Diversity in Film and On Screen

Leeds Young Film believes that it is important that young people see themselves represented on screen and in the media and that this representation is varied, positive and is not tokenistic or reduced to cultural stereotypes. As more non-white images appear on the screen, they at least promote public debate and discussion about representation. Evidence shows the significant impact that the media can generate amongst the public. Through its representation and depiction of people, this powerful tool of expression and communication is able to enforce or alter the way people perceive others.

As Jamil Smith, writing for Time magazine says "If you are [...] white, seeing people who look like you in mass media probably isn’t something you think about often. Every day, the culture reflects not only you but nearly infinite versions of you - executives, poets, garbage collectors, soldiers, nurses and so on. The world shows you that your possibilities are boundless. Those of us who are not white have considerably more trouble not only finding representation of ourselves in mass media and other arenas of public life, but also finding representation that indicates that our humanity is multi-faceted. Relating to characters onscreen is necessary not merely for us to feel seen and understood, but also for others who need to see and understand us. When it doesn’t happen, we are all the poorer for it."

Leeds Young Film

Mark Reid, Head of UK Learning Programmes, has stated that you wouldn't let children only read books that came from one city in America, so why do we accept that this is okay for film? Many Hollywood movies are great but they represent only a tiny minority of films being made and do not reflect the diversity of the multicultural world that we live in.

For over 20 years we have showcased new films from around the world that are culturally diverse and tell stories from a wealth of different voices, and encouraged children, young people and their families to engage with films that we know they would not have access to otherwise.

We may not always get it right but we feel it is important to try to make a difference and constantly strive to improve. Over the last few years we have worked hard to increase the number of films shown in our festivals that are directed by women and people of colour and have also seen the number of BAME participants in our festivals increase.

Black Lives Matter

While our aim is to always support films and filmmakers from all cultures, we are very aware of the current events and experiences relating to black people and we are extremely supportive of #blacklivesmatter and the tireless work being done by activists and everyday people all over the world to tackle racism and bring about positive change and equality.

Many film sites have recently published #blacklivesmatter film lists, with recommendations showcasing work by black filmmakers and artists as well as films that aim to inform people about the Civil Rights movement, Black Power movement and racism. The majority of these films are aimed at adults and the majority are 15 and 18 certificates.

We felt that it was important to put together a list of films at U, PG and 12A classification that families could watch together that could inform, show positive black representation on screen and/or behind the camera and entertain. We also wanted to present films that aren't just about black suffering and to support the idea that 'black films' aren't seen as a genre that is just about hardship.

The Film List

The list of films is not exhaustive, however it is (literally) a starter for ten that we hope you will appreciate and choose to watch. We have explained the reason for including each film in the list and provided details of the themes and content, however you may wish to check www.bbfc.co.uk for more information before watching them with children.

We wanted to present films that are easily accessible, either free on the most popular streaming platforms or to rent for a nominal price. As a result of this we are aware that the list isn't as diverse as it could be, with the majority of films coming from the USA and focusing on African American lives, which can be confusing and alienating when you are British. We will strive to source more black British and European films and will add these to our recommendations as we move forward.

We have also included two short films which are both free to watch online and are a great introduction to black filmmaking. Jemima + Johnny is the only British film on the list and is a touching story beautifully shot through the eyes of children, while Hair Love focuses on a simple day to day activity that many people will identify with.

We would love to hear your thoughts about the list. This isn't going to be a one-off ‘there, we've done our bit’ but something we feel passionately about and will continue to do and strive to get better at.

Hair Love (YouTube)

Dir. Matthew A. Cherry, Everett Downing Jr. & Bruce W. Smith, 2019, USA, 7 mins, Cert U

Hair Love

Wanting to look good for a very special occasion, young Zuri asks her dad to do her hair for the first time.

Winner of the 2020 Oscar for Best Animated Short Film.

Director Matthew A. Cherry stated that he was inspired to create Hair Love to counter stereotypes about Black fathers, because "Black fathers have had one of the worst raps in mainstream media as being portrayed as being deadbeats and not being involved.”

Read more about the film on IMDB here.

Jemima + Johnny (BFI Player)

Dir. Lionel Ngakane, 1966, South Africa / UK, 30 mins, Cert U

Jemima + Johnny

In west London's Notting Hill, a community at the time divided by racism, a young white English boy befriends the young daughter of recent immigrants from the Caribbean and together they have an adventure across the city, A refreshingly optimistic take on black/white relations and how their innocent friendship affects the lives of those around them.

The director, Lionel Ngakane, was Nelson Mandela's contemporary in the ANC and moved to London after being exiled from South Africa in the 1950s.

It was the first Black British film to win at an international film festival, when it was awarded 1st prize at Venice in 1966.

Read more about the film on IMDB here.

The Princess and the Frog (Disney+ / Sky Movies, Sun 21 Jun, 3:30pm)

Dirs. Ron Clements & John Musker, 2009, USA, 97 mins, Cert U

The Princess and the Frog

A modern retelling of the fairy story, The Frog Prince, transposed to 1920's New Orleans.

Tiana, a waitress, desperate to fulfill her dreams as a restaurant owner, is accidentally turned into a frog when she kisses frog prince cursed by a voodoo magician. Together they must race against time to turn back into human beings and fulfil their destiny.

The Princess and the Frog was an important milestone for Disney as it introduced the first black Disney Princess. Set in 1920's New Orleans, Tiana was based partly on famed restaurateur Leah Chase, who was a waitress and ultimately opened a restaurant with her husband in the 1960s.

While some critics feel that the film glosses over the segregation of the South at the time, it does provide the audience with a positive representation of a black heroine and black families.

Read more about the film on IMDB here.

In a world in which we struggle with race relations in the present day, seeing positive female/female and female/male interactions that cross class and racial divides are images that provide an influence too rarely seen in the media.
Author & academic, bel hooks (Gloria Jean Watkins)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Amazon to buy £4.99 / Sky Movies, Sun 21 Jun, 9:00pm)

Dirs. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey & Rodney Rothman, 2018, USA, 117 mins, Cert PG

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

After gaining superpowers from a spider bite, teenager Miles Morales protects the city as Spider-Man. Soon, he meets alternate versions of himself and gets embroiled in an epic battle to save the multiverse.

Miles Morales was first introduced into the Marvel Comics world in 2011 as part of the Ultimate-universe adventures, set in a parallel world. His immediate popularity saw him ported over into the main Marvel universe in 2016 and in 2018, his story was rebooted and became the first series to be written by a person of colour, Saladin Ahmed.

The film develops the comic book character and elevates Miles into the mainstream. Not only is it arguably the best iteration of Spider-Man so far but it also resonates with black and hispanic fans looking for their place whether that be at school, the workplace or within their personal relationships.

Read more about the film on IMDB here.

[We want the film to] inspire young people to become heroes. Inspire grown-ups to help them do it. And remind us all that you don't need to be bitten by a radioactive spider to do your part. You are powerful, and we are counting on you.
Producers, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

Black Panther (Disney+)

Dir. Ryan Coogler, 2018, USA, 134 mins, Cert 12

Black Panther

Following the events in Marvel's Captain America: Civil War, Prince T'Challa returns to the hidden but tevchnologically advanced kingdom of Wakanda to inherit his throne but is confronted by a challenger from his past who wants to drag the country into a war.

Black Panther was the first superhero movie to have a black director and a predominantly black cast but more importantly was also the first 'black' blockbuster which proved to Hollywood that African-American narratives had the power to generate profits from all audiences. It also demonstrated that making movies about black lives is part of showing that they matter - it is essential that everyone sees themselves represented, not just in film but in all media and other areas of public life.

Read more in this article by Jamil Smith for Time Magazine.

Read more about the film on IMDB here.

We never wanted to say one character is right and the other wrong. You get into dangerous territory if you expect the art you make to change people's minds. But if someone can catch a film and then go home and talk about it, that's doing a lot.
Director, Ryan Coogler

 

Becoming (Netflix)

Dir. Nadia Hallgren, 2020, USA, 89 mins, Cert PG

Becoming

A documentary about former first lady Michelle Obama in which she discusses her life, hopes and connections with others during her 2019 book tour for her autobiography 'Becoming'.

Director Nadira Hallgren followed Michelle Obama through her 34-city book tour after Becoming, the book, was published.

Read more about the film on IMDB here.

This film was amazing beyond words, I’m a 13 year old bi-racial girl living in Georgia and I've seen people from all over who can all agree with me in saying Michelle Obama is a strong, brave, inspiring woman who has done amazing things. She has taught me that no matter what my story is I am important and my voice matters and I matter.
Anonymous, Google review

Kirikou and the Men and Women (Amazon rent £3.49 / You Tube £2.49)

Dir. Michel Ocelot, 2012, France, 88 mins, Cert U

Kirikou and the Men and Women

Based loosely on Senegalese fables, Kirikou tells five stories of ingenuity and courage, as the tiny but fearless crusader saves his village from foes both natural and supernatural.

This is the third film in the series after Kirikou and the Sorceress and Kirikou and the Wild Beasts. French director MIchel Ocelot grew up in Guinea, West Africa and was keen to adapt the folk tales of his childhood.

It should be noted that Kirikou does not wear clothes and the women of the village live bare breasted. However, the nudity is entirely natural and has no sexual context, hence the U classification from the BBFC.

Read more about the film on IMDB here.

Hidden Figures (Amazon rent £3.49)

Dir. Theodore Melfi, 2016, USA, 127 mins, Cert PG

Hidden Figures

Set in the 1960s in the early years of the US space race, three female African-American mathematicians are employed by NASA to play a pivotal role in astronaut John Glenn's launch into orbit. Meanwhile, they also have to deal with racial and gender discrimination at work.

The actual working relationship between the engineers and women was not as hostile as it appears in the film. While there were clearly racial issues at play, the majority of the engineers were able to work with the computers with no issues and several scenes were created or embellished for the sake of the narrative.

Hidden Figures is an important film in a time of social awareness as it celebrates the important work that had, until recently, gone largely unrecognised. It delivers a powerful message to black women and girls that their resilience and intelligence is significant and that their contribution to society matters.

Read more about the film on IMDB here.

Queen of Katwe (Disney+)

Dir. Mira Nair, 2016, USA, 124 mins, Cert PG

Queen of Katwe

Living in Katwe, a slum in Kampala, Uganda, is a constant struggle for 10-year-old Phiona, her mother Nakku Harriet and younger members of her family. Phiona's life changes after she meets Robert Katende at a missionary programme, who teaches her to play chess. Under Katende's guidance, Phiona becomes a top player and sees an opportunity to escape from a life of poverty.

The film is based on a true story - the real Phiona Mutesi won the Ugandan Women's Junior Chess Championship three times, has represented Uganda at four chess olympiads, and is one of the first titled female players in Ugandan chess history.

Having been offered a scholarship, she is currently studing sociology at Northwest University, Washington. After college, Mutesi said she wants to "come back home and serve my community," and work with children who live in the slums of Uganda.

A longtime activist, director Mira Nair set up an annual film-makers’ laboratory, Maisha Film Lab in Kampala, Uganda. Since 2005, young directors in East Africa have been trained at this non-profit facility with the belief that "If we don’t tell our stories, no one else will."

Read more about the film on IMDB here.

The Hate U Give (Amazon to buy £7.99)

Dir. Mira Nair, 2016, USA, 124 mins, Cert PG

The Hate U Give

Starr Carter is constantly switching between two worlds: the poor, mostly black, neighborhood where she lives and the rich, mostly white, prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Now, facing pressures from all sides of the community, Starr must find her voice and stand up for what's right.

Lead actress Amandla Stenberg is an ardent activist and was named by Dazed magazine as "one of the most incendiary voices of her generation". Stenberg has spoken publicly on social media about cultural appropriation and is an ambassador for the charity No Kid Hungry. Amandla also supports the Ubuntu Education Fund, which nurtures children "from cradle to career" in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Follow her @amandlastenberg

Read more about the film on IMDB here.

This movie, especially during this time where Black Lives Matter is being taken more seriously, could not have put racial injustice in a more clear viewing. This is especially a good movie for children, not just black children, but children of other oppressed groups. To anyone who hasn't already watched this movie, I definitely recommend it. Especially to white people, so that they too can be educated on what black people go through for the color of their skin.
Google review, ethereal neptune

Selma (Amazon rent £3.49)

Dir. Ava DuVernay, 2014, USA, 128 mins, Cert 12A

Selma

A dramatic chronicle of the three month period in 1965 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. campaigned for equal voting rights for African Americans and other minorities. The now famous walk from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama resulted in President Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act 1965, one of the most significant successes of the civil rights movement.

Anyone interested in the civil rights movement and the achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will find Selma a fascinating place to start. Many people are aware of King for his famous 'I Have a Dream' speech but DuVernay chooses instead to focus on the humanity of a leader wrestling with the significance and lasting value of his work.

The film is an amazing piece of story-telling and a great way to understand the history of civil rights, not just in America and how it has led to the Black Lives Matter movement today.

Ava DuVernay was the first African American woman to win best director at Sundance and the first black female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe.

Read more about the film on IMDB here.

I make films about black women and it doesn't mean that you can't see them as a black man, doesn't mean that he can't see them as a white man or she can't see them as a white woman.
Director, Ava DuVernay

Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (Free with MUBI)

Dir. Göran Olsson, 2011, Sweden / USA, 100 mins, Cert 12A

Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975

In the 1960s a group of ideological Swedish filmmakers traveled to America to document the Black Power Movement and spent nine years interviewing leading contemporary African-American artists, activists, musicians and scholars. Divided into 9 sections based chronologically on each successive year between 1967 and 1975, the film focuses on several topics and subjects. The footage was never used and was only discovered thirty years in the basement of Swedish Television, when director Göran Olsson discovered and edited it into a feature film in 2011.

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 is a detailed documentary for anyone wanting to dig deeper into the issues facing black people in America centering around civil rights. While not a comprehensive history, The Black Power Mixtape is still a chronological, musically structured collage tracing the Black Power movement from its inception during the civil rights era through its dissolution as drugs began to erode black communities in the 70s. The film does a particularly fine job of covering the Civil Rights Movement and the effects of the War on Drugs.

Due to the themes and issues portrayed and discussed in the documentaty, this is the most challenging film on the list (while still a 12A certificate) and parents may want to read up on the content of the film on the BBFC website before watching it with children.

Read more about the film on IMDB here.