Northern California filmmakers have been at the forefront of the #BlackLivesMatter era, delivering works that address racism and exploring the complexities of what it means to be Black in America.

Here are but six such features that have regional ties, all available for rent or purchase online.

“Fruitvale Station”:

Ryan Coogler’s solemn, cinema verite 2013 feature debut speaks louder and louder over time. It chronicles the final hours in the life of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old Oakland man shot dead on New Year’s Eve Day by a BART officer on the Fruitvale platform. Coogler — an Oakland native — creates a compelling human story out of an American tragedy, counting down the life of a young man (a powerful breakout performance by Michael B. Jordan) trying to pull his life together. It is one of the best films of the last decade. 

“The Hate U Give”:

Shockingly underappreciated, George Tillman Jr.’s intense adaptation of Angie Thomas’s YA novel (inspired by the Oscar Grant shooting) couldn’t be more fiercely topical. “The Hate U Give” centers on a Black teen girl who witnesses a friend get shot dead by a white police officer during a routine traffic stop. San Francisco native Audrey Wells, who died of cancer the day before the film was released, should have received an Oscar nomination for her audacious screenplay. Amandla Stenberg is a force as Starr Carter, the teen who seethes and suffers from PTSD over the murder of her friend. Also of note is Oakland’s Russell Hornsby as Starr’s caring but angry father. Demands to be seen. 


Some critics took issue at how this Oakland-set tale of two East Bay buddies tackled too much — gentrification, racism, police shootings, friendships and white privilege, among other hot button issues. Hogwash. Co-screenwriters and costars Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal — longtime pals and collaborators in real life — create a hip-hop cinematic experience tied to the beat of a vibrant city that confronts these issues, and more, every day. Carlos Lopez Estrada directs with energy and style.

“Sorry to Bother You”:

Oakland icon Boots Riley delivers an absurdist mind blower starring Lakeith Stanfield (in a golden performance) as Black telemarketer whose career gets a major boost when he follows the advice of a co-worker (Danny Glover) to use his “white voice.” Riley’s debut film is a frisky, surreal, innovative and ultimately shocking romp with messages galore about racism, exploitation and privilege.

 “The Last Black Man in San Francisco”:

David Talbot’s debut feature feels almost like a stage play, a love story to a San Francisco that is being gentrified out of existence. Anchored by two award-worthy performances from Jimmie Fails — who co-wrote the screenplay — and Jonathan Majors, “Last Black Man” is ostensibly about two S.F. friends, one of whom seeks to reclaim his family home and its treasured memories. I love this film.

“Black Panther”:

Oakland’s Coogler scores again with this historic, beautifully made Marvel superhero feature featuring a largely black cast, Afro-centric themes and heartfelt nods to Oakland. Coogler and S.F. co-screenwriter Joe Robert Cole create a magical setting in Wakanda, a mythical country that celebrates African heritage and achievement. Equally impressive is how Coogler makes the female characters strong, on equal standing with the men. Chadwick Boseman stars as the titular hero. Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya and Letitia Wright round out an all-star cast. The fact that the film opens and closes in Oakland (even if it’s not the Oakland) is part of the reason why Coogler’s film goes far beyond the standard superhero flick.


Article by: Randy Myers for the Daily Democrat.

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