Hollywood tends to pack summer with escapist flicks — popcorn movies that have little to do with the real world, unless you consider rampaging dinosaurs a pressing societal problem.
But these five socially-conscious films are sneaking into cinemas, and each has something compelling to say.
Sorry To Bother You
This surrealistic comedy starring Lakeith Stanfield (Get Out) and Tessa Thompson (Creed) is earning rave reviews for wicked social satire that touches on race, class and capitalism.
Stanfield plays Cassius Green, a telemarketer in Oakland whose career takes off once he adopts a “white” telephone voice with customers.
Reviewer Kam Williams of kamwilliams.com called the film “a thought-provoking social satire marking the scriptwriting and directorial debut of Boots Riley.”
While the movie may not be for everyone because of its far-left leanings, Williams says it’s “entertaining enough to recommend even to members of the 1%.” The film opened July 6.
The dramedy is likewise set in Oakland and takes on similarly timely themes, but with a more dramatic tone. Real-life childhood friends Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal co-wrote, co-produced and co-star in the film, with a gentrifying Bay Area serving as the backdrop to the action.
Diggs plays a man on probation who desperately tries to steer clear of trouble, but finds his future jeopardized when he witnesses a white cop shoot a fleeing black man.
That all-too-realistic scenario gives Blindspotting its bite. The film, set to open July 20, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, where it received an enthusiastic reception. It also picked up a Directors to Watch award at this year’s Palm Springs International Film Festival.
Far From the Tree
Also opening July 20, is the documentary Far From the Tree. Directed by Rachel Dretzin, it explores families where “the apple fell far from the tree” — in other words, situations where children differ significantly from their parents because of autism, Down Syndrome, dwarfism, transgenderism or other characteristics.
“I describe the documentary as a film that turns your assumptions about difference on their head and makes you realize just how many walls we all put up to people that look and act, behave differently,” Dretzin told Urban Hollywood 411. “It’s a film about one of the few places in the world where you can’t actually avoid people who are different from you, which is your family.”
Based on the book by the same name from Andrew Solomon, Dretzin says the documentary speaks directly to our times.
“At this moment, for a couple of reasons, it’s a particularly urgent message,” she noted. “One obviously being our political climate in which difference seems to be reason for people turning away from each other and building walls and silos and all sorts of things to keep ourselves away from those that are different.”
Science also plays a role in the film.
“Genetic testing and science is advancing at such a rapid pace that we will pretty soon be able to eliminate some of these conditions if we want to,” Dretzin added. “I think the book and the film are really a cry against that and for that kind of beautiful diversity.”
Night Comes On
Jordana Spiro makes her feature directorial debut with the critically-acclaimed Night Comes On, opening on August 3.
Described as a “female revenge drama,” the film revolves around Angel LaMere (played by Dominique Fishback), who after her release from juvenile hall goes on a mission to settle scores with her father. Along for the journey is Angel’s younger sister, Abby (newcomer Tatum Marilyn Hall).
“The harshness of the outside world to the recently incarcerated, for whom life has stalled while everything around them has moved on, is a well-scuffed starting point in cinema,” critic Guy Lodge said in his review for Variety. “It’s rarely a story that has been filtered through a black female gaze, however, and Night Comes On subtly but pointedly differentiates its perspective early on.”
Questions of racism and entrenched white supremacy pervade Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman.
The director’s latest joint is based on the true story of an African-American detective in the 1970s who infiltrated a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado.
“This film to me is a wake-up call,” Lee said at the Cannes Film Festival in May, where the movie made its world premiere. “I know in my heart — I don’t care what the critics say or anybody else — we are on the right side of history with this film.”
BlacKkKlansman was awarded the Grand Prize at Cannes.
It will arrive in theaters on August 10, to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that left a counter-protester dead.
Anita Bennett contributed to this report.