and some play with forms and subjects beyond easy comprehension, however their unique contribution to the large pool of Black stories will never be taken for granted. The ability to experiment with the seemingly mundane and entertain the experimental has always been a cherished pillar in Black art. The following nine films range from the most harrowing, to the funniest, to the most enlightening projects to grace our screens this year..
9/9 A Jazzman’s Blues
One of the latest Tyler Perry productions, A Jazzman’s Blues chronicles the adventures of a talented musician named Bayou, and his boundless love for Leanne (Solea Pfeiffer). Throughout the late 20th century, viewers see multiple shades of Bayou (Joshua Boone): the musician, the lover, and the protector. Perry excels in creating a multi-faceted protagonist with a storyline that highlights the richness of Black stories. The music, the display of affection, and the presentation of strong familial bonds capture the nuanced experiences of Black Americans in a beautiful light.
The traumatic experiences throughout the film are not made into spectacle nor do they largely serve as an educational program for non-Black viewers. Capturing the violence not only accurately depicts the horrific nature of American racism but also contributes to the film’s goal. Humanizing the characters goes beyond showing them in a positive light but includes scenes, lines, and actions that emphasize their humanity. Through A Jazzman’s Blues, Tyler Perry tells an alluring tale of legacy, trauma, and love with strong characterization and captivating storylines.
Nikyatu Jusu’s Nanny follows Aisha (Anna Diop), a Senegalese immigrant who works as a nanny for a wealthy couple living on the Upper East Side. The titular nanny ultimately wishes to bring her son to the United States with her. Through horror, the film provides poignant critiques of the American Dream while looking at motherhood from multiple angles: as a duty, as a privilege, and ultimately, a term with fluid definitions.
Throughout the film, there is a silent interrogation of the different displays of motherhood. In pursuit of the American Dream, some families can afford one type of motherhood, and others can’t or don’t want to. Who gets to be a mother? Who gets to have multiple maternal figures present in their lives, and who suffers the consequences of their absence? It is that exploration, a look into the lives of both Aisha and her employers, that ultimately makes Nanny one of the most intriguing and thought-provoking films of the year.
7/9 Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul.
The Ebo sisters’ film Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul. is a hilarious commentary on the intersection of race, religion, and sexuality. Hidden among amusing delusions of grandeur and ridiculous props, the film ultimately tackles taboo subjects like sexual abuse, homophobia in the church, and the hypocritical nature of mega-churches and their leaders, all while respecting the religious themes at their roots.
Sterling K. Brown, Regina Hall, and Austin Crute provide the movie’s funniest scenes as well as cutting lines that tear at the facade of fun that the movie intentionally clouds itself with. If you’re looking for a film that masters tackling serious topics while providing satisfactory comedy that does not feel unnecessary or forced, Honk For Jesus sits perfectly at the top of recommendations.
6/9 The Inspection
The Inspection sees the seemingly eternal Gabrielle Union on screen with Jeremy Pope, of Pose and Hollywood fame. Writer and director Elegance Bratton pulled from unique experiences to tell the tale of a queer Black man in the military. The film exquisitely captures the intersectionality that runs through characters and their existence, thus contributing to real-world discussions about race, gender, and sexuality.
The film takes a look at ‘being in the closet,’ a phenomenon that could be minimized as a hindrance to a person’s progress. What some people fail to realize is that in plenty of spaces, coming out is a privilege many do not enjoy. In the absence of that “privilege,” those unable to remain discreet are faced with revolting violence. In the case of Ellis (Pope), he is subjected to horrific treatment in the military largely in part due to his sexuality. Amid rampant homophobia and the added pressure of being Black in the United States, the film reiterates the idea that some people do not have the privilege to exist peacefully. Furthermore, Bratton explores how marginalized groups find a way to navigate those socially-constructed obstacles and in turn help themselves and those around them.
5/9 Elesin Oba, The King’s Horseman
The adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s beloved play Death and the King’s Horseman sees the Nigerian playwright’s words lifted from the page an adapted by director Biyi Bandele, who sadly passed away after finishing the film. Set during the 1940s, the film follows Elesin (Odunlade Adekola), the titular character responsible for following his king into the afterlife. Yoruba religion constitutes that the King’s Horseman must adhere to the order of the universe. As a result, his ritual suicide is stressed as a serious duty to fulfill.
Instead, Elesin remains alive, lusting after the women in his village, to the dismay of many, The film captures the same internal conflict Elesin encounters in the original script. While readers and viewers can empathize with Elesin’s lust for life, it is when he wields his status to evade his duty and the consequences of his actions that elicit conflict. The duty that centers the play brings forth necessary discussions about the “clash of cultures” comment that many historians use to describe imperialism. Like Soyinka, Biyi Bandele masterfully interrogates the aforementioned comment to highlight the impacts of imperialism on indigenous religions and cultures.
Regina Hall makes her second appearance in a great 2022 film with Mariama Diallo’s debut film Master. Inspired by her horrific experience at Yale University, Diallo crafts a world eerily similar to our own. Incorporating traditional horror tropes regarding magic, the supernatural, and the afterlife, Diallo investigates racism on elite college campuses through three Black characters. Gail (Hall) serves as the newly appointed master of Ancaster while Jasmine (Zoe Reeves) is a freshman from the suburbs who grapple with frightening phantoms and her own biases being evaluated.
The film is at its best when it interrogates what it means to be Black in elite academic circles, to the point where it nearly overshadows the paranormal occurrences on campus. From the secrets of the staff to the rampant racial abuse the protagonists face, Master presses its audience to actively engage with themes present in the film rather than lecture audiences. Using fantasy and horror, Diallo captured just how uncomfortable alienation feels while stressing the real dangers many Black students and faculty face while in higher education.
Emergency is a fascinating thriller baked in drama and comedy. The film is an adaptation of Carey Williams and KD Dávila’s short film of the same name. In hopes of being the first Black men to complete the “Legendary Tour” of frat parties at their college, best friends Sean (RJ Cyler) and Kinte (Donald Elise Watkin) are met with a deadly dilemma. Discovering the body of a white girl named Emma (Maddie Nichols), the pair and their roommate Carlos try to figure out the best way to help Emma. Calling the police seems like the obvious choice, however, the looming legacy of police brutality sits in the room with the protagonists like a silent side character.
Viewers also meet a frantic Maddy (Sabrina Carpenter), who is searching for her sister Emma alongside her two friends Alice (Madison Thompson) and Rafael (Diego Abraham). When the two groups meet, confusion leads to chaos, biases rise to the surface and the six adolescents experience a night like no other.
The college experience is a unique yet popular experience for millions of Americans. The additional suspense and drama make Emergency sound like a startling series of events on campus, finding itself in the mouth and ears of students and faculty alike. The reality of a hectic night on campus rings true to many and the social commentary makes Emergency one of the best films on screen this year.
2/9 Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
The highly anticipated sequel to the blockbuster Black Panther finally hit screens earlier this fall. Ryan Coogler’s latest film might be the most exciting sector of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The wonderful strokes of science fiction, the commendable critiques of colonialism, and the gratifying homage to the late Chadwick Boseman all helped its sequel, Black Panther: Wanda Forever.
The returning cast includes Angela Bassett, Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyongo, Danai Guria, and Winston Dukes just to name a few. To say they amazed audiences would be an understatement. While grieving, we watch the characters grapple with the added pressure from the international world demanding access to vibranium as well as a new threat from beneath the ocean. Additionally, Michaela Coel and Tenoch Huerta shine on their own as their monumental introductions fit right into the franchise and further explore the rich lore Marvel has to offer.
2022 was undoubtedly the year of Keke Palmer. Taking over social media and the silver screen once again, the Hollywood icon’s onscreen roles left the theaters and now rest in the millions of souls who had the fortune of watching her films. Alice and Lightyear display the versatility many of us know and love Keke for. However, Nope was a highly anticipated event that fulfilled everyone’s wishes and in turn, became the media frenzy that not only Palmer but Daniel Kaluuyah, Steven Yeun, Brandon Perea, and especially Jordan Peele.
It feels relieving to see Jordan Peele strike gold again. With Nope, Peele successfully explores spectacle and exploitation by doing what he does best, subverting existing tropes in popular genres. The film follows a brother and sister duo (Kaluuyah and Palmer respectively) of Hollywood horse trainers who are forced to face a startling foe after both humans and horses are mysteriously killed by an unexplainable enemy.
The film does a spectacular job of covering the price of fame and more specifically, the spectacle itself. The actions and events of the film are largely an examination of the intent and impact of performing or acting in the name of spectacle and spectacle only. Typical adventures are flipped on their head and reveal a much more satisfactory and unimaginable conclusion, one that only Jordan Peele could incomparably invent.