120 Best Films That Center BIPOC Experiences

120 Best Films That Center BIPOC Experiences

June 6, 2024

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It’s time to amplify the voices that have long been marginalized and bring to the forefront the rich tapestry of BIPOC experiences. Delve deep into the diverse narratives, struggles, triumphs, and resilience of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities. Prepare to be moved, educated, and inspired as we embark on a cinematic journey that expands our horizons and fosters empathy. These films are a testament to the beauty, strength, and unwavering spirit of BIPOC individuals, reminding us of the transformative power of cinema.

41. The Kings of the World (2022)

best

8.4

Country

Colombia, France, Luxembourg

Director

Female director, Laura Mora

Actors

Brahian Acevedo, Carlos Andrés Castañeda, Cristian Campaña, Cristian David Duque

Moods

Challenging, Character-driven, Dark

The Kings of the World is a surreal coming-of-age movie that follows Rá, Culebro, Sere, Winny, and Nano, street kids who are on their way to claim land that’s rightfully theirs. Their one goal is to finally make a home after living without one for so long, but they’re hindered by the inevitable tragedies that befall kids of their kind: impoverished, alone, and abandoned.

The title is ironic, but it also hints at their state of mind: these boys are unstoppable, rabble-rousers who live like there’s no tomorrow. They tear down private property and invade inns not out of spite, necessarily, but out of a knowledge that whatever they do they’re gonna be put down anyway, so they might as well live without rules.

Tackling powerful themes like land restitution and youth neglect, The Kings of the World is one of the most agonizing movies you’ll ever see. It’s also Colombia’s official Best Foreign Language Film entry in the 2022 Academy Awards.

42. Fingernails (2023)

best

8.4

Country

Australia, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Christos Nikou

Actors

Albert Chung, Amanda Arcuri, Annie Murphy, Ashleigh Rains

Moods

Emotional, Gripping, Original

In what is only his second feature, Greek director Christos Nikou crafts a singular universe that is orderly and enticing. The dystopian premise that you can now scientifically test for love may be bizarre, but it answers to one of the biggest anxieties humans share. That said,  this particular world feels so close to ours today, that you want to dive right in it, weirdness and all. Even the topos of the love clinic, where couples get evaluated and take on exercises before they take the test is framed as a space for hope. There’s no underlying cynicism in Nikou’s film, which is perhaps the most surprising fact about it; on the contrary, longing—however painful it may be—abounds and seeps through the carefully composed images of shared doubt and suspect intimacy. Last, but not least, the chemistry shared by Buckley-Ahmed-White is nothing short of explosive.

43. Falling in Love Like in Movies (2023)

best

8.4

Country

Indonesia

Director

Yandy Laurens

Actors

Abdurrahman Arif, Alex Abbad, Dion Wiyoko, Ernest Prakasa

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Funny, Lovely

Given the title, it isn’t surprising that Falling in Love Like in Movies would be a metanarrative with the main romance mirroring the filmmaking and the filmmaking reflecting the main romance. It’s a familiar approach, and at first, Falling seems to follow the inevitable ending where the couple falls in love, but right on time, in around Sequence Four, writer-director Yandy Laurens chooses a more honest, less chosen path– a path that plenty of previous romance films hasn’t examined– that still falls within the eight sequence screenplay structure Bagus talks about. While Bagus is pitching his film to Hana, and to his producer, Jatuh Cinta Seperti di Film-Film pitches a new way of thinking about love, grief, and of course, filmmaking.

44. Cleaners (2019)

best

8.4

Country

Philippines

Director

Glenn Barit

Actors

Carlo Mejia, Gianne Rivera, Ianna Taguinod, Julian Narag

Moods

Character-driven, Original, Quirky

In Letterboxd, Cleaners was once the highest rated film of 2021, and was once in the list of the top 250 narrative features overall before the rating system changed in 2023. To viewers outside the Philippines, this might have been mind-boggling, especially since the film wasn’t yet released internationally the year it premiered, but it shot up the ranks for a reason. The coming-of-age anthology just looks so different, being filmed live, then xeroxed and highlighted, frame by frame, just like print-outs for school. The unique approach evokes a sense of nostalgia in high contrast print and blurred movement, and it’s matched with the classic Filipino coming-of-age moments that has rarely been seen before.

45. On the Record (2020)

best

8.3

Country

United States of America

Director

Amy Ziering, Female director

Actors

Shanita Hubbard

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Gripping, Instructive

This searing allegation of sexual abuse against Def Jam Recordings’ Russell Simmons unfolds with the intelligence and tenacity of a world-class prosecution. But more importantly, On the Record remembers to fight for a justice that’s restorative, too—paying proper tribute to Drew Dixon and many other equally creative and talented women behind the scenes in the American hip hop industry. With every new argument it introduces, this documentary encourages us not only to be open to new information, but to rewire our very way of thinking about race, intersectional feminism, and the music business. It may be a bit of a cliché, but On the Record really does leave you smarter than when you started, with a heightened awareness of how the present moment is inseparable from our history.

46. Le Havre (2011)

best

8.3

Country

Finland, France, Germany

Director

Aki Kaurismäki

Actors

André Wilms, Corinne Belet, Elina Salo, Evelyne Didi

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Feel-Good, Funny

Quaint and quirky, Le Havre is a beautiful and heartwarming story about the power of compassion and the importance of community. It tells the story of a shoeshiner who tries to save an immigrant child in the French port city of Le Havre. The charming characters are easy to root for as this community of everyday people bands together to help this young boy reunite with his mother. Even as the film rejects the unempathetic responses to the refugee crisis, it utilizes gentle humor and a light cadence to invoke empathy for others that should exist.

47. Il Mare (2000)

best

8.3

Country

South Korea

Director

Hyun-seung Lee, Lee Hyeon-seung

Actors

Cho Seung-yeon, Hong So-yeong, Ji-hyun Jun, Jun Ji-hyun

Moods

Emotional, Original, Romantic

While more people are familiar with its US adaptation, Il Mare is far more striking and emotionally resonant. The Korean romance, separated by timelines, depicts two lonely people who lived in the same seaside residence. They form a bond through the titular house’s mailbox, by sharing letters, voice recorders, and suggestions to deal with loneliness. As they receive each other’s messages, the film slowly reveals the reason for their loneliness– that they’ve been left behind. Matched with shots of creeping urbanization, migration, and the Y2K scare, Il Mare understands modern isolation, but it also underscores how solitude helps us connect with other people.

48. Minbo: the Gentle Art of Japanese Extortion (1992)

best

8.3

Country

Japan

Director

Jūzō Itami

Actors

Akio Tanaka, Akira Nakao, Akira Takarada, Guts Ishimatsu

Moods

Character-driven, Easy, Funny

Without context, Minbo, or the Gentle Art of Japanese Extortion seemed like a goofy satire, especially when the silly trumpet score pops up, and unfortunate hotel employees Suzuki and Wakasugi flounder around trying to solve the hotel’s yakuza problem on their own. And when Nobuko Miyamoto shows up as the brilliant lawyer, it’s so satisfying to see her turn the tables on the yakuza purely through words, strategy, and knowledge of law. It’s hilarious, but Minbo doesn’t just poke fun– it demystifies the gangster as a cool and untouchable figure, portraying them instead as loudmouthed bullies that we can handle. It also shows us how much can be done, only if we, as a group, perhaps as a whole nation, can muster the courage to fight.

49. Sorry to Bother You (2018)

best

8.2

Country

United States of America

Director

Boots Riley

Actors

Annie Chen, Armie Hammer, Damion Gallegos, Danny Glover

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Funny, Smart

In the year of the Netflix TV Show Maniac, another absurdist title stole critics’ hearts. Sorry to Bother You is a movie set in an alternate reality, where capitalism and greed are accentuated. Lakeith Stanfield (Atlanta) is a guy called Cassius who struggles to pay his bills. However, when at a tele-marketing job an old-timer tells him to use a “white voice”, he starts moving up the ranks of his bizarre society. A really smart movie that will be mostly enjoyed by those who watch it for its entertaining value, and not so much for its commentary. It is like a Black Mirror episode stretched into a movie.

50. Uppity: The Willy T. Ribbs Story (2020)

best

8.2

Country

United States of America

Director

Adam Carolla, Nate Adams

Actors

Adam Carolla, Al Unser Jr., Bernie Ecclestone, Bobby Unser

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Inspiring, Instructive

“They called me uppity. Uppity n*****. And I loved it”. That’s how this excellent documentary, about the first professional black racing driver Willy T. Ribbs, starts. It summarizes the strong personality of a champion who excelled in tracks that were filled with confederate flags.

The documentary explains the details of the difficulties that Ribbs went through in the 70s and 80s, but also the people who supported him and recognized his talent. It’s by no way a sad movie, on the contrary, even when Ribbs is talking about people spitting wherever he walks or about the death threats escalating, his unharmed determination is at the center of the story.

This is an inspiring documentary about a character who never got his worth in the history books. I was full of shivers by the first half-hour mark.

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