Stream now: 10 UNCSA alumni-powered films and series that showcase Black storytelling

Diverse storytelling can be a powerful tool, not only for joy and entertainment, but also to educate and foster empathy. Being able to see oneself represented on screen is extremely impactful to viewers of all ages, and more and more Black stories are being shared today that educate and entertain audiences, while shedding light on previously unexplored topics. 

This list features films, series and documentaries that celebrate Black voices and stories for you to watch this Black History Month, or any month. All of the items listed below have alumni connections to at least one UNCSA conservatory, and showcase how our alumni are contributing to the changing landscape of media. 

“Lovecraft Country” 

Set in 1950s Jim Crow America, “Lovecraft Country” is a horror drama series that brings to life monsters — both human and mystical — from author H.P. Lovecraft’s works. The series, available to stream on HBO Max, stars Drama alumnus Jonathan Majors as Korean War veteran Atticus Freeman, who embarks on a dangerous search for his missing father. Other alumni involved include Drama alumnus Jon Hudson Odom as Sammy, and Filmmaking alumna Victoria Rupert, who served as a production assistant. 

You can also see Majors as Montgomery Allen in “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” available to stream on Showtime, and as David in “Da 5 Bloods” and as Nat Love in “The Harder They Fall,” both available to stream on Netflix.  

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”

This film tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman whose cancer cells were cultured without her knowledge in the 1950s and used to create the first immortalized human cell line — which has been used for medical research for the last 70 years. Starring Oprah Winfrey, Renee Elise Goldsberry and Rose Byrne, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” sheds light on the previously unknown but extremely important figure in healthcare, and is available to stream on HBO Max. Design and Production alumnus Paul Tazewell served as costume designer and filmmaking alumna Meredith Hannah served as an art department production assistant. 

You can see more of Tazewell’s costume design work in “Harriet,” a biopic about abolitionist Harriet Tubman that is available to stream on Peacock. 

“Soul”

A poignant animated film that contemplates the origins of a human’s personality, “Soul” tells the story of Joe Gardner, a music teacher who dreams of playing jazz professionally. Featuring Pixar’s first predominately Black voice cast, “Soul” follows Joe as he attempts to reunite his body and soul after an accident. Filmmaking alumnus Eric Barker served as the first assistant editor for this Academy Award-winning film. Watch “Soul” on Disney+.

“Respect”

A biopic about music legend Aretha Franklin, a singer and songwriter who is widely regarded as one of the greatest artists of all time. Starring Jennifer Hudson as Franklin, this film follows the musician from the early years of her life to the recording of her 1972 influential live album "Amazing Grace." Drama alumna Tiffany Little Canfield served as casting director for the film, which is available to rent on Amazon Prime. 

“Pose”

An Emmy Award-winning series created by Ryan Murphy, “Pose” is set in the underground drag ballroom scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s. It tells the story of Black and Latinx trans and gender non-conforming performers. The series comprises three seasons, and is available to stream on Netflix. Design and Production stage management alumnus Tanase Popa served as a producer for the series. 

“Homecoming”

A concert film of Beyoncé’s 2019 Coachella music festival performance, “Homecoming” chronicles the journey from the initial creative concept to the final show. The film was Netflix’s fourth most popular documentary in 2019, and is currently available to stream on the platform. Music alumna Jessica McJunkins (known professionally as Lady Jess) was a violinist for the show, and has performed with the artist several times throughout her career. 

Lady Jess also served as the concertmaster and score coordinator for “Judas and the Black Messiah,” a biographical crime drama about members of the Black Panther party in the 1960s, available to stream on HBO Max. 

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

Based on August Wilson’s play of the same name, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” follows influential 1920s blues singer Ma Rainey during a recording session with her band in Chicago. Notable performances in the film include Viola Davis as Rainey, an icon for both the Black and LGBTQ+ communities, and Chadwick Boseman as trumpet player Levee Green in his last acting role before his death in 2020. Dance alumna Camille A. Brown created the stylistic choreography for the film, and producing alumna Gilana Lobel served as a production supervisor. Watch the film on Netflix.

“Wu-Tang: An American Saga”

Set in the early 1990s during the drug epidemic, “Wu-Tang: An American Saga” tells a fictionalized story of the origins of the prominent hip hop musical group Wu-Tang Clan. The drama series was created by Wu-Tang Clan leader RZA, and is available to stream on Hulu. Drama alumni involved in this show include Stephen McKinley Henderson as Uncle Hollis and Samaria Nixon-Fleming as Vivian. 

“A Madea Family Funeral”

The eleventh installment in the Madea cinematic universe, “A Madea Family Funeral'' centers on Madea’s family as they gather for a surprise anniversary party which unexpectedly turns into a funeral when a family member passes away. This comedy is written, directed and produced by Tyler Perry, who stars as Madea amongst other characters. School of Drama alumna Ciera Payton stars as Silvia in the film. 

You can also see Payton as Wendy Williams in “Wendy Williams: The Movie” available to stream on ALLBLK and as Jameelah Hawkins in season two of “She’s Gotta Have It,” available to stream on Netflix.

“Loving”

This moving film tells the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, the plaintiffs in the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, which legalized interracial marriage in all states. The couple married in Washington D.C. in 1958, were subsequently arrested in their home state of Virginia, and worked with the American Civil Liberties Union to overturn the state’s anti-miscegenation laws. “Loving,” available to stream on Netflix, was written and directed by Filmmaking alumnus Jeff Nichols who took inspiration from the 2011 documentary about the couple, “The Loving Story.”

by Melissa Upton-Julio

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February 09, 2022