2023 was another banner year for films featuring Black stars and storylines pertinent to our experiences. From sci-fi to horror, from rom-coms to documentaries, films about Blackness showed us more about each other and ourselves. Here are some of the biggest films from the year.

The Color Purple

Starring Fantasia Barrino, Danielle Brooks and Taraji P. Henson, The Color Purple is the latest adaptation of Alice Walker’s 1982 book. In fact, this The Color Purple is the musical film adaptation of the Broadway musical that is also based on Walker’s novel.

Like all of its iterations, this film follows Celie, a Black woman in 1900s Georgia who is trapped in an abusive relationship and is desperate to find her own voice. Through other women, such as Henson’s Shug Avery and Brooks’ Sophia, Celie is able to discover herself and free herself from her marriage to Mister (Colman Domingo).

Fantasia told Shadow and Act how proud she is of director Blitz Bazawule for focusing on the story’s message about the power of Black imagination.

“I’m proud of Blitz. He’s a visionary. The story is something that is very special to him as well and I’m glad that he gave Celie an imagination, but he also gave us all an imagination,” she said. “It shows who we are as Black people; we don’t just sit and wallow in trauma. We come out some kind of way and I feel like the younger generation needs to see that. You will fall, that’s going to happen. Life be lifin’, but you can get back up and I think that he did an amazing job by allowing you guys to see a little bit of that trauma and so much joy.”

American Fiction

Jeffrey Wright stars in this film that is starting a ton of discourse. Regardless of where you fall, the film stars Wright as Thelonious “Monk” Ellison, a curmudgeonly writer who is faced with challenges after a personal tragedy. As a bad joke, he writes a book that he thinks book publishers want regarding Black narratives, and to his annoyance, the book not only gets accepted, but becomes a hit. Sterling K. Brown, Leslie Uggams and Tracee Ellis Ross also star.

Wright talked about what emotionally went into Monk as a character in a recent interview.

“Monk is a guy trying to be free, intellectually, creatively and coming up against one challenge after another that’s trying to prevent that,” he said to Shadow and Act“Challenges on a professional level. On a personal level from his family, and he’s doing the best he can.”

A Thousand and One

Teyana Taylor makes her major film debut Sundance darling A Thousand and One, in which she stars as an embattled mother who reunites with her young son after leaving prison. The film follows the efforts she goes through to give her son a better life than she had. But audiences are surprised when they witness the turn the film makes.

Director A.V. Rockwell (in her feature debut), told Shadow and Act alongside Taylor how the film illustrates some of her critiques and experiences of growing up in New York as gentrification took its toll.

“I wanted to tell a story that honored the era New York that I grew up in and it was just kind of me saying farewell to that time,” she said. “But I think there was also a sense of urgency in wanting to see how the change was impacting communities that were most vulnerable in the city. I think [it was] seeing gentrification firsthand and how that was reshaping New York in a way that it felt like Black communities were being pushed out altogether and being erased. I’m a New York City kid who loves it through and through, and so, it’s like, how do I feel about the fact that the city feels like we were being targeted…it’s like the city doesn’t love me. In so many ways, I wanted to make this movie to reconcile that, but also to shine a light on the negative impacts of gentrification, because people have tried to argue for the way people are supposed to be benefiting, but it’s supposed to benefit the population that already exists in these communities. So I really wanted to shine a light on how it works and who it impacts and what that impact looks like.”

Taylor also added, “In that era of [her character] Inez, I was like [Inez’s son] Terry’s age. So that age, you know, we didn’t really understand what was going on, but we remember all the things that were so accessible– the block parties, the cookouts, how Mom and Pop it felt. It was like one big family in Harlem, and now, it’s so quiet. So to go back home, of course, I was excited to like see my friends and go to all my favorite food spots and [I’d] see that a lot of it had been erased on top of the seasoning salt that was on there. It was more bland than auntie’s fried chicken…it was giving me more of an uncooked baked wing. It was a lot for us to take in and it was even emotional for us to have to rebuild out the sweet spots in Harlem. I’m OK with evolution and everybody evolves and different things like that, but a lot of the changes that was being done in Harlem wasn’t to benefit my community. It was to push us out. So it was definitely emotional to see how much change there was.”

The Blackening

An ensemble cast including Grace Byers, Antoinette Robinson, Melvin Gregg, X Mayo, writer Dewayne Perkins, Sinqua Walls, and Jermaine Fowler lead The Blackening, the surprise hit of 2023. The cast star as a group of friends who are trying to have a college reunion weekend in a cozy cabin. But their getaway turns into a nightmare when their other friends (Jay Pharoah and Yvonne Orji) turn up missing and a mysterious game wants them to test their blackness–or else.

In a cast interview with Shadow and Act, Walls talked about how the film focused on representation in a different way.

“I think the idea that everyone is represented and what we do in order to make it throughout the movie are things that I think stereotypically you’ve never seen before,” said Walls. “And I think the conversation that we’re having, what I really love about our story, from [writer/producer Tracy Oliver] and Dewayne’s writing is the intellect and the intelligence of what we do to stay alive, but also to survive and fight this whole thing.”


Rustin offers viewers a look at the life of unsung Civil Rights hero and gay activist Bayard Rustin, who served as Martin Luther King, Jr.’s right-hand man and the architect of the March on Washington. Colman Domingo stars as the titular character.

Domingo told Shadow and Act how the film focuses on Rustin and King’s friendship.

“I think that they had such a beautiful brotherhood and it was pure,” he said. “They had that intimate brotherhood that challenges I think, other men at times. I think they were very probably affectionate with each other and very, very, very comfortable in each other’s skin. I think that they were cut from the same cloth in many ways. Yet, I think especially in the ‘50s and ‘60s, you may not have seen that relationship between a cis-gendered Black man and a homosexual man. So I think they had a very beautiful, gentle relationship, actually, that was full of respect and love.”

Rye Lane

Rye Lane surprised Black viewers in 2023 who were looking for their next favorite rom-com. The London-set film stars Vivian Oporah and David Jonsson as two people who recently experienced breakups. The two happen to meet and spend the day getting to know each other and helping each other through their respective relationship issues. Love, of course, is possible for both of them together.

Director Raine Allen-Miller talked to Shadow and Act about why it was important for her to set the film in south London, which is close to her heart.

“It was originally set in Camden, which is also a great place, but for me, I think I just know it. I’m originally from Manchester, I moved to London when I was 12 and I lived in south London and it’s the place that I know,” she said. “I walked around with my grandma and learned about where to get Jamaican spices and where to get plantain, where to get an afro comb all around Brixton. It’s a place that I feel incredibly connected to.”

“And Peckham I moved to when I went to university and again, it just has that thing where you wander around and there’s so many wonderful little pockets of different cultures and people and it’s a great place,” she added. “I think it’s often been shown on screen as a sad place…It can be hard living in areas like that, it’s definitely not been easy for me the whole time, but for me, this is about one good day in south London and I think it’s really important to show the positives of that area.”

Renaissance: A Film By Beyonce

Beyonce came to snatch everyone’s edges with her concert film, bringing fans who couldn’t attend the concert a front-row seat as the singer and entertainer explores her personal story with an icon in her life, her gay uncle Jonny and her tribute to the queer icons of the club dance and music scene.

When the trailer for the film was released in October, Beyonce’s voice is heard saying, “When I am performing, I am nothing but free. My goal for this tour was to create a place where everyone is free, and no one is judged.”

“I feel liberated. I have transitioned into a new animal,” she continued.

They Cloned Tyrone

Jamie Foxx, John Boyega and Teyonah Parris star in this exploitation/sci-fi mashup They Cloned Tyrone. The film follows a pimp, his drug dealer and a prostitute as they discover that the government is creating clones of Black people for a nefarious purpose.

Parris told Shadow and Act how fun it was to create the film.

“That’s what is so fun about the film and us filming it is that this film literally exists in all times and in all eras and genres. We really got to pull from so many different places. It didn’t feel like we were bound by anything, really, except for what [director Juel Taylor]’s vision might be. He really just let us play and go for it.”

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Shameik Moore reprises his role as the voice of Miles Morales in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. Issa Rae, Amandla Stenberg, Karan Soni, Greta Lee and Oscar Isaac are among those who join the voice cast this time as Morales learns more about the wider Spider-man universe and what types of sacrifices are expected of him. The “canon events” that occur to make a Spider-Man were not only pivotal to the film, but also became a meme this summer as social media users described what their personal canon events were.

Moore and Brian Tyree Henry, who played Miles’ father Jefferson, talked about the importance of family in the film in an exclusive featurette.

“I love that Miles’ family is a large part of his life,” said Moore, with Henry adding, “You get to delve really deeply into the Morales family and to see how much they will do anything for their son.”

Kokomo City

Another Sundance favorite, Kokomo City showcased the lives of transgender women in Atlanta and New York City. The film, which was D. Smith’s directorial debut, touched on topics such as sex work, transgender autonomy, and the dangers transgender women of color face. Sadly, one of the film’s stars, Rasheeda Williams (aka Koko Da Doll), became an example of the dangers when she was killed in Atlanta in April.

Smith talked about Williams’ impact on the film when addressing Williams’ passing.

“I created Kokomo City because I wanted to show the fun, humanized, natural side of Black trans women. I wanted to create images that didn’t show the trauma or the statistics of murder of Transgender lives,” she told Deadline. “I wanted to create something fresh and inspiring. I did that. We did that! But here we are again. It’s extremely difficult to process Koko’s passing, but as a team we are more encouraged now than ever to inspire the world with her story. To show how beautiful and full of life she was. She will inspire generations to come and will never be forgotten.”

Which films were your favorite this year?