4 Best Movies to Watch by Glynn Turman

Staff & contributors

This adaptation of a tragedy by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson might retain the mostly minimal setting of its source material — two rooms in a Chicago recording studio — but the searing performances at its heart more than warrant the translation to the big screen. A ferocious Viola Davis plays the titular ‘Mother of the Blues’, a fiery artist whose diva-ness is powerfully revealed to be a matching of the same transactional energy with which she’s treated by her white managers. 

On a steamy day in the roaring 1920s, one of Ma’s recording sessions morphs into a tinderbox of debate on art, race, and these exploitative power dynamics that exist at their intersection. As her band awaits her characteristically late arrival, its members tease, and then bicker, and finally erupt at one another. The youngest musician, Levee (Chadwick Boseman), is the most hot-headed — in his older band-mates’ eyes, he’s an arrogant young upstart with delusions of grandeur, but Levee’s ambitions are powered by real pain, as revealed in a blistering monologue. The film is unabashedly stagy in many respects, a quality that can work both ways — but, ultimately, the crackling current that runs through Davis and Boseman’s acting gives the movie all the blazing, goosebump-inducing immediacy of a live performance.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Chadwick Boseman, Colman Domingo, Daniel Johnson, Dusan Brown, Glynn Turman, Jeremy Shamos, Jonny Coyne, Joshua Harto, Michael Potts, Quinn VanAntwerp, Taylour Paige, Viola Davis

Director: George C. Wolfe

Rating: R

A deep dive into African-American cinema in the 1970s, Is That Black Enough for You?!? may at times feel like an extended audiovisual Wikipedia article, but it convincingly sets up its ideas in breezy, entertaining fashion. And it successfully argues that Hollywood today just hasn't cashed in on the wealth of innovative Black art that already existed 50 years ago. At the center of this talking heads documentary is director and narrator Elvis Mitchell, who elevates the assembled footage with frank commentary that isn't afraid to make things personal or to throw shade at other filmmakers who've made a career out of appropriating Black film traditions.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Antonio Fargas, Billy Dee Williams, Charles Burnett, Elvis Mitchell, Glynn Turman, Harry Belafonte, James Signorelli, Laurence Fishburne, Louise Archambault, Margaret Avery, Mario Van Peebles, Roscoe Orman, Samuel L. Jackson, Sheila Frazier, Stan Lathan, Suzanne de Passe, Whoopi Goldberg, Zendaya

Director: Elvis Mitchell

, 2023

An unsung hero of the civil rights movement gets the customary Oscar bait treatment in this biopic. Though he was instrumental in organizing the historic March on Washington — which helped force the US government to enshrine civil rights — gay Black activist Bayard Rustin isn’t the household name his peers are. In an inversion of that narrative, figures like Martin Luther King appear here as supporting characters to Colman Domingo’s Bayard.

Domingo’s energetic, commanding performance holds the center of the film, but he’s ill-served by the formulaic approach to storytelling that unfolds around him. More than a few scenes feel like they were written, directed, and performed with an eye to making awards ceremony clips, giving the film a disjointed, self-aware air. And yet, for all the limits of its by-the-numbers approach, Rustin does manage to pack in glints of insight. By virtue of who he was, Bayard will never not make for a compelling central figure — so even lackluster filmmaking can’t sap this inherently radical material of all its power. Though not without its flaws, then, the film is valuable for the light it sheds on the polarising effect Bayard's identity as a gay Black man had within the movement and the intersectional depths he nevertheless brought to it. 

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Adrienne Warren, Aml Ameen, Audra McDonald, Ayana Workman, Bill Irwin, Carra Patterson, CCH Pounder, Chanel Minnifield, Chris Rock, Collin Antrim Miller, Colman Domingo, Cotter Smith, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Dan Sauer, Daniel Johnson, Frank Harts, Glynn Turman, Grantham Coleman, Gus Halper, Hope Clarke, Ivan Moore, Jeff Hochendoner, Jeffrey Wright, Johanna McGinley, Johnny Ramey, Jordan Aaron Hall, Jules Latimer, Kevin Mambo, Lilli Kay, Maxwell Whittington-Cooper, Michael Potts, Rashad Edwards, Robert F. Kennedy, Scott Deal, Zuri Starks

Director: George C. Wolfe

Rating: PG-13