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The Best Black American Films of the 21st Century, From ‘Straight Outta Compton’ to ‘Black Panther’

Black voices have always been essential to American cinema, but they’re especially potent this summer, with two exciting upcoming releases: Boots Riley’s “Sorry To Bother You” and Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” have impressed critics and magnified the beating pulse of black identity politics, while skewering those persons and institutions that hinder black social and economic advancement. Though vastly different in tone and technique, they echo similar themes: Black American political disillusionment, the struggle for higher standards, and the pressure to maintain an authentic version of oneself.

With these potent ideas playing out at movie theaters across the country, we’ve arrived at a perfect opportunity to examine the best black American films of the 21st century.

From renowned stories and landmark performances to culturally relevant comedies and iconic directors, each of these movies have molded the landscape of black cinema into what it is today. Dee Rees, Ava DuVernay, Ryan Coogler, Barry Jenkins, and Jordan Peele are just a few of the filmmakers our critics singled out for recognition; read all our ranked picks below. We applied a broad criteria, including both films with black directors as well as others that feature black characters. —Jacqueline Coley

25. “Ray”

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Universal/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5884516e) Jamie Foxx Ray - 2004 Director: Taylor Hackford Universal USA Scene Still

Jamie Foxx in “Ray”


In the world of biopics, there are often impressions, accents, and performances inspired by or mirroring the real individuals. Then there are a handful of transformations in which actors become synonymous with their subjects. When

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