32 Best BIPOC Stories On Kanopy (Page 2)

Staff & contributors

Movies about the experiences of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color set against the backdrop of White-majority Western countries.

Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac star in this slow-burning but impeccable crime thriller.

Abel Morales (Isaac) owns a fuel distribution company in 1980s New York. His competitors are violent and corrupt, and the feds are after him. The temptation to resort to unlawful methods is high, especially that his wife (Chastain) is the daughter of a mobster.

A Most Violent Year is about how this temptation of corruption unfolds and whether Abel will surrender to it or not.

This mortifying stop-motion fairy-tale is inspired by the very real horrors of Chile’s Colonia Dignidad: a cult colony turned torture camp under the Pinochet regime. Presented as colony propaganda, the tale tells the story of Maria, a girl who runs away from the safety of the colony into the forest and takes refuge in a house with two pigs. What transpires is a gut-wrenching allegory for the rise of fascism, colonialism, and white supremacy. 

The staggering animation which seamlessly shifts mediums from paper mâché to painted walls is a bewildering sight to witness. But it’s the synthesis of this boundary-pushing art and the underlying horrors it depicts, that make this stand as an unmissable cinematic event.

This drama was the first feature written and directed by an out Black lesbian, Cheryl Dunye, and it is an absolute joy: a cheeky faux-documentary that ingeniously blends lesbian dating life with a historical dive into Black actors in 30s Hollywood.

Dunye plays Cheryl, a self-effacing version of herself, an aspiring director working at a video store who begins to research an actress known as the Watermelon Woman for a documentary. The more Cheryl dives into her research, the more she sees parallels between her subject and her own relationship. 

As incisive as it is funny, The Watermelon Woman shares some common ground with other major indie debuts of the era like Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It and funnily enough Kevin Smith’s Clerks, but Dunye’s style is wholly her own and a dazzling treat to experience.

 

Like Someone in Love is a Japanese drama about identity and finding comfort. It tells the story of a young woman, Akiko, who leads two different lives, one she shares with her family and another which few know about. The movie opens in a restaurant where Akiko is hanging out with her friend, just as a man is trying to get her to leave, insisting that there is a really important “customer” she has to meet. Long taxi rides and Tokyo neon lights will accompany you as the story unfolds. One of the movie’s most evocative sequences involves Akiko seated in the backseat of a cab, listening to her grandmother's voicemails. Using very little dialogue, Like Someone in Love is a simple movie that captures loneliness, regret, and sorrow brilliantly as it depicts a woman and a man who are only trying to give and receive comfort from each other.

At the height of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, a small Singaporean family scrambles to keep their middle-class status afloat. The parents shave their expenses and work extra-long hours, but their busyness causes them to neglect their misbehaved son. When his misdemeanors prove to be too much, the mother is forced to hire a stay-at-home nanny, and her presence (along with other external pressures) brings about a change in the house. Suddenly, everyone becomes a bit more aware of their limitations and potential, and from this, a shared empathy grows. In other hands, this story might come off as bare and forgettable, but under first-time-feature director Anthony Chen’s helm, Ilo Ilo comes to life in rich detail, thoughtful shots, and captivatingly natural performances. Despite its many heartbreaking scenes, the film rarely dwells in sentiment, and it's this restraint that makes Ilo Ilo all the more gripping to watch. 

The story that Whale Rider tells is a familiar one: that of a young girl challenging the expectations of a patriarchal community in order to claim her rightful place in a position of authority. But this isn't a superficial girl-power movie; writer/director Niki Caro maintains the utmost reverence for this Māori community, even if its customs might not appear fair to an outsider's point of view. It's a film full of realistically flawed people, whose struggles are all borne from a common love for their culture in their little corner of the world. What could have been generic and simplistic is made beautiful—especially thanks to a truly moving performance from Keisha Castle-Hughes, who at the time became the youngest nominee for the Best Actress Oscar.

Like a Wes Anderson movie, The Last Black Man in San Francisco takes artistic risks and nails every one of them. There are many quirky, aesthetically well-studied, and even funny aspects to this moving story.

Jimmie has been maintaining a typical San Francisco Victorian house, regularly painting the windows and watering the plants. One small problem: other people live there and they don’t want him around. It turns out this was once Jimmie’s family house, having been built by his grandfather in 1948, and he misses it deeply.

This story is based on writer Jimmie Fails’ life, as he tried to reclaim his family home in SF. However, it’s not a movie that limits itself to gentrification. It transcends that to being about the universal yearning to find a place to call home.

This coming-of-age story starts in the present time, where Elle Marja, now a grandmother, reluctantly goes to her sister's funeral held by her old indigenous Sámi community in Northern Sweden. Understanding her reluctance requires going back to when Elle Marja was 14 and was preparing to go to boarding school with her little sister. These schools were racist establishments meant to integrate the Sámi children into Swedish culture and language, while at the same time limiting their prospects of seeking further education. Elle Marja and her sister chose to respond to this discrimination in two completely different ways that this movie explores without judgment. The central performance of the young girl is incredible.

A man returns to a town chasing the memory of a woman he loved years ago.

Poet turned filmmaker Bi Gan coats his idiosyncratic filmmaking with a thick layer of neo-noir in this sumptuous follow up to his remarkable debut Kaili Blues. This time around, Kaili City is a neon-drenched dreamscape dripping in style and calling to mind the work of Tarkovsky and Wong Kar-wai. 

He may wear his influences on his sleeve, but Bi Gan keeps his trademark moves like the bravado long takes and a poetic disregard for past and present, reality and dreams. This leads to an explosive and unforgettable sequence in the second half that while originally intended for 3D loses little of its mind-bending power when watched at home.

Dheepan is a French film from the director of A Prophet. It contrasts elements of Sri Lankan and French culture to provide interesting insights into both, while crafting a heart-wrenching and heartwarming tale of makeshift families in unimaginable circumstances. Like A Prophet, Dheepan makes occasional and shocking use of violence to underscore elements of culture and illuminate the inner workings of the characters. A fascinating and exhilarating movie, winner of the 2015 Palme d'Or at Cannes.
Bull is a gritty and haunting drama featuring a phenomenal performance by Rob Morgan as a bullfighter. In a poor Houston suburb, he plays an aging and lonely black man doing everything he can to survive. He brushes off unrelenting racism, rides even when it's life-threatening and raises chickens to sell them. His next-door neighbor is a grandmother taking care of her daughter's kids while the daughter is in jail. One day one of these grandaughters harms the chickens and vandalizes Abe's house, prompting them to clash.

There is a lot to admire about this revenge film from director Mouly Surya—the breathtaking shots of rural Indonesia, the grisly practicality of the titular Marlina, the relevant observations on gender politics, and the simple yet stylistic way all of this is revealed. Fans of Westerns and Spaghetti Westerns are also treated with an Eastern reimagining of tropes as the film exchanges long guns for Kabeala knives and sprawling deserts for tropical hills.

Packed with so many delights, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts is a near-impossible miss. But if you somehow find none of this gripping, you can always rely on the sure thrill of seeing scorned women bloodily and rightfully avenge themselves. 

Nisha, the daughter of conservative Pakistani immigrants in Oslo, finds ways to secretly go out with her Norwegian friends. She goes to parties, plays basketball, and dates.

One day, Nisha’s father catches her with a boy, bringing what he perceives as a great shame to the family. Nisha’s delicate balance is broken, and her family acts drastically: without telling her about their plans, they move her to Pakistan.

What Will People Say is based on its director and writer Iram Haq’s own experience being kidnapped to Pakistan and going back to Norway at age 16.

From The Babadook director Jennifer Kent comes another horror, although this one is more about the horrors of humanity. Set in 1825 Tasmania, The Nightingale follows Irish settler Clare as she seeks bloody revenge on the monsters who wronged her and her family. She teams up with an Aboriginal guide named Billy to accomplish her goal.

Because of its often violent and disturbing tone (the film is rated R for its potentially triggering scenes), The Nightingale understandably polarized audiences upon its release. But it's also an excellent conversation piece, best watched with friends or anyone up for a discussion-filled movie night.

Fourteen-year-old Segundo dreams of being just like his father Noé, a revered tableau artist in their small Peruvian town. The teenage apprentice follows Noé's every move and instruction, that is until one day, he discovers a shocking truth about Noé's identity. Hurt, angered, and incredibly confused, Segundo starts detaching from his family, as well as from the life he thought he'd wanted to live. 

Retablo is a slow but vibrant film, set in Peruvian locales and spoken in the country's indigenous tongue, Quechua. Its limited dialogue smartly reflects the people's own silence when it comes to sex and gender ideas, although the movements themselves—from traditional parties to teenage fights—have a lot to say about masculinity, conservatism, and the dangers of their excess. Retablo might be a difficult watch for some, but it's just as necessary and enlightening.