Indiewire’s Criticwire addressed today this question from a reader:
“I mentor a 14-year-old from Harlem and nothing would make me happier then to have her enjoy ‘art house’ movies. She goes to Hollywood movies in chain theaters, and doesn’t particularly like what she sees. Of course, the fact that she’s African-American makes it even harder for me to find movies that I think would speak to her. She is sophisticated and would probably not mind some subtitles and nontraditional narratives. Help!”
Various critics rang in with some really great suggestions. The truth is, I don’t know how you grow a cinephile. Attempting to influence anyone’s tastes or beliefs can be an exercise in futility, but if a curious teenager is open to exploration we can help by pointing in the right direction. As a parent, you can try. My daughter knows the lines from a few films I’ve shown her, like A Fish Called Wanda, Burn After Reading, The Social Network, No Country for Old Men. Does this mean she’s learned to love a better class of movies? I don’t know. She has her own interests and passions that have to do with how she was raised, the world she grew up in and what exactly she’s trying to escape from. Many movies, you see, are designed for escape, and the system makes movies one of the easiest escapes to access when we’re young. They were for me.
As an upcoming cinephile who’s African-American, finding great films and film directors who map your own experience can be especially hard. So the inclination would be to look for those filmmakers who reflect the culture. The most important African-American film director, to my mind, is Spike Lee who carved out a new narrative for what kinds of stories were being told. But he never played the Hollywood game right and before long, Lee was mostly written off. Still, he inspired many directors — and continues to do so. Other black filmmakers of note — Robert Townsend, Lee Daniels, and Denzel Washington. It’s harder to navigate in those currents so maybe it’s easier just to talk about movies.