Few films engender absolute aesthetic devotion on a widespread scale, pure love for a singular cinematic perspective that conjures a sense of ride-or-die allegiance from its viewers to the creators. In 2016, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight and Anna Rose Holmer’s The Fits were two of the most fervently beloved films of the year and luckily for fans of both they have converged in an orgiastic ballet that’s short enough to enjoy on your coffee break. In a feat of unexpected Persona-esque mind melding, Holmer and Moonlight’s Academy Award-nominated composer Nicholas Britell have crafted a dance tribute to Jenkins’ triptych of yearned identity with New York City’s Alvin Ailey Dance Theater: Just Dance: Moonlight x Alvin Ailey. In retrospect, the films have much more in common than meets the eye; after all, each visually explore – with absorbing and diamond-cut grace – the explosive unease that arises when you break out of the shell that your community expects you to inhabit. This is where Holmer's dance interpretation begins. It’s certainly thrilling to see Moonlight presented on a stage, where Tarell Alvin McCraney’s original roots began. Take a look for yourself and let us know how you feel: has Holmer captured Chiron’s transformative evolution through this physically formational medium?
Entries in Anna Rose Holmer (3)
The Fits has been on the festival circuit since last year, including a trip to the Nashville Film Festival that has Nathaniel singing its praises. Well, add me to the fan club, because I found myself even more taken by this ferocious and emotionally intelligent debut.
Set in and around a recreation center for Cincinnati youths, the film follows Toni (captivating newcomer Royalty Hightower) as she transitions from her brother's boxing studio into the militaristic, successful all-girl dance crew down the hall, without any dance ability to her credit. As Toni begins to improve her skill, her sense of otherness is further enervated by the growing outbreak of unexplained seizures on the team. Blending themes of gender performance, isolation, and feminity, The Fits packs a huge punch in a brisk 72 minutes unlike anything you've experienced this year.
Not every movie has a white straight male protagonist. It just seems like that since that's Hollywood's default and also the preferred proxy of most (white straight male) auteurs.
But the times are finally a-changing. This weekend features the platform release of a mesmerizing new indie called The Fits -- please see it as soon as it opens near you. I was so proud to push for honoring it on my jury at the Nashville Film Festival. Fresh perspectives on the screen can be so exhilarating. That's especially true when the execution is this confident. Remember the debut director's name, Anna Rose Holmer, since we're hoping for more great movies to come.
In the meantime, let's take a trip back through other features with young black girls as the lead character. I haven't seen the first or the last movie on this list of nine below but the rest all fall somewhere on the spectrum of good to great.
How many have you seen?
• Just Another Girl on the IRT (1992)
• Eve's Bayou (1997) - Really need to watch this again as previously earlier this week. It was the breakthrough role for Jurnee Smollett-Bell who went on to series regular gigs in Friday Night Lights, True Blood, and The Underground.
• Our Song (2000) - When it comes to superstar Kerry Washington, it's important to remember that I saw her first. Articles from the early Aughts are no longer online but trust that I gave her a rave review when I saw this teeny tiny indie in theaters and was startled by her total naturalism onscreen.
If you can think of other films with a child or teenage black girl as the lead character, please do share them so our list is more complete.