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Black Directors Debut New Works at Toronto Film Festival
By Margrira, Contributing Writer
Published September 8, 2022

A scene from “The Woman King” starring Viola Davis (Courtesy photo)

This year’s Toronto Film Festival is full of African, Caribbean, African-American, and Afro-Canadian star power, and we’ve compiled a list of everything you should have on your radar for TIFF 2022.

Festival premieres include new work by Tyler Perry and Tim Story. We also get to see Gina Prince-Bythewood’s “The Woman King” starring Oscar winner Viola Davis and documentaries on two, prolific creatives, the late Sidney Poitier, directed by Reginald Hudlin, and “Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues” directed by Sacha Jenkins. Here are our picks for films to check out at the 2022 Toronto Film Festival (TIFF).

The Woman King directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood

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This epic tale, starring Oscar winner Viola Davis, brings to life the true story of the Agojie, the all-female military regiment charged with protecting the embattled West African Kingdom of Dahomey from adversarial neighbors, European colonizers, and the horrors of the slave trade.

The year is 1823. Orphaned at birth and raised by an abusive guardian who seeks only to marry her off for money, young Nawi (Mbedu) petitions for entry into the Agojie, led by the single-minded Nanisca (Davis). To defend their people against the oppressive and heavily armed Oyo Empire, the Agojie run candidates through an arduous training program. Nawi proves herself an outstanding, ferocious soldier, though she questions the Agojie rules, which state that no one in their ranks shall marry or have children. As the Agojie prepares for the fight of their lives against both the Oyo and the Portuguese slave traders with whom they are in league, long-buried secrets come to light, revealing harrowing stories of personal sacrifice that will only strengthen the bonds between these unstoppable warrior women.

Ashkal — directed by Youssef Chebbi

A series of mysterious deaths in an abandoned development north of Tunis sends two detectives down an all-consuming rabbit hole when workers discover the burnt body of a building watchman onsite and call in police detectives Fatma (Fatma Oussaifi) and Batal (Mohamed Houcine Grayaa) to investigate. ( https://www.tiff.net/events/ashkal ) —

“Free Money” is set in Kenya.  (Courtesy photo)

Free Money — directed by Sam Soko and Lauren DeFilippo

When universal basic income (UBI) comes to the Kenyan village of Kogutu, lives are forever changed. The filmmakers juxtapose the story of these young economists, bankrolled by Silicon Valley and convinced that they have found an infallible algorithm to end world poverty, with portraits of local Kenyans whose lives are being dramatically impacted for better and for worse.

“A Jazzman’s Blues” focuses on family secrets and forbidden love. (Courtesy photo)

A Jazzman’s Blues —directed by Tyler Perry

A story of forbidden love and family secrets that reach from the 1940s to the 1980s. Featuring songs by Terence Blanchard, choreography by Debbie Allen, and music by composer Aaron Zigman. A Jazzman’s Blues is a testament to African American music, resilience, and storytelling.

“Black Ice” explores racism in hockey. (Courtesy photo)

Black Ice —directed by Hubert Davis

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This incisive, urgent documentary examines the history of anti-Black racism in hockey, from the segregated leagues of the 19th century to professional leagues today, where Black athletes continue to struggle against bigotry. Executive produced by LeBron James, Drake, and Maverick Carter.

“Brother” is set in the 1990s. (Courtesy photo)

Brother—directed by Clement Virgo

A staggering adaptation of David Chariand’s award-winning novel about two Trinidadian-Canadian brothers coming of age in 1990s Scarborough, where they reconcile their dreams and expectations with the violence that confronts them around every corner.

“Bruiser” highlights families and fighting. (Courtesy photo)

Bruiser—directed by Miles Warren

A 14-year-old boy turns to a charismatic loner for help after being beaten up. The directors’ feature debut about fathers, families, and the effects of fighting.

“Chevalier” is a captivating historical drama. (Courtesy photo)

Chevalier—directed by Stephen Williams

An opulent historical drama, inspired by the true story of composer Joseph Bologne (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), brims with intrigue, romance, and sumptuous music — turning the spotlight on a brilliant artist whose legacy has been woefully obscured. The film opens with a bang as Bologne  interrupts a Paris concert conducted by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and makes a dramatic impression on the preening genius and his fancy, 18th-century audience.

“Dear Mama” focuses on Tupac Shakur and his mother, Afeni Shakur. (Courtesy photo)

Dear Mama—directed by Allen Hughes

Hughes’ quintessential documentary series explores the life and legacy of hip-hop icon Tupac Shakur and his mother, the Black Panther activist Afeni Shakur exposing audiences to the dark realities of both the mother and son’s complicated relationships with law enforcement, violence, and drug abuse.

“On the Come Up” is described as a love letter to hip hop. (Courtesy photo)

On The Come Up —directed by Emmy-nominated actress Sanaa Lathan

Making her feature directorial debut, this film is a love letter to hip hop as told through the eyes of Bri, a 16-year-old gifted rapper, who attempts to take the battle rap scene by storm in order to lift up her family and do right by the legacy of her father – a local hip hop legend whose career was cut short by gang violence. The film is based on the New York Times #1 best-selling novel by Angie Thomas.

“Devotion” tells the story of the U.S. Navy’s first Black aviator. (Courtesy photo)

Devotion—directed by JD Dillard

Set during the Korean War, this visceral film tells the story of the U.S. Navy’s first African-American aviator and his dedicated wingman, pilots who both confront geopolitical uncertainty and racist hostility with uncommon valour.

The King’s Horseman—directed by Biyi Bandele

TIFF dedicates this presentation of The King’s Horseman to the memory of Biyi Bandele, (October 1967 – August 2022).  The day comes for Elésin Oba (Odunlade Adekola) to accompany the Alaafin of Oyo, King of Yorubaland (contemporary Nigeria, Togo, and Benin), into the afterlife. Celebration is in order! As the King’s Horseman, Elésin is responsible for the political ruler’s smooth travels in life and in death, making this day the long-intended end of his honourable, fleshly commitments to the Yoruba people. Since the Alaafin is dead, Yoruba religious tradition insists Elésin must commit ritual suicide.

Saint Omer —directed by Alice Diop

The narrative debut by acclaimed documentarian Alice Diop.  In  Saint-Omer is a story of a woman who allegedly placed her 15-month-old daughter on a beach in northern France, abandoning her to the high tide. A courtroom drama told from the point of view of Rama (Kayije Kagame), a young novelist working on a contemporary retelling of the ancient Medea myth. https://www.tiff.net/events/saint-omer

“Hawa” is a tale of a 15-year-old Parisian teenager. (Courtesy)

Hawa—directed by Maïmouna Doucouré

A Capraesque tale about the soon-to-be-orphaned, 15-year-old Hawa (Sania Halifa) seeking an audience with Michelle Obama. Not your typical Parisian teen in her beautiful blond afro and Coke-bottle glasses, she’s dealing with the impending death of her terminally ill Maminata (famed Malian singer Oumou Sangaré) her beloved grandmother and sole guardian.

The documentary, “Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues,” covers the politics of the legendary trumpeter. (Courtesy photo)

Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues directed by Sacha Jenkins

Drawing on Louis Armstrong’s meticulously recorded audio diaries of himself, documentarian Jenkins revisits the music and reappraises the politics of the legendary jazz trumpeter and singer. A journalist whose work has appeared in Vibe, Rolling Stone, and Mass Appeal, he keeps the film rooted in Armstrong’s era, drawing upon eclectic footage of him in performance, on the road, and at home. We hear archival recordings of his contemporaries including Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, and Artie Shaw, as well as Armstrong’s second wife, pianist Lil Hardin, and his last wife, Lucille, to whom he was married for nearly 30 years. Passages from his private correspondence are read by Nas.

Shimoni —directed by Angela Wanjiku Wamai

In this gripping and carefully developed drama from editor–turned–writer-director Angela Wanjiku Wamai a once revered English teacher Geoffrey (Justin Mirichii) newly released from prison renegotiates the confines of the physical world while forced to face his nightmare as he restarts his life in the rural Kenyan village of Shimoni (translating to “The Pit”), a place he knows intimately and loathes. https://www.tiff.net/events/shimoni

“The Inspection” examines the effects of homophobia in the military. (Courtesy photo)

The Inspection—directed by Elegance Bratton

A debut, inspired by the filmmaker’s own life story, follows a man (Jeremy Pope) who joins the Marine Corps after being thrown out of his mother’s (Gabrielle Union) home at 16 for being gay. The film takes place during America’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue” military policy, which directed that applicants not be asked about sexual orientation, homophobia is deeply entrenched in all aspects of service, from boot camp to battle.  https://www.tiff.net/events/the-inspection

“When Morning Comes” is the story of a young Jamaican boy. (Courtesy photo)

When Morning Comes —directed by Kelly Fyffe-Marshal

A feature debut tells the story of Jamal (Djamari Roberts), a young boy in Jamaica, who has just been suspended from elementary school following an altercation. His widowed mother, Neesha (Shaquana Wilson) is so incensed she can’t hear Jamal’s protestations of innocence. Terrified he runs off, spending the next few days living with his best friend, Deshane (Jarden Crooks), the girl he’s crushing on, and substitute father figures, while also visiting the grave of his beloved father.

“Will-o’-the-Wisp” explores class, race and colonialism. (Courtesy photo)

Will-o-the-Wisp—directed by Fogo-Fátuo

Will-o’-the-Wisp moves effortlessly from historical tableau to musical comedy, queer romance, and post-colonial provocation, defiant, hurling pointed accusations against crimes of the past, present, and future in an impossibly fleet 67 minutes — between cheeky, joyous, and highly stylized dance sequences.

From his deathbed (2069) King Alfredo is transported back to our present-day meeting and falls in love with instructor Afonso ( André Cabral) and as an interracial couple, they explore class, race, and colonialism.

The Gravity – La Gravité —directed by Cédric Ido

The film centers on a mysterious planetary event that upsets both the gravity and the fragile equilibrium of a Parisian suburb, which is ruled by a cosmically-connected crew of young “entrepreneurs.” Daniel (Max Gomis) starts training before sunrise but can’t run fast enough to meet his big brother’s tight drug-delivery schedule. A dexterous and captivating second feature written and directed by French-Burkinabé actor Cédric Ido.  Sci-fi turn on cinéma de banlieue, bringing an otherworldly edge to storytelling and visual form.

“Sidney” covers the life of the great actor. (Courtesy photo)

Sidney—directed by Reginald Hudlin 

A documentary portrait of the late, great Sidney Poitier, one of the most gifted and charismatic actors the cinema has known. Poitier’s own words provide the narration, telling the story of a boy born to tomato farmers in the Bahamas. Moving to the US at age 15, he quickly learned the brutal realities of the Jim Crow. Discouraged, Poitier joined the Army but returned to Harlem after quitting. It was here that he made a fateful discovery one day while reading an ad: ‘Actors Wanted By Little Theatre Group; Apply in Person at the American Negro Theater,'” in the Amsterdam News. The rest is history.

Nanny—directed by Nikyatu Jusu

A young Senegalese newcomer, Aisha (Anna Diop) working as a nanny is excited to start her new position looking after the sweet young daughter of type-A working mom Amy (Michelle Monaghan) and her mostly absent photographer husband, Adam (Morgan Spector). The job should provide the necessary finances to bring her own son, Lamine, to the US within a few months, but almost immediately Aisha is plunged into watery nightmares and hallucinations.

“The Blackening” is a skewering of the horror movie genre. (Courtesy photo)

The Blackening—directed by Tim Story

Based on 3Peat Comedy’s acclaimed sketch of the same name, director Story’s savvy and vicious skewering of genre film tropes poses the sardonic question: if the entire cast of a horror movie is Black, who dies first? Starting with the phrase “let’s split up”; a group of friends on a weekend getaway find themselves at the mercy of a masked killer.

 

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