What to watch this weekend to mark Black History Month

A growing number of movies by black filmmakers mean there are plenty of ways to reflect and celebrate Black History Month.

Exciting new movies by black filmmakers mean plenty of ways to reflect and celebrate

Filmmaker Karen Chapman spoke with CBC Radio about four films people should watch during Black History Month. (Jalani Morgan)

Filmmaker Karen Chapman has a word to describe this era in movies: "exciting."

"You've got more filmmakers of colour, particularly black women filmmakers, getting access to opportunities to make films on grander scales," she says. 

"It's a long time coming"

From Black Panther to Crazy Rich Asians, films created by and featuring people of colour have proven to be both box office smashes and critical darlings.

Chapman, who is now working on her first feature-length film, picked out a few of her favourite movies to mark Black History Month in interviews with CBC Radio's Metro Morning and Ontario Morning last week. 

A celebration of black love

Chapman describes If Beale Street Could Talk, the latest film by Moonlight director Barry Jenkins, as "beautiful" and "gushingly cinematic."

The film, based on a novel by James Baldwin, tells the story of two childhood friends, Tish and Fonny, who become lovers while living in the Harlem of the 1970s. They're torn apart when Fonny is arrested for a crime he did not commit.

"It's just refreshing to see black love on screen," said Chapman in an interview on Friday. Above, Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) play the couple at the centre of If Beale Street Could Talk. (Courtesy of Annapurna Pictures)

"You just get caught up in the rapture of their love. And you root for them, and it's heartbreaking."

Currently in theatres, the film scooped up three Oscar nominations and stars Scarborough's Stephan James as Fonny.

A hard-hitting documentary

I Am Not Your Negro is a documentary Chapman thinks about often.

Like If Beale Street Could Talk, the doc draws on source material from James Baldwin, in this case his unfinished manuscript, Remember This House.

Taking a sweeping look at the story of black people in the United States, "It levelled the playing field when it comes to re-imagining where we could be and where we are," she said.

"It's a very frank conversation with race and the construction of whiteness," said Chapman.

James Baldwin, centre, wrote a collection of notes and letters recounting the lives of civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X that make up the heart of I Am Not Your Negro. (Kanopy)

A quietly powerful Canadian film

Shot in Toronto, Unarmed Verses is a documentary made by Charles Officer for the National Film Board.

"It's about a young girl and her family, and they're facing relocation, and how she uses her art as a way to understand the world," said Chapman.

The 12-year-old girl at the centre of the film offers her thoughts on life, the soul, and self-expression. 

"It's wonderful to see her on screen ... to see a black girl on screen," said Chapman.   

A 'whimsical' option for kids and adults

Finally, Chapman has a recommendation for a family film that combines fun and fantasy with powerful black characters.

A Wrinkle In Time, by Ava DuVernay, features a diverse, all-star cast and is the highest-budget film ever made by an black female director.

Chapman describes it as a serious journey that manages to be both full of 'absurdity' and 'whimsical' at the same time.

Reese Witherspoon, left, and Storm Reid in a scene from A Wrinkle In Time. The film also stars Oprah Winfrey and Mindy Kaling. (Atsushi Nishijima/Disney via AP)

With files from Metro Morning, Ontario Morning