3 Best Movies to Watch by Erika Alexander

Staff & contributors
On the one hand, American Fiction is a razor-sharp satire that pokes fun at the hypocrisy of the literary and entertainment industry. It's only when Monk (Wright), a genius but esoteric writer, decides to pander and give in to what publishers have come to expect from Black authors (that is: trauma porn) that he is finally celebrated for his work. But on the other hand, the film is also a tender family drama. Monk sells out, as it were, partly because he’s fascinated by the stupidity of decision-makers and supposed intellectuals, but mostly because he needs to pay for his ailing mother’s care. His relationship with his siblings and deceased father likewise informs much of his character, and they complicate what could’ve been just an intellectual approach to a social issue. This is an educational and entertaining film, yes, one that looks at the complex intersection between identity, craft, and profit. But it’s also an empathetic film, told with a big heart and a surprisingly light touch.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adam Brody, Alexander Pobutsky, Bates Wilder, Becki Dennis, Celeste Oliva, David De Beck, Dustin Tucker, Erika Alexander, Greta Quispe, Issa Rae, J. C. MacKenzie, Jeffrey Wright, Jenn Harris, John Ales, John Ortiz, Kate Avallone, Keith David, Leslie Uggams, Michael Cyril Creighton, Michael Jibrin, Michael Malvesti, Miriam Shor, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Neal Lerner, Okieriete Onaodowan, Patrick Fischler, Raymond Anthony Thomas, Skyler Wright, Sterling K. Brown, Tracee Ellis Ross

Director: Cord Jefferson

Rating: R

Based on the documentary short she helmed with actor Taylor Russell, Savannah Leaf’s Earth Mama is an intimate, unabashedly political, and decisively non-judgmental look at one mother’s determined attempts to regain custody of her two children. Gia (Tia Nomore) is struggling to work enough hours at her part-time photo studio job to pay for the home she needs before she can be reunited with her kids — struggling because the state also requires her to attend classes on topics like addiction recovery, which are eating into her time. What’s more, Gia is also heavily pregnant, and her looming due date sets a clock ticking on her efforts to satisfy her caseworker and decide what’s best for her new baby. 

There’s a depressingly cyclical nature to all this heartbreak, as testified to by the real people who sometimes pierce the drama to share their own experiences of the system Gia is navigating. Their contributions — along with Nomore’s lived-in performance and Leaf’s assured touch — deepen the urgency and emotion of the movie, which is as much a commentary on the dehumanizing bureaucracy of the social care system as it is Gia’s own particular story.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Autumn Mirassou, Bokeem Woodbine, Ca'Ron Jaden Coleman, Doechii, Dominic Fike, Erika Alexander, Frank Scozzari, JF Davis, Keta Price, Olivia Luccardi, Sharon Duncan Brewster, Slim Yani

Director: Savanah Leaf

When it comes to films depicting America’s history of racism, many white produced films tend to be centered on a white savior. At best, this is just patting each other on the back for actions done a generation or two ago. At worst, it tends to be outright historical revisionism. The difference between these and The Long Walk is that, while clearly made for a white audience, the film doesn’t crown Sissy Spacek’s character as a messiah, but her choice to help the boycott anyway is a message worth depicting, even if it’s small, even if it isn’t the typical, single-handed salvation Hollywood is used to doling out. While the white narrator adds unnecessary distance, and while it would have been better to see more of Whoopi Goldberg in the non-comic role of Odessa Cotter, The Long Walk cares about the everyday, and that’s what makes it mostly work.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Afemo Omilami, Chelcie Ross, Cherene Snow, Dan Butler, Dwight Schultz, Dylan Baker, Erika Alexander, Graham Timbes, Haynes Brooke, Jason Weaver, Kevin Thigpen, Lexi Randall, Mary Steenburgen, Nancy Moore Atchison, Norman Matlock, Philip Sterling, Rebecca Wackler, Richard Habersham, Schuyler Fisk, Sissy Spacek, Ving Rhames, Whoopi Goldberg

Director: Richard Pearce

Rating: PG