Film Review: Films Written or Directed by People of Color

Paying homage to films, as well as filmmakers of color, who have paved the way for current films and directors of color


Sidra Daker

A group of friends diversify their media consumption as they go to watch “Real Women Have Curves.”

Having downloaded the app Letterboxd for a solid three weeks, I’ve developed newfound confidence to express my opinions with conviction. 

More often than not, I’ve found movie reviews to be more entertaining than the movies themselves. 

Jokes aside, the beautiful thing about cinema, in my humble opinion, is that we are all inherently movie critics. We become the arbiters of cinema by simply choosing what to watch, the type of media we consume and consequently, how we choose to let the media we consume dictate our lives.

While I adore and have always adored film, I have always been put off by the lack of visibility in acting spheres. Like many, I felt myself yearning for representation in films and media.

This is particularly why I am inspired by people of color, especially women, non-binary and LGBTQ+  people of color, who have paved the way for more representation. 

Filmmaking is an incredible way of narrating complex, universal experiences. But as viewers, I feel as though we tend to gravitate towards familiarity. Many of us feel resistance towards watching movies in another language, or movies that represent different experiences than our own. Perhaps, it is because we believe that we cannot, and will never resonate with these films. 

But as I have come to learn in recent years, great films transcend all cultural and linguistic barriers. 

As Bong Joon Ho, director of Parasite (2019), articulated, “Once you overcome the one inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” 

I’m going to get off my soapbox now and give the people what they rightfully deserve: a review of my favorite films, written and directed by people of color. I recognize that these films are older but the themes addressed still hold significance to Woodbridge High’s audience and are worth being revisited.  While the movies I have listed are not the end-all-be-all of diversity, I hope this collection inspires somebody to seek out different narratives.

Additionally, this is a homage to the filmmakers of color who have paved the way for current filmmakers and directors of color. 

Real Women Have Curves (2002) 

Rating: PG-13

This coming-of-age film follows free-spirited Ana, a child of Mexican immigrants who is forced by her mother to work at her sister Estela’s clothing factory over pursuing higher education. Ana balances breaking generational family patterns with her mother’s traditional beliefs. Ana deals with the challenges of being a teenage girl while navigating the tumultuous relationship with her mother, who subscribes to the traditional belief that women should prioritize becoming proper wives. The film also follows Ana’s relationship to her sister Estela, who is the family’s “perfect” daughter. 

In terms of the plotline, the film is not much different from other coming-of-age movies that follow a young female lead. Similar to Greta Gerwig’s Ladybird (2019), the plot follows similar themes of pursuing higher education and conflicts with maternal figures.  

However, the portrayal of complex familial dynamics sets this film apart from other coming-of-age films. Throughout the movie, Ana is constantly on the receiving end of her mother’s deep-rooted trauma, serving as both her mother’s therapist and “punching bag.”    

Relatively shorter than most films, there was a missed opportunity to further explore the familial dynamic between Ana and her “perfect” sister Estela. Both Estela and Ana are held up to the same expectations. While Ana tries to resist these expectations, Estela finds more freedom in adhering to these expectations. While we did see the moments of solidarity between Estela and Ana, the plot largely glossed over the budding relationship between the two. 

On a similar note, the movie does an exemplary job portraying womanhood and female solidarity. Through her time at Estela’s factory, Ana starts to forge bonds with her fellow female coworkers, bonding over their shared bodily insecurities. As viewers, we are met with beautiful moments of solidarity between Ana and her coworkers, as they all decide to reconcile with their insecurities together. 

The movie ignored some complexities of body image issues. Rather than showing that body image issues are a part of a larger societal problem, the movie made it seem as if those who are concerned with their appearance do so because of shallow reasons.   

However, I recognize that it is unfair for me to view this movie through a contemporary lens. Considering the “Kate Moss body obsession” of the early-2000s, this movie was so desperately needed at a time where eating disorders and extremely thin figures plagued television and advertisements.  

Tokyo Story (1953) 

From Yasujirō Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953) comes mundane, yet melodramatic themes of family and aging. 

The film centers around the elderly Japanese couple Shūkichi and Tomi Hirayama, who travel to Tokyo in hopes of reconnecting with their children. Finding that their adult children rarely have time for them, Shūkichi and Tomi find themselves at a crossroads between being upset at their children’s apathy and realizing that their children find it difficult to leave their daily lives, especially in the midst of an ongoing war.

Like Real Women Have Curves (2002), Tokyo Story (1953) follows intergenerational family conflict. Unlike the former, however, Tokyo Story (1953) has, essentially, no precise plotline. The film is primarily driven by dialogue and slow moving cinematography, giving viewers a chance to internalize director Yasujirō Ozu’s creative genius. 

I fear this sentiment may upset many film critics, but the slow nature of the film initially felt tiresome for my instant-gratification prone brain. But after having watched this film in its entirety, I realize that mundanity was, perhaps, Ozu’s intention for this film. The slow nature of this film felt refreshing in a time where we are constantly met with dopamine-inducing, attention-span-shortening media.   

Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means a hater of contemporary media. I believe that current films, like Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022), have given us the representation that viewers, like myself, so desperately crave. 

However, I do feel that contemporary media prioritizes shock value and advancing storylines, rather than giving viewers a chance to sit back and absorb the cinematography at play. 

Overall, this film isn’t meant for mindless consumption. The screenwriting, while simple, carries a lingering sense of profundity. It is, in my opinion, intended to be rewatched, reanalyzed and debated endlessly. 

Like fine wine, Tokyo Story (1953) gets better with age. 

Mississippi Masala (1991) 

As the name suggests, Mississippi Masala (1991) takes place in Greenwood, Miss., and follows a family of Indian-descent exiled from their former home in Uganda, under the leadership of Idi Amin.

Mississippi Masala (1991) brings visibility to the community of Indian-descent immigrants from Uganda who immigrated to the U.S. and established motel industries in the Deep South. 

Besides being criminally underrated, Mississippi Masala (1991) proves to be way ahead of its time in terms of South Asian representation and representing interracial conflict. 

With clever one-liners and bits of humor, the film brings the history of Indian immigration to light. As the film details, the British employed indentured servants from India to work in the Ugandan railroad. Eventually, the servants established their home in Uganda after the completion of the Ugandan railroad and gained positions in the Ugandan government and society. 

This success, eventually, came to an end in 1971 after Idi Amin staged a military coup to exile all Indians from the country. 

Along with a much needed history lesson, the film follows a love story between Mina (Sarita Choudhury), the child of Indian immigrants, and carpet cleaner Demetrius Williams (Denzel Washington). A subplot highlights their love story and the lack of acceptance that follows their interracial relationship. 

Both their Indian and Black families have trouble fully accepting Mina and Demetrius’s relationship, prompting the couple to fight for acceptance. 

Overall, the movie achieved exactly what it was sought out to do: highlight the complexities of interracial relationships.