“The Black List” is a documentary film in which 21 prominent African-Americans speak about their lives, tell stories of their upbringing or discuss topics they feel strongly about. It’s an incredibly simple and honest film with a calm muted backgrounds and only the voice of the person on-screen speaking. And each person speaks…and speaks and speaks some more. That’s not to say “The Black List” isn’t an interesting and frequently insightful film, I just found it difficult to process what each person is saying and the film is pure talk from start to finish. When you get 21 very different people all talking back to back some of the impact of their statements and ideas are lost. Plus, not everyone is as intriguing as others and many times I wish we could dwell a little longer on certain people.
For instance Al Sharpton comes across as a funny and interesting black man who cuts through what many people feel about the state of African-American affairs but don’t come right out and say. Rather than the more limited five minute talking head interview, I could have sat tight with Sharpton much longer. Other people like Chris Rock, Colin Powell, Slash (yes, from Guns n Roses) and erotica writer Zane give fascinating perspectives on their lives and race but they are all limited to right around five minutes and I wanted to hear more.
Yet on the other hand, I get what filmmaker Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and interviewer Elvis Mitchell are trying to do. Rather than an “in the trenches” type of doc where they follow their subjects around on their turf, each person is represented as a kind of living sketch or photograph. The simple manner in which each person is presented is cool because with the lack of frills or distraction, you can really focus in on what each person is saying. That’s also an issue as I mentioned because there’s just so many stories and points of view being thrown out, you lose track after a while.
The parts of the film I enjoyed most were when people were talking honestly about serious issues of race and racial bias both real and perceived. America considers itself past issues of race but whenever a black man or woman brings up any sort of issue where they feel as though they’ve been treated unfairly based on race, the outcry against “the race card” echoes throughout white America. While “The Black List” doesn’t come close to being a rallying cry against racial inequities, it’s a really nice look at varying points of view in the African American community. And those points of view are extremely valuable and are certainly not heard often enough.