By Kaiya Shunyata
In the first few months of this year alone, Black films have made some significant strides. From Michael B. Jordan making his directorial debut with “Creed III” to A.V Rockwell’s tender and poignant “A Thousand and One” making noise at Sundance, 2023 is shaping to be a substantial year for Black cinema.
As Black representation becomes increasingly significant in Hollywood and independent circles, it is important to showcase all the films we have to look forward to. From sequels to adaptations of classic novels, there is no shortage of exciting films on the horizon. There are nearly 7,000 films scheduled for release in 2023, but in this oversaturated market, it’s important not to lose sight of films that showcase a different perspective or approach.
The University of California, Los Angeles’ 2023 Hollywood Diversity Report found that only 1.7 out of 10 films released in movie theaters were directed by people of color. White directors ruled the roost, helming 83.1% of movies in 2022, followed far, far behind by Black and Asian directors, accounting for just 5.6% each, respectively.
To help ensure no Black film goes overlooked, Stacker looked through all projected 2023 releases and highlighted 25 feature films directed by Black filmmakers to look forward to, from major franchise installments to indie gems. Films are organized alphabetically.
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All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt
– Director: Raven Jackson
Known for her short films “Nettles” and “A Guide to Breathing Underwater,” Raven Jackson’s debut feature film was released at Sundance in January. The film follows a Black woman in Mississippi from her childhood to her years as an adult and stars Charleen McClure as its main character. The film was produced by A24, the studio responsible for Oscar winners like “Moonlight” and “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
– Director: Baloji
Belgian rapper Baloji makes his directorial debut with “Augure,” which follows a Congolese man who, after going away to Belgium, arrives back in his homeland of Kinshasa to confront his family and culture. Also called “Omen,” Baloji co-wrote the script with Thomas van Zuylen, exploring how traditional beliefs clash with more contemporary ones. The musician also composed the music for the project, written and composed from the point of view of the film’s four main characters. The movie made its premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival.
Banel & Adama
– Director: Ramata-Toulaye Sy
Coming off the success of her 2021 short film “Astel,” which won the Special Jury Prize at the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival in 2022, Ramata-Toulaye Sy will finally make her anticipated feature film debut this year, premiering at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. It tells the story of a young Senegalese couple forced to confront the disapproval their relationship brings when Adama (Mamadou Diallo) refuses to take on the responsibility of being a future chief.
– Director: Tim Story
Adding a fun spin on the “Black characters always die first” trope comes a new horror-comedy movie from the director of “Taxi” and “Ride Along.” The film initially premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival and will get a wide theatrical release in June. It stars Dewayne Perkins, who also co-wrote the film, and Antoinette Robertson. Comedians Jay Pharoah and Yvonne Orji also appear, making it a surefire meta-horror in the vein of perhaps the Scary Movie franchise.
Dave J Hogan // Getty Images
– Director: Steve McQueen
Known best for his Oscar-winning “12 Years a Slave,” as well as the recent anthology project “Small Axe,” director Steve McQueen is back with a new cinematic work. Though not much is known about the project, it is said to be a historical drama set in World War II and follows a few Londoners during the bombing of the British capital. The film stars Saoirse Ronan and Harris Dickinson and will be released from Apple TV+.
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Gilbert Flores/Variety // Getty Images
The Book of Clarence
– Director: Jeymes Samuel
Making his mark with the 2021 revisionist Western “The Harder They Fall,” director Jeymes Samuel uses a similar approach in “The Book of Clarence,” which sees its titular character living in 29 A.D. Jerusalem and looking to capitalize on the popularity of Jesus Christ. Epic biblical movies such as “The Ten Commandments” and “Ben-Hur” were cited as inspiration. The film stars LaKeith Stanfield, Caleb McLaughlin, and Anna Diop and opens in September.
The Color Purple
– Director: Blitz Bazawule
Warner Bros. is set to release this new musical reimagining of Alice Walker’s 1982 book “The Color Purple” in December. Blitz Bazawule is known for his debut feature film, “The Burial of Kojo,” the first Ghanaian movie to premiere on Netflix, and for co-directing Beyoncé’s musical film “Black Is King.” This rendition of the story is based on the 2005 Tony Award-winning Broadway production.
Michael Buckner/Variety // Getty Images
Dashing Through the Snow
– Director: Tim Story
Following “The Blackening” in June, Tim Story will release another comedy this year starring Ludacris, Teyonah Parris, and Lil Rel Howery. The film follows a social worker in Atlanta who takes his daughter with him on a ride, during which he accidentally angers a local politician and eventually learns the meaning of Christmas. The film will be distributed by Disney+ and released during the holidays this year.
The Equalizer 3
– Director: Antoine Fuqua
The supposed final installment in the Equalizer trilogy, “The Equalizer 3” sees the return of private investigator Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) as he attempts to take down the Italian mafia. The film coincidentally reunites Washington and “Man on Fire” costar Dakota Fanning on screen for the first time in almost 20 years. In theaters this September, the movie marks Washington’s fifth time working with director Antoine Fuqua.
Robin L Marshall // Getty Images
– Director: F. Gary Gray
Known for such films as “Straight Outta Compton,” “The Italian Job,” and “Men in Black: International,” F. Gary Gray returns as helmer of the heist comedy “Lift.” Kevin Hart plays a thief extraordinaire whose FBI ex-girlfriend (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) has convinced him to undertake an impossible job stealing $100 million in gold bullion on a 777 flying from London to Zurich. Other names on the cast list include Sam Worthington (“Avatar”), Jean Reno (“Da 5 Bloods”), and Jacob Batalon (“Spider-Man: No Way Home”).
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Walt Disney Pictures
– Director: Justin Simien
Known for his big-screen directorial debut “Dear White People,” which won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent at Sundance in 2014, Justin Simien has since kept a low profile. Based on the famous Disney theme park ride, this movie sees a single mom staving off ghosts and ghouls with her 9-year-old son in New Orleans. Releasing in July, the film stars an ensemble cast including LaKeith Stanfield, Owen Wilson, and Danny Devito.
Couch Potatoe Pictures
– Director: D. Smith
After building a name for herself producing for artists like Lil Wayne, Ciara, and Andre 3000, D. Smith will celebrate her directorial debut this year with “Kokomo City.” The project centers on the lives of four transgender sex workers in New York and Georgia, inspired by Smith’s own life experiences. The film had its world premiere at Sundance this year, winning over audiences as well as the NEXT Innovator Award. The movie also took home the Panorama Audience Award at the 73rd Berlin International Film Festival.
Little Richard: I Am Everything
– Director: Lisa Cortés
This is the first documentary about singer-songwriter and music icon Little Richard and reveals the Black queer origins of rock ‘n’ roll. The documentary was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize and celebrates its world premiere at Sundance this year. Magnolia Pictures quickly picked up the film and will have a theatrical release later this spring.
– Director: Elijah Bynum
A breakout from Sundance this year, “Magazine Dreams” follows a part-time grocery clerk who struggles with social cues and harbors dreams of making it big in bodybuilding. Jonathan Majors, who plays the lead character Killian Maddox, undergoes a total transformation in his role, successfully conveying the intense self-imposed pressures of this hypermasculine discipline and exposing Maddox’s desire to be seen. The film releases this December from Searchlight Pictures.
– Director: Nia DaCosta
Trading the horror of “Candyman” for a new galactic backdrop, director Nia DaCosta helms one of the most anticipated superhero films of the year. The movie follows Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), and Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), whose powers somehow become entangled across different universes. Whenever teenaged Khan uses her Marvel powers, she finds herself switching places with any of the other Marvels, sending both of them to unexpected corners of the galaxy. The film premieres this November.
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Kevin Winter // Getty Images
The Nickel Boys
– Director: RaMell Ross
Based on the 2020 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by author Colson Whitehead, “The Nickel Boys” follows a young African American boy who gets sent to a reform school after being falsely accused of a crime, only to find that he has landed in a horrific situation. The only way to survive is to scheme and lay low. The film is based on a true story of a Florida reform school that has decimated the lives of thousands that went through its halls.
Samir Hussein // Getty Images
– Director: Steve McQueen
Although Steve McQueen’s work mostly consists of fictional films, he dipped his toe into the documentary field with one episode of the three-part BBC series “Uprising” in 2021. Now, he’s back for more, adapting a documentary based on the book “Atlas of an Occupied City (Amsterdam 1940-1945)” by Bianca Stigter, who also serves as a writer on this project. Past and present collide in “Occupied City” as the film explores the door-to-door excavation of the Nazi occupation in World War II Amsterdam set against the pandemic and protest years of the 2020s.
LOIC VENANCE // Getty Images
The Perfumed Hill
– Director: Abderrahmane Sissako
Abderrahmane Sissako has not directed a feature film since his 2014 war drama “Timbuktu,” which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Now, he makes his long-awaited return with the highly anticipated “The Perfumed Hill.” The movie follows Joice, who leaves an arranged marriage and travels to China to start a new life, where she later meets Cai, who slowly changes the course of her life.
Cold Front Productions
– Director: Chris Robinson
Though usually known for his work directing for television, Chris Robinson’s new project focuses on the inspiring origin story of basketball legend LeBron James. It reveals how James and his childhood friends become America’s #1 high school basketball team, ultimately launching his career. Starring Caleb McLaughlin, Algee Smith, and Wood Harris, the film arrives on Peacock this June.
Sony Pictures Animation
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
– Directors: Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson, Joaquim Dos Santos
A much-awaited follow-up to its 2018 predecessor, “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” reintroduces viewers to Miles Morales and his gang of various Spider friends. Fan-favorite Spider-Man iterations to watch out for include Jessica Drew, Spider-Man 2099, and more, with an all-star ensemble cast consisting of Issa Rae and Oscar Isaac.
The film is directed by Kemp Powers, Pixar’s first Black writer-director, whose work on “Soul” added depth and texture to what was once a lackluster project; Justin K. Thompson, who worked on the 2018 iteration; and Joaquim Dos Santos, whose producing credits include “Voltron: Legendary Defender” and “The Legend of Korra.” The movie will arrive from Sony Pictures this June.
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Rodin Eckenroth // Getty Images
– Director: Laura Chinn
Although she began her career as an actor, appearing on television shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “General Hospital,” Laura Chinn is stepping behind the camera for the first time with her feature debut. The semi-autobiographical film focuses on a young biracial woman coming of age while struggling to deal with her brother’s illness. The film stars Nico Parker, Laura Linney, and Woody Harrelson.
They Cloned Tyrone
– Director: Juel Taylor
Juel Taylor is set to make his feature film debut after writing screenplays for both “Creed II” and “Space Jam: A New Legacy.” This sci-fi action comedy film stars John Boyega, Teyonah Parris, and Jamie Foxx as an unlikely trio attempting to uncover a government conspiracy involving cloning. The sci-fi film will premiere at the American Black Film Festival in June before arriving on Netflix in July.
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts
– Director: Steven Caple Jr.
Following the success Steven Caple Jr. saw after helming “Creed II,” action appears to be the director’s new forte. Five years after the last edition of the Transformers saga, this new venture is primarily influenced by the Beast Wars storyline of the original Transformers Hasbro toys, which sees Maximals pitted against the Predacons, descendants of the Autobots and Decepticons. The film stars Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback, with Peter Cullen reprising as the voice of Optimus Prime. The film will release from Paramount Pictures this June.
Cindy Ord // Getty Images
– Director: Charles Stone III
The film follows Jaycen “2J’s” Jenning, a former NFL superstar who, after a run-in with the law, agrees to coach a youth football team in hopes of reviving his career. The film stars Snoop Dogg (whose Death Row Pictures is producing), George Lopez, and Mike Epps. This marks Charles Stone III’s first feature film directorial work in five years since the sports comedy “Uncle Drew” and step dance film “Step Sisters.” “The Underdoggs” releases this October.
Young. Wild. Free.
– Director: Thembi Banks
“Young. Wild. Free.” marks Thembi Banks’ feature film directing debut, although she has written for Hulu’s Emmy-nominated “Only Murders in the Building” and directed episodes of HBO’s “Insecure.” The film follows a young boy struggling to provide for his younger siblings. He suddenly finds his life turned upside down when he’s held at gunpoint and whisked into a mystical Los Angeles coming-of-age adventure by the girl of his dreams. Algee Smith, Sierra Capri, and Sanaa Lathan star in the film, which premiered at Sundance in January.
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