Underrated Films with Black Leads

Happy Black History Month! I am back again with four more films I recommend you guys check out during Black History Month that feature black leads. I decided to focus on films that center the black experience. But I recommend films with experiences that are relatable to everyone, even if some of the experiences are uncommon. Those are the ones with the best lessons and worth checking out. 

The Forty-Year-Old Version (2020)

The Forty-Year-Old Version is the most unique film I’ve seen in a long time. It has the perfect balance of humor and a bit of drama. Radha Blank wrote, directed, and produced the film in her directorial debut. The story follows Radha, a struggling New York playwright who is desperate for a breakthrough before turning 40. When she is at a loss of her career or what it has become, she decides to reinvent herself as rapper RadhaMUSPrime. 

The film explores Radha using the worlds of hip-hop and theater on a quest to find her authentic voice. The film, loosely based on her own life, brings something authentic and raw to the screen. We live in a world where people constantly try to discover themselves and discover who they are. People quit their jobs to follow their dreams or go to school to hone in on their craft. This film is perfect for those who don’t want to follow the road well traveled—people who want to make their own way and are true individuals at heart. 

And I think this film really does encapsulate what’s so important about Black History. You need to understand what your ancestors fought for so you can fight with the same strength to advocate for what you want in life. That’s what I love about this film. And it’s amazing to see an older woman on a mission to redefine who she is. Radha does an amazing job as both the writer and the performer. She tells her story, and it’s compelling and funny at times. There are so many lines where I fell out! 

Radha brings a different perspective of what it’s like to be seen as the hot new thing when you’re young and not fulfilling that potential when you get older. Younger kids have to deal with the fact that they aren’t the same gifted students they were in elementary school, and Radha has to realize that as well. But she decided to pour her energy and inspiration into a new medium. The film has received many positive reviews for its fresh outlook on artistic reinvention, and critics have remarked how this is an impressive feature debut. The film tells a story about the struggles and pleasures of living a creative life, especially a Black creative in a predominantly white industry. 

Roxanne Roxanne (2017)

From the producers of Fruitvale Station and DopeRoxanne Roxanne is a 2017 musical biopic written and directed by Michael Larnell. The biopic is centered around the life of rapper Roxanne Shante, who became a leading rapper in 1984 at the age of fourteen. The true centerpiece of this film is Chanté Adams’ fierce yet vulnerable performance. The setting is in her Queensbridge neighborhood, where she was already celebrated as the local rap champion at a very young age.

Roxanne Roxanne follows her home life and offers a raw look at the struggles she grew up with. The film also chronicles her rise to fame in 1980s hip hop and how she used her talent to overcome the adversity she faced. But of course, with every biopic about a talented and powerful woman in music, we learn about her struggles with controlling and abusive men, who are not in short supply in any industry, especially in hip hop. 

Now, I’m going to be very honest. If you have watched a musical biopic, you will see that this film doesn’t do anything too groundbreaking in terms of the formulaic plot structure. Nonetheless, I haven’t seen many movies being made about female rappers, and I hadn’t heard of Lolita Shanté Gooden until I watched this film. The film displays Lolita Shanté Gooden’s unyielding and determined resolve to make it as a rapper, which made her a Hip Hop legend. It does not shy away from showing the brutal underbelly of hip-hop that ruthless men run and why Shanté, like many women in show business, left her career too early. If you are a hip-hop fan or love to learn about the untold stories of women in music, this film is a must-watch. 

Uncorked (2020)

Uncorked is a film directed by Prentice Penny that tells the story of Elijah, a young man from Memphis torn between his dream of becoming a master sommelier and his father’s expectations for him to take over the family barbecue business. I absolutely love this film because Mamoudou Athie is an amazing actor, and I really felt for his struggle in the movie. 

The family barbeque business has been passed down for generations, and it seems like a no-brainer to take it over. But Elijah is going to school to become a sommelier. Even though he is working towards that dream, he still has to deal with his father not taking him seriously and hoping that he’ll change his mind. Understandably, he feels this way due to past attempts by Elijah, but as the film continues, you can see Elijah’s fire and passion toward this goal. 

With Elijah’s relationship with his parents being the film’s driving force, you get an impressive and heartwarming depiction of ambition, familial obligations, and personal fulfillment. Elijah navigates the tensions between pursuing his passion and meeting his father’s traditional expectations. While the movie presents Elijah dealing with the tensions of meeting his father’s expectations and pursuing his dreams, Mamoudou Athie delivers an impressive performance as the lead. I do feel that the film falls short of fully engaging with its supporting characters, which is a shame because Courtney B Vance and Niecy Nash are two superb actors. The familiar storyline of a father doubting his son’s commitment to his dreams does take away from the overall originality of the film. Nonetheless, Uncorked is a beautiful film about personal aspirations and the challenges of pursuing one’s dreams while navigating the weight of familial responsibilities. 

Really Love (2020)

In Really LoveFelicia Pride’s debut script captures the complexities of black love and artistic ambition through the story of Isaiah Maxwell (Kofi Siriboe), a budding painter who is trying to make it as an artist, and Stevie (Yootha Wong-Loi-Sing), an ambitious law student in Washington D.C. When the two of them meet, the connection, the chemistry, the energy between the two leads is everything. There have been a couple of times when I have watched a romance and felt a real connection between the two leads, and for Really Love, it was instantaneous. 

Pride’s dialogue is insightful, reflecting on the differences between the characters’ experiences and their electric chemistry. And I’m not going to lie: Kofi Siriboe is the perfect man to cast for this role. Not only is this film beautifully picturesque, but it’s quite romantic from the jump. During an incredibly steamy moment, Stevie asks Isiah: “How do you know when a painting is finished?” “How do you know when you’re making love to someone?” he responds nonchalantly.

Compared to how sensual and loving that exchange was, the couple has a heated debate later, and Isaiah yells, “I ain’t got people with money to fall back on!” So, the film can deliver steamy, alluring dialogue and confront Isaiah and Stevie’s challenges, particularly regarding socioeconomic barriers and societal pressures. Isaiah’s outburst exposes the financial struggles that come with pursuing artistic endeavors, shedding light on the systemic inequalities that can stifle black artists’ success. 

Stevie has to take some time to truly define their relationship for herself. There are moments in the film where it seems that Isaiah becomes so enamored in his work that he loses his connection with Stevie at the beginning of their relationship. Her friend tells Stevie, “He’s a man, Stevie. He doesn’t want you to help him.” And I felt that in my spirit. Because it can be hard to be in a relationship with someone so gifted and ambitious, they will lose sight of those around them and become obsessed with fulfilling their artistic vision that they may leave others feeling unloved and forgotten.  

Director Angel Kristi Williams fuses themes of identity, race, and gender dynamics into the story’s fabric, offering a nuanced exploration of black experiences. Through Isaiah and Stevie’s relationship, the film illustrates the multifaceted nature of black identity. The toxic masculinity exhibited as Stevie grapples with balancing her career and her relationship with Isaiah reflects the always-changing and evolving gender dynamics in modern society. Against this backdrop, Really Love emerges as an evocative portrayal of black love and artistic expression, exceeding traditional romance narratives with depth and authenticity.


I hope that you enjoy the films that I recommend. If you have seen one of these, please let us know! I would love to hear your thoughts, and I hope you check out some new underrated films with black leads for Black History Month.  

If you have other movie suggestions with black leads, connect with us on X @MoviesWeTexted and let us know.

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