Sundance 2021: A List of Black Movies to Watch While You’re in the (Virtual) White Mountains

Sundance 2021: A List of Black Movies to Watch While You’re in the (Virtual) White Mountains

Passing (2021); Summer Of Soul (...Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (2021)
Passing (2021); Summer Of Soul (...Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (2021)
Image: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

I’m salty. As The Root’s Staff entertainment writer, one of the most exciting aspects of my job is being able to travel to a lot of cool places. In fact, the Sundance Film Festival typically kicks off the year of traveling shenanigans within my beat. In 2020, I flew to Park City, Utah to cover the event and had a blast (which is a privilege to have when working hard), as always.

I would’ve never known that it would be the last in-person festival I attended that year (and for an indefinite time, it seems) and that it would serve as one of the possible core hubs of the coronavirus spread in the U.S.

Much like other major events this year, the 2021 Sundance Film Festival is going virtual. So, I’ll be sitting right at my desk daydreaming about how pretty the Park City snow looks before it’s trampled by festival patrons and viewing the latest indie buzzes right in the comfort of my home.

Public registration is now open for the fest, including the ability to purchase various levels of passes and individual screening tickets. You can purchase passes/tickets and find out more info at sundance.org. You can also view the full program for the 2021 Sundance Film Festival here. Since registration has begun, now is the perfect time to highlight some of my most-anticipated Black-ass movies (by Black filmmakers or starting Black talent) happening at the virtual version of the fest.

Oh, and by the way, one of the Black-ass Sundance staples, The Blackhouse will also be going virtual with their seven-day programming. Keep your eye on theblackhouse.org for more info.

The 2021 Sundance Film Festival will run from Jan. 28 - Feb. 3. OK, let’s get to these films!

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.

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2 / 22

Passing, directed by Rebecca Hall

Passing, directed by Rebecca Hall

Passing (2021)
Passing (2021)
Image: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Synopsis: Two African-American women who can “pass” as white choose to live on opposite sides of the color line in 1929 New York in an exploration of racial and gender identity, performance, obsession and repression. Based on the novella by Nella Larsen.

Thoughts: There are a few faves in this one, including Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, André Holland. *squees* Plus, I’m interested in seeing how the novella will be adapted, particularly because it not only deals with race but sexuality as well. Quality representation for intersections for the win! Oh, and Forest Whitaker is one of the producers.

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3 / 22

First Date, directed by Manuel Crosby, Darren Knapp

First Date, directed by Manuel Crosby, Darren Knapp

First Date (2021)
First Date (2021)
Image: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Synopsis: Conned into buying a shady ‘65 Chrysler, Mike’s first date with the girl-next-door, Kelsey, implodes as he finds himself targeted by criminals, cops, and a crazy cat lady. A night fueled by desire, bullets and burning rubber makes any other first date seem like a walk in the park.

Thoughts: So, we have a Black male co-director (and co-writer) here in Crosby and Tyson Brown is the leading man. Since it looks like he’ll be dealing with “criminals, cops and a crazy cat lady,” all of which could be elevated based on his status as a Black man (hell, the date itself has implications since she is a white girl)...this seems like it’s going to be stressful.

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4 / 22

Ailey, directed by Jamila Wignot

Ailey, directed by Jamila Wignot

Ailey (2021)
Ailey (2021)
Image: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Synopsis: Alvin Ailey was a visionary artist who found salvation through dance. Told in his own words and through the creation of a dance inspired by his life, this immersive portrait follows a man who, when confronted by a world that refused to embrace him, determined to build one that would.

Thoughts: Simply put—of course I want to see a documentary about the great legacy and personal life of Alvin Ailey directed by a Black woman!

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5 / 22

Faya Dayi, directed by Jessica Beshir

Faya Dayi, directed by Jessica Beshir

Faya Dayi (2020)
Faya Dayi (2020)
Image: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Synopsis: A spiritual journey into the highlands of Harar, immersed in the rituals of khat, a leaf Sufi Muslims chewed for centuries for religious meditations—and Ethiopia’s most lucrative cash crop today. A tapestry of intimate stories offers a window into the dreams of youth under a repressive regime.

Thoughts: This documentary looks to be an intriguing look into the rich culture of Ethiopia, which is great because it is always important to have many of these works of art chronicling the vast array of cultures and stories in Africa, instead of consolidating them.

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6 / 22

R#J, directed by Carey Williams

R#J, directed by Carey Williams

R#J (2020)
R#J (2020)
Image: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Synopsis: A reimagining of Romeo and Juliet taking place through their cell phones in a mash-up of Shakespearean dialogue with current social media communication.

Thoughts: Starring Camaron Engels, Francesca Noel, David Zayas, Diego Tinoco, Siddiq Saunderson and Russell Hornsby, this twist on a classic tale seems interesting as I’m wondering how they’ll execute this theatrical world via cell phones. Imagine the Shakespearean internal family fights on a social media platform like Twitter!

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7 / 22

On the Count of Three, directed by Jerrod Carmichael

On the Count of Three, directed by Jerrod Carmichael

On The Count of Three (2020)
On The Count of Three (2020)
Image: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Synopsis: Two guns. Two best friends. And a pact to end their lives when the day is done.

Thoughts: Well, damn. That’s an effective-ass synopsis. I’m in. Carmichael helms this one while also co-starring with Tiffany Haddish, Christopher Abbott, J.B. Smoove (aka the man who everyone wants to portray U.S. Senator-elect Raphael Warnock), Lavell Crawford and Henry Winkler.

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8 / 22

Traveling the Interstitium with Octavia Butler, Lead Artists: Sophia Nahli Allison, idris brewster, Stephanie Dinkins, Ari Melenciano, Terence Nance

Traveling the Interstitium with Octavia Butler, Lead Artists: Sophia Nahli Allison, idris brewster, Stephanie Dinkins, Ari Melenciano, Terence Nance

Traveling the Interstitium with Octavia Butler (2020)
Traveling the Interstitium with Octavia Butler (2020)
Image: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Synopsis: Inspired by the ideas of Octavia Butler, voyaging into the interstitium: a liminal space, a cultural memory, containing the remnants of our ancestors, a place of refuge, a place of recentering, a portal into an alternate dimension.

Thoughts: As part of Sundance’s New Frontier program (“a showcase for dynamic, innovative work at the crossroads of film, art, and technology”), this seems like a very unique way to experience the iconic brilliance of Butler.

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9 / 22

Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma, directed by Topaz Jones and rubberband

Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma, directed by Topaz Jones and rubberband

Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma (2020)
Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma (2020)
Image: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Synopsis: In 1970, Black educators in Chicago developed an alphabet flashcard set to provide Black-centered teaching materials to the vastly white educational landscape and the Black ABCs were born. Fifty years later, 26 scenes provide an update to their meanings.

Thoughts: I immediately have a distinct vision of the Black ABCs flashcards ingrained in my brain, so learning about the actual history of how they came to be should be dope!

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10 / 22

Bruiser, directed by Miles Warren

Bruiser, directed by Miles Warren

Bruiser (2020)
Bruiser (2020)
Image: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Synopsis: After his father gets into a fight at a bowling alley, Darious begins to investigate the limitations of his own manhood.

Thoughts: This looks like it’ll be an interesting dive into the topic of masculinity (toxic or otherwise) from writer-director Warren.

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11 / 22

Summer Of Soul (...Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised), directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson

Summer Of Soul (...Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised), directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson

Summer Of Soul (...Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (2021)
Summer Of Soul (...Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (2021)
Image: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Synopsis: During the same summer as Woodstock, over 300,000 people attended the Harlem Cultural Festival, celebrating African American music and culture, and promoting Black pride and unity. The footage from the festival sat in a basement, unseen for over 50 years, keeping this incredible event in America’s history lost—until now.

Thoughts: Oh, yes, I remember covering the news about this! I’m definitely glad to finally be able to see the doc about Black Woodstock. This will be Thompson’s directorial debut.

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12 / 22

Ma Belle, My Beauty, directed by Marion Hill

Ma Belle, My Beauty, directed by Marion Hill

Ma Belle, My Beauty (2021)
Ma Belle, My Beauty (2021)
Image: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Synopsis: A surprise reunion in southern France reignites passions and jealousies between two women who were formerly polyamorous lovers.

Thoughts: Oh, we’re getting a Black woman star (Idella Johnson) in a film about female lovers that also tackles polyamory? We love this kind of representation and nuance! I’m intrigued.

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13 / 22

i ran from it and was still in it, directed by Darol Olu Kae

i ran from it and was still in it, directed by Darol Olu Kae

i ran from it and was still in it (2021)
i ran from it and was still in it (2021)
Image: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Synopsis: A poetic meditation on familial loss and separation, and the love that endures against dispersion.

Thoughts: Whew. This title alone is already trying to snatch my edges and push me deeper into my emotions. If there’s one that comes with grief (whether it’s death or any other separation from a loved one), it’s the unrelenting fact that you really can’t run away from it.

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14 / 22

White Wedding, directed by Melody C. Roscher

White Wedding, directed by Melody C. Roscher

White Wedding (2020)
White Wedding (2020)
Image: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Synopsis: Amidst a racially tense Southern wedding, a biracial bride has the chance to confront her estranged Black father after accidentally hiring his wedding band to perform.


Thoughts: Game of Thrones fans can’t forget the “Red Wedding,” for obvious reasons. Whatever may come from this “white wedding” may be less violent (hopefully!), but I’m sure it won’t be short on drama.

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15 / 22

Black Bodies, directed by Kelly Fyffe-Marshall

Black Bodies, directed by Kelly Fyffe-Marshall

Black Bodies (2019)
Black Bodies (2019)
Image: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Synopsis: A Black man laments as he comes face-to-face with the realities of being Black in the 21st century.

Thoughts: We certainly hear the phrase “Black bodies” often enough in a certain context, so I know this will be heavy. As The Root is primarily focused on Black American content, it will be interesting to see this perspective from a Black-Canadian man to unpack the differences and similarities and how they all intersect. Plus, y’all know I’m always here for Black women directors.

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16 / 22

Five Tiger, directed by Nomawonga Khumalo

Five Tiger, directed by Nomawonga Khumalo

Five Tiger (2020)
Five Tiger (2020)
Image: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Synopsis: A god-fearing woman in present-day South Africa finds herself in a transactional relationship as she tries to support her sick husband and daughter.

Thoughts: Wow, this should be interesting and also heartbreaking. And like I said about the aforementioned Ethiopian film, it will be nice to see another film set in South Africa with all of its cultural nuances.

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17 / 22

A Concerto is a Conversation, directed by Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers

A Concerto is a Conversation, directed by Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers

A Concerto is a Conversation (2020)
A Concerto is a Conversation (2020)
Image: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Synopsis: A virtuoso jazz pianist and film composer tracks his family’s lineage through his 91-year-old grandfather from Jim Crow Florida to the Walt Disney Concert Hall.


Thoughts: This should be dope because I’m always intrigued by familial and ancestral history. This is also something I’d like to do in-depth one day, so this doc (which was a part of the New York Times Op-Docs series) should be an exciting watch.

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18 / 22

Dear Philadelphia, directed by Renee Osubu

Dear Philadelphia, directed by Renee Osubu

Dear Philadelphia (2020)
Dear Philadelphia (2020)
Image: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Synopsis: With the help of their family, friends, and faith, three fathers unravel the incomparable partnership of forgiveness and community in North Philadelphia.

Thoughts: We got another Black woman director at the helm! Much like my sentiments about African countries, I’m always intrigued by regional stories because there are diverse stories within each section of the Black American experience, as well.

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19 / 22

Up at Night, directed by Nelson Makengo

Up at Night, directed by Nelson Makengo

Up at Night (2019)
Up at Night (2019)
Image: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Synopsis: As dusk fades and another night without electricity falls, Kinshasa’s neighborhoods reveal an unstable environment of violence, political conflict and uncertainty over the building of the Grand Inga 3 hydroelectric dam, promising a permanent source of energy to the Congo.

Thoughts: Keeping up with the sentiment of nuanced African stories, this one comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo. This film seems like it’ll be a combo of thrilling, frustrating, heartbreaking, anger-inducing, hopeful and more.

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20 / 22

The Fire Next Time, directed by Renaldho Pelle

The Fire Next Time, directed by Renaldho Pelle

The Fire Next Time (2020)
The Fire Next Time (2020)
Image: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Synopsis: Rioting spreads as social inequality causes tempers in a struggling community to flare, but the oppressive environment takes on a life of its own as the shadows of the housing estate close in.

Thoughts: Give it up for Black filmmakers in animation! Much like comic books, animated projects are often a good source of social commentary and the “language of the oppressed” (as Martin Luther King Jr. describes rioting) is certainly one that deserves many stories told. I’m looking forward to this one.

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21 / 22

These Days, directed by Adam Brooks

These Days, directed by Adam Brooks

These Days (2020)
These Days (2020)
Image: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Synopsis: Mae, lonely and self-isolating, navigates the world of online dating during the early days of quarantine. Her first attempt is a comic disaster; then she meets Will, and her world begins to change in unexpected ways.

Thoughts: Of course we have to have a quarantining-based film in the mix this year! William Jackson Harper (The Good Place) co-stars in this flick that seems to have the potential for a good love story.

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22 / 22

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.

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