113 Best BIPOC Stories to Watch (Page 6)

Staff & contributors

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

Is courage still courage when you have no choices left? What do you do when you're pressed to the wall and have no way to go? Maria, a pretty, modest and hardworking girl living in a small Colombian town, where the only career choice (thus not being a choice, really) is working in a floral plant, packing and distributing flowers - a dead-end job with killer hours and zero-tolerance boss. Yet, it's money. Until the day Maria gets pregnant and her choices become even more limited. By accident, she makes acquaintance with a guy who turns out to be her way out - and the way is out to become a drug mule, transporting drugs in your stomach across the border to the American soil. A job dangerous in many aspects, illegal and potentially deadly, but also paid well. Maria decides to take the only way out, a way that may be a one-way street. Maria Full of Grace is a gut-wrenching story about survival in a seemingly hopeless situation. It's about taking that one chance that has all the potential to go south, and investing in it all the hope you have left, and all the survival instinct you have in your heart and soul. And when everything that could go bad does, and everything turns from bad to worse beyond imagination, it's about standing strong and not giving up, no matter what. Though technically not a documentary, it's real beyond belief, and you can be sure Colombia is full of Marias - just hoping for a decent life, ready to sacrifice the very life itself to obtain it. It's a masterpiece of its genre and it also boasts one of the best posters in the history of the cinema. Highly recommended.

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.

This coming-of-age drama set near Sept-Îles in Quebec, Canada is about two indigenous Innu best friends who grow up together. One day, one of them meets a white guy and starts planning a life with him, which is seen by both her best friend and her community as a rupture with them.

“If everybody did the same thing you’re doing, we wouldn’t exist,” her friend tells her. Kuessipan is about that intersection between friends growing apart and indigenous identity, all set in the backdrop of Canadian reserve life. Won the Grand Prix at the Québec City Film Festival.

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.

Demian Bichir was nominated for an Oscar for his role in this movie where he plays an illegal immigrant and father. You might be wondering "who is that?", but trust me you won't after watching this movie. The kindness, complexity, and authenticity he brings to this story are unparalleled.

A Better Life is about the illegal immigrant experience, about the line between the fear of being caught and the aspiration for a better future. It's an excellent and important movie. 

There is no shortage of resources—be it books, films, articles, or interviews—about the atrocities Ferdinand Marcos unleashed on the Philippines. And yet, in the years since his exile and eventual death, his family has returned to power in the country, winning the hearts and (manipulated) minds of the masses.

In The Kingmaker, director Lauren Greenfield (who earlier directed the equally revealing The Queen of Versailles) exposes how this came to be, with a focus on the titular kingmaker herself, Imelda Marcos. It’s chilling how much of Imelda’s stated goals in this documentary, which spans five years, have come true. History repeats itself, and Greenfield skillfully and delicately captures the delusion, irony, and blatant corruption of a family dead set on owning a country, as if it were another luxury to purchase (or in the case of the Marcoses, pocket). 

This is a hard movie to describe, but I’ll do my best without giving too much away. The movie takes place in three separate segments that eventually come together. Half of the story takes place in Germany, half in Turkey, with almost all of the central six characters spending time in both countries while either searching for each other or trying to redeem themselves. Daughters search for their mothers (and vice versa) and one character’s actions will eventually bring everything more-or-less full circle. The film is as much about the characters though as it is about the cultural exchange happening between the two countries. If you have even a passing interest in films from this part of the world, I recommend giving this one a try.

It’s rare now to hear the phrase “girl power” without being immediately suspicious of its intentions, reduced as it were to cheesy adspeak and empty platitudes. But in the case of Rocks—a movie helmed by a predominantly female crew and co-written by the teenage cast themselves—the slogan fits. There is power in this type of girlhood: open, collaborative, and supportive, and that’s just what happens off-screen. 

On-screen, what unfolds is even more complex and beautiful. As Rocks struggles to take care of her younger brother all on her own, as she’s forced to grow up and face ethical dilemmas normally reserved for adults, she is backed unwaveringly by her friends Sumaya, Agnes, Yawa, Khadijah, and Sabina. It's their specific bond, unsentimental but deeply considerate and loyal, that keeps the film as solid and grounded as the title suggests.

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. 

Better Days tells the story of Chen Nian, a quiet girl who starts experiencing bullying at her school after her classmate commits suicide for the same reason. But soon, she meets Xiao Bei, a teenage street thug who offers her protection. What starts as a melodramatic story at first becomes a gentle romance. 

Still, Better Days is focused on the psychological aspect of the characters, and how they manage pressure. It's a reminder of the inevitable harshness of reality: dealing with poverty, bullying, and dirty competition. But, in showing the bitter aspects of life, it also shows that there are still those who care and that those who are meant to meet will always find each other.

It looks like something you’ve already seen before: a student genius turns a simple high school cheating scheme into a full-blown, high-stakes heist. But layered with great acting, taut writing, and sharp observations about the ways in which education (and society in general) fails its students, Bad Genius turns a familiar premise into something genuinely exciting and impressively affecting. It’s everything you want a caper movie to be: smart and thrilling, with almost no moment to breathe, and of course, peppered with characters you can’t help but root and be nervous and excited for. 

In the Mexican film A Cop Movie, director Alonso Ruizpalacios mixes fact and fiction, documentary and narrative, to tell the tale of Teresa and Montoya, two police officers whose dreams are dashed by the corruption of their trade and who, eventually, find love and comfort in each other.

Ruizpalacios takes thrilling risks in structuring this genre-bending story—cutting stories into parts, jumping back and forth between the harrowingly real and captivatingly non-real. For all the experimental maneuvers he makes, however, the through-line is always Teresa and Montoya: particularly, their love for each other and for an institution that should have, in an ideal world, supported them and the people they vowed to protect. 

To its credit, instead of merely humanizing the controversial police force, A Cop Movie adds some much-needed nuance to the big picture. At the end of the day, they’re no different than any other underpaid laborers working desperately to make end meets. A Cop Movie doesn’t gloss over the fact that the police, like so many other workers, are stuck in a rotten system that’s long overdue for a major overhauling. 

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.

This uplifting Canadian sports drama is based on a true story set in the remote Nunavut town of Kugluktuk. The small community has the highest teen suicide rate in North America, as it suffers from intergenerational trauma, and the resulting alcohol and drug abuse. A new young history teacher who is sent by the government is shocked by the state of the school and the lives of the teenagers. He realizes that he can't engage the kids with history, and turns to his passion for Lacrosse to try to ignite change.

The teacher and director of the movie are both white, which, added to the story, raise red flags about white savior tropes. But thanks to First Nation producers who made sure the kids had time to develop their characters, The Grizzlies narrowly misses disaster. Instead, it gives a voice to communities that are rarely heard from.