Released: 11th November
Seen: 28th November
Ever since cinema began, people have been striving for better representation to appear on that great wall of light and shadow that we pay an exorbitant amount to enjoy every now and then. The history of representation in cinema, no matter what group it’s for, is always genuinely fascinating to witness in any format. Be it queer history on television from docuseries like Visible or be it the history of trans representation in film like with Disclosure, if your film is about the history of a minority group throughout the history of entertainment then the subject matter alone is going to make it fascinating if you present it well. Is That Black Enough for You?!? not only presents its material well, but it’s also one of the most fascinating documentaries about cinematic representation to come out in quite a long time.
Is That Black Enough for You?!? details the history of black representation in film, starting from the silent era and going up roughly until the height of the blaxploitation era of the 70s and 80s where this film really takes its time and explores the cinematic landscape and how it handled the representation of black people. Using a combination of stock footage, occasional interviews with notable black celebrities like Samuel L Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg and Harry Belafonte and a voiceover from writer/director Elvis Mitchell, Is That Black Enough for You?!? takes the audience on a ride through cinema history in a way that’s absolutely captivating.
It might feel a little reductive to compare Is That Black Enough for You?!? to the modern YouTube trend of video essays but that’s the easiest point of comparison that’s available. A lot of modern video essays will not only deal with a topic in glorious minute detail, but will often make the journey as personal as possible and create a real emotional investment with the creator and the material and that’s what Elvis Mitchell has done here. He not only takes you through the history with the kind of detail that very few others could provide but every now and then will stop and just point out how much certain depictions meant to him, making the point of the film that much more powerful.
Throughout Is That Black Enough for You?!? we’re pointedly reminded of how important some of these images are, either as harmful stereotypes or as the first examples of a powerful character that the audience can relate to. Hearing stories of how important it was to see characters like Super Fly or Coffy on screen gives them a more personal context than you could get from most historians. Getting to talk about the roles that were suddenly available to actors that they formerly couldn’t get or just learning even more about the powerhouse Pam Grier makes for a fascinating film that educates the audience on the importance of representation (a thing I can’t believe we still have to educate people about, but them’s the breaks).
The wild thing is that even at a little over 2 hours, Is That Black Enough for You?!? still feels somewhat shorter than it could be but that’s almost entirely just because there is so much history to go through that the filmmaker had to pick a point to stop otherwise the film would be 6 hours long (not that a 6-hour documentary is a deal breaker mind you, indeed some people really enjoy obscenely long documentaries like that). It doesn’t even really feel like a 2 hour film, it goes by so quick that by the time it ends you’re hankering for more. It certainly gives off the sense that they could easily do another film about this topic and go even more recent, since the film really stops roughly around 1978 with the failure of The Wiz so it’d just be nice to see a little more from this filmmaker… and hey, when the biggest complaint is “Please sir, I want some more” that says a lot about how good the film actually is.
Is That Black Enough for You?!? is an absolute must-see if you’re even a mild fan of cinema. It explores an element of film history that we don’t get to talk about enough and does it with wit, charm and a personal touch that makes it very accessible. You’ll come away from this film with a much greater appreciation for an element of film history you may not have thought much about, and if nothing else end up with a few new titles to put on a watchlist. Truly something worth seeing as quickly as you possibly can.