120 Best Films That Center BIPOC Experiences

120 Best Films That Center BIPOC Experiences

June 14, 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.

51. The Forty-Year-Old Version (2020)

best

8.2

Country

United States of America

Director

Female director, Radha Blank

Actors

Andrew Glaszek, Antonio Ortiz, Ashlee Brian, Doris McCarthy

Moods

Feel-Good, Funny, Uplifting

This fun comedy-drama is about a New York playwright called Radha who never hit big. When she turns 40, she decides to reinvent herself as RadhaMUSPrime, a rapper.

And it’s all a personal affair: Radha Blank plays the main character (named after herself) and is also the writer, director, and producer.

The story is about rap and theater, but being so connected to reality, it feels like it’s about Blank making the movie itself. Its very existence feels like a triumph against the pressure of age, the misunderstanding of others, and the weight of unreached goals.

52. Mars One (2023)

best

8.2

Country

Brazil

Director

Gabriel Martins

Actors

Camilla Damião, Carlos Francisco, Cícero Lucas, Dircinha Macêdo

Moods

Dramatic, Emotional, Heart-warming

Mars One is a tender, wholesome drama that centers on The Martins, a family of four living on the fringes of a major Brazilian city. Their lower-middle-class status puts them in an odd position—they’re settled enough to have big dreams and occasionally lead lavish lives (the mother and the daughter like to party) but they barely have the means to pursue that kind of lifestyle. As a result, they’re always searching and wanting, aiming high but almost always falling flat on the ground.

There is no actual plot in Mars One. Instead, it studies its characters in a leisurely and almost offhand manner. The approach is so naturalistic, you’ll almost forget you’re watching a movie. But it’s still gorgeously shot and staged, Brazil being an inevitably striking background. At once gentle and vibrant, this big-hearted film is a must for those who are suckers for well-made family dramas.

53. Tropical Malady (2004)

best

8.2

Country

France, Germany, Italy

Director

Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Actors

Banlop Lomnoi, Sakda Kaewbuadee

Moods

Intense, Thought-provoking, Weird

A breathtaking and enigmatic masterpiece of Thai cinema, Tropical Maladyis a poetic and deeply philosophical exploration of human desire, spirituality, and the mysteries of nature. It follows the story of two men, a soldier and a farmer, who fall in love and embark on a journey deep into the heart of the jungle, where they encounter a shape-shifting spirit. The film’s surreal and dreamlike imagery is mesmerizing, and the performances are outstanding, especially the nuanced and subtle portrayal of the two protagonists. This film is truly a stunning and unforgettable work of art that challenges our perceptions of love, identity, and reality.

54. Rohan at the Louvre (2023)

best

8.2

Country

Japan

Director

Kazutaka Watanabe

Actors

Fumino Kimura, Issey Takahashi, Katia Tchenko, Kayoko Shiraishi

Moods

Challenging, Discussion-sparking, Intense

As an adaptation of a story written to commemorate the Louvre’s comics-focused exhibit, Rohan at the Louvre expands the short story into a riveting, nearly two-hour supernatural mystery film that contemplates Japanese art in context with the world. The original story is a spin-off of the popular manga Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, so this film adaptation may shock fans expecting the same plot points and the vibrant, colorful style of the manga. However, the shadow-heavy cinematography, alongside Issey Takahashi’s performance, casts the eeriness needed to make this story work on film. It’s a change that fits a story all about art as a depiction of pain and desire, severing the self from the past, and escapism through stories.

55. Lakota Nation vs. United States (2022)

best

8.2

Country

United States of America

Director

Female director, Jesse Short Bull

Actors

Candi Brings Plenty, Krystal Two Bulls, Layli Long Soldier, Nick Tilsen

Moods

Depressing, Discussion-sparking, Emotional

Using the documentary form with supreme clarity and righteous fury, Lakota Nation vs. United States distills hundreds of years of American history into two powerful, consistently engaging hours of film. The information presented in this movie has always been available to the public, but directors Jesse Short Bull and Laura Tomaselli do an excellent job at allowing these historical accounts and more recent headlines to cumulatively take on a truly emotional—almost spiritual—resonance. The enormity of the losses that Native Americans have endured physically, culturally, and economically is genuinely horrifying, and every new obstacle that the Oceti Sakowin peoples face feels heavy with the struggle of all of their ancestors before them.

Short Bull and Tomaselli stick to a generally conventional structure, but are able to weave together together personal stories and factual legal arguments through archival footage, majestic shots of the frontier, and the poetry of Lakota poet Layli Long Soldier. The whole film, then, begins to take on more of a lyrical quality—as if every tragic moment has permanently become part of the tapestry of Native life, impossible to forget and always driving efforts for reparation forward. Still the Native struggle continues, but with much more hope than despair.

56. Third World Romance (2023)

best

8.2

Country

Philippines

Director

Dwein Ruedas Baltazar, Female director

Actors

Ana Abad-Santos, Archie Adamos, Carlo Aquino, Charlie Dizon

Moods

Character-driven, Discussion-sparking, Heart-warming

Third World Romance is what it says in the tin– it’s a love story that blooms in the rundown side of the capital of a developing country. The plot is familiar, especially for people familiar with Filipino rom coms, but writer-director Dwein Baltazar approaches this with a grounded approach. With fancy dinner dates substituted with shared packed rice meals and emotional apologies interrupted by their shifts in the grocery, Bree and Alvin carve out a love that still feels passionate, perhaps made even more so, as they navigate a city where they are disenfranchised. Charlie Dizon and Carlo Aquino’s excellent performances keep their characters’ struggles real, but also make their love feel joyful in spite of that.

57. Society of the Snow (2023)

best

8.2

Country

Spain, United States of America

Director

J.A. Bayona

Actors

Agustín Berruti, Agustín Della Corte, Agustín Lain, Agustín Pardella

Moods

Challenging, Character-driven, Dark

Real life tragedies, especially one that’s as sensationalized as the Miracle in the Andes, can be tough to depict on screen. On one hand, the film has to keep true to the story but also maintain some form of spectacle to keep people watching. Past depictions of the 1972 crash are preoccupied with the cannibalism portrayed by big name actors, but Society of the Snow takes a different route. The actors are newcomers, the threats to their lives don’t require daring action stunts, and the cannibalism is limited to small chunks indistinguishable from animal meat. Instead, the spectacle of Society of the Snow is the human spirit– the vulnerability, the respect, and the generosity they’ve given each other in order to survive. It’s still an uncomfortable watch, especially since we get to know some of the survivors before the crash, but it’s definitely a transcendent addition to the genre dedicated to the miracle of existence.

58. Through the Olive Trees (1994)

best

8.2

Country

France, Iran

Director

Abbas Kiarostami

Actors

Abbas Kiarostami, Farhad Kheradmand, Hossein Rezai, Jafar Panahi

Moods

Challenging, Discussion-sparking, Lighthearted

We’ve heard of films within a film, but it’s crazy how many layers Through the Olive Trees operates in. Writer-director Abbas Kiarostami completes his metanarrative journey in the Koker trilogy through a slice-of-life comedy about a couple in the periphery of the previous installment And Life Goes On. As the young man Hossein repeats his plea for marriage to Tahereh, casted as his wife, the insistence can be slightly grating, but in doing so, the everyday dealings of the Iranian village hint at what’s underneath– the earthquake from four years ago that still shapes their lives, the socioeconomic and culture barriers, and the mirrored struggle of creating the artistic vision of the film within the film.

59. Comrades, Almost a Love Story (1996)

best

8.2

Country

Hong Kong

Director

Peter Chan

Actors

Adrian Kwan, Baat Leung-Gam, Christopher Doyle, Crystal Suen Ah-Lei

Moods

Emotional, Lovely, Romantic

There are connections we make in this lifetime that we expect to be ephemeral, especially in a new city, but sometimes these connections end up being the most meaningful relationship to us. For Jun in Comrades, Almost a Love Story, street smart Qiao is that connection. As she teaches Xiao Jun in Hong Kong city life, they both edge closer to being lovers and Hongkongers, but not quite enough to receive the title. And as fate separates them and fate (and Teresa Teng) brings them together, Comrades, Almost a Love Story crafts quite a memorable romance that stems from a shared dream of finally moving up in the world.

60. Casting Blossoms to the Sky (2012)

best

8.2

Country

Japan

Director

Nobuhiko Obayashi

Actors

Akira Emoto, Bengal, Chōei Takahashi, Hirona Yamazaki

Moods

Challenging, Depressing, Discussion-sparking

As time goes by, the youth doesn’t recognize how connected they are to previous tragedies, more so when it comes to war. Some even say that they have no part in it. Nobuhiko Obayashi’s later years have been preoccupied in countering this idea. Casting Blossoms to the Sky is the first of Obayashi’s anti-war trilogy, with the film inviting its audience to follow a journalist rediscovering the city of Nagaoka after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake. There’s a certain dreamlike approach to the way the various war stories are weaved together, with vibrant frames, simple CGI, and prominent green screen that grants some distance between the audience and the actual wartime reality, but it’s no less potent as Reiko interviews those that remember the scars of the past, and the rituals, practices, and art they’ve taken up in response. Casting Blossoms is a depressing story about war and disaster, one that is a tough one to watch. But it never forgets the humanity, the kindness and love that allowed Japan to recover, the very qualities we must protect and remember in ourselves.

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