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gal-dem’s best film and television of 2016

28 Dec 2016

2016 has been a flaming garbage fire of a year. We started the year enthralled (or bored, in my case) by the trials and tribulations of The Revenant’s Hugh Glass and that bear, but at the end of a year where things have gone from bad to just plain abysmal, I think it’s fair to say that his three hour saunter through the woods doesn’t look so bad after all. Luckily, as is always the case in bleak times, art (particularly art by people of colour) has thrived. From the addictive Stranger Things, the Netflix show that saw us afraid to leave our houses for fear of monsters, and finding solace with the awkward Barb, to life-changing cinema courtesy of Beyonce’s Lemonade, it’s hard to pick what’s been the best of the year. So here are just a few of our writers highlights of 2016’s film and television.


“I have nothing much to say about Lemonade that I haven’t already said across every form of social media in GIFs and sentences containing numerous exclamation marks. It is cinema in its purest form, and it wasn’t released in a single cinema screen in the UK (2017 please make this happen). It’s made me feel more invigorated, alive, and proud of my blackness than any other art this year (and this has been a good year for black art). It’s Beyonce at her absolute best. It’s a film that’s for us, (mainly) by us, and it’s funny, aggressive, angry, sad, beautiful. All in what I’m sure a lot of white men are trying to call ‘just a Beyonce music video’. Yeah, well, I’d like to see your fav indie bands and house DJs try and make a film like this.”

Grace Barber-Plentie



“Zootopia, or Zootropolis as it was renamed for UK audiences, is the film that has topped all Disney movies in my heart this year. It’s an action/comedy animation centred on a young bunny called Judy Hopps who fulfils her lifelong dream of becoming a police officer. She teams up with a criminal fox called Nick Wilde to solve a case involving the disappearance of predator inhabitants of a mammalian Metropolis. This film is not only a must watch for the great story line of a young bunny‘s perseverance to see her dreams come true, but also for the not so undercover themes on social issues people of colour and women experience daily: micro-aggression, sexism, discrimination, and of course the bittersweet familiarity of being the token employee to make ‘diversity’ statistics look impressive. Best of all, the themes are weaved into this cartoon story in the simplest of ways that can educate and entertain kids and also gives adults something to enjoy and feel connected to. If you enjoyed Inside Out, you’ll love Zootropolis and even if you didn’t, you’ll still love it!”

Precious M Agbabiaka

The Get Down

“The Get Down is an entrancing, fast paced coming-of-age series set in the South Bronx in 1977. With the city in the climax of political neglect, burnt down buildings and gritty basements play stage to a group of teenage boys and their musical pursuit to be the best on the hip-hop scene. Setting aside my disappointment at the portrayal of the female character as a damsel in distress, The Get Down is solid entertainment. The imagery alone is enough to get you watching more (think fantastically black cast with perfect afros and amazing graffitied city shots) so couple this with good music (Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones, The Supremes, Lucy Hawkins and many, many more) and the cast themselves, which includes Justice Smith, Jaden Smith, Shameik Moore and Herizen Guardiola, and you have yourself a week of binge watching brilliance. Roll on next season.”

Heather Barrett


“If you’d have told me in 2015 that one of my favourite films would involve Sylvester Stallone muttering ‘what’s the cloud?’ and a scene that features the directorial choice of having a camera track away from a couple about to have sex to a lingering shot of a turtle tank, I would’ve called you some very rude words. But both of these things, as well as some other ridiculousness, happens in Creed. Somehow, it still manages to be one of the best films of 2016, showcasing diversity both in front of and behind the camera, showing other directors just how to make mainstream cinema fun again, and having a great soundtrack thanks to its star and actual angel in human form Tessa Thompson. I’d never seen a Rocky film until this year and while I enjoy the series a lot, Creed takes the series formula and perfects it. The fight scenes are some of the most tense cinema I’ve ever seen, and you’re with Michael B(ae) Jordan’s Adonis Creed the whole way, through the highs and lows. Perfect on both the big and small screen, Creed’s a film that’s exhilarating and conventional but also a cut above anything you’ll see down your local Odeon this year.”

Grace Barber-Plentie

Stranger Things

“Stranger Things is the 2016 cross between Stephen King’s IT, The Goonies and the Lost Boys, but maybe, dare I say… better! It’s a sci-fi/horror web series that was released on Netflix this year and it definitely set the bar for how all first seasons should go in terms of suspense, character development, soundtrack choices and directing. In this series we see the disappearance of a young boy called Will Bryers and we embark on a journey with his pre-teen friends and a mysterious telekinetic girl in their effort to find him alive. Set in of course, the 1980s, it has all the mise-en-scène on lock to make it look and feel as if this was an actual show filmed back then. From the wardrobe choices, to the Jaws posters, and even political references pertaining to Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI). Even the child actors had clearly done their research for their roles and channelled a few Steven Spielberg characters (if you know, you know) VERY well. If there’s one series you need to catch up on before its Season 2 release, it’s Stranger Things; you won’t be disappointed.”

Precious M Agbabiaka


“Moonlight, released for a limited run in the US in October 2016, is the sophomore film from director Barry Jenkins. The film is split into three acts, each depicting a period in the life of the protagonist, Chiron, as he goes through youth, adolescence and into adulthood attempting to comprehend and come to terms with his sexuality in a community with strong and steadfast ideas about masculinity. Critics have applauded the film for steering clear of the tropes so often portrayed of black and queer characters in film, something that Jenkins and McCraney, writer of the play on which the film is based, attributes to growing up in Liberty City, where the majority of the film is set, thus allowing authenticity to prevail. Moonlight is characterised by the interspersion of small wonders amongst the struggles of finding a voice as a queer, black man in America. Whilst the film is a queer coming of age story, it is more broadly a story about human relationships, and self discovery relatable to all. Moonlight is visually stunning, despite the subject matter weighing heavy at times. Jenkins never loses sight of the beauty to be found in youth, in a summer breeze, in black skin in the moonlight.”

Amber Woodward


“Westworld is an American Sci-Fi, Western, thriller series based on the 1973 film of the same name. The plot takes place in a fictional technologically advanced theme-park called Westworld where the filthy rich pay $40,000 a day to physically escape the realities of their lives. There they go to fulfil some deep fantasies and urges in a world without rules, punishment or responsibility, and some even go to become the shitty people they really are with many plots and twists you won’t see coming. If you’re like me and you hear “western” and immediately fall asleep let me tell you, this will surpass your expectations. It’s definitely not a show you should watch when you’re tired and you can’t be on your phone or else you’ll miss some very important information. Stay alert and keep at it, even if it’s just to see the beautiful Thandie Newton go from town pimp to badass over night. It’s worth it.This series was so good that HBO are pausing release of Season 2 until 2018, just so that it doesn’t beat Game of Thrones final season to any awards. Need I say more?”

Precious M Agbabiaka


“Disney’s 56th animated feature comes in the form of Moana. The story follows a Polynesian chief’s teenage daughter (played by Auli’i Cravalho) on her quest with the ocean to locate the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) in the hopes of saving their island. Although Disney have historically had problematic characters and plots in their films, their more recent animations look to rectify the mistakes of what came before them – from Zootropolis analogising racism and prejudice, to Frozen having platonic love at the focal point of the story. Moana has added to, if not taken the lead on, Disney animations that are more progressive. Not only does it pass The Bechdel Test, but it also has diversity in their choice of cast and character; every character is a person of colour. Unlike the the tiresome and typical heroines of other Disney tales, Moana is not a damsel in distress waiting for the promise of marriage to save herself from despair. In fact, she only shares a platonic relationship with the lead male role. It’s a film about ancestry, friendship and unapologetic bravery from a young woman of colour.”

Niellah Arboine


“Trolls was honestly one of the best films I’ve seen this year. Okay, try and stay with me. I could go all ‘fuck capitalism’ on this but I can’t deny that, after this mess of a year, I was charmed by all-singing, all-dancing trolls trying to change the views of the evil Bergens, who for centuries have been eating them alive in order to experience happiness. Their mission (led by Princess Poppy, who knows there is more to live that living in fear) leads them to also help a Bergen find self-confidence (and, okay, to find a man) but somewhat excuses the fake deep-ness of the film’s pseudo-intellectual lefty male characters. Of course, one of my favourite parts of the whole film. The devil’s-advocate survivalist, Branch is taught how to take a back-seat, and then there’s Creek, who would definitely be a white dude with dreads in a live-action Trolls, voiced perfectly by Russell Brand (the casting director deserves an Oscar). Aside from also having a lot of laughs and a good soundtrack, Trolls contains some fresh ideas that are a lot more convincing than what some other mainstream animations are promising. It may not be perfect, but it’s enjoyable and smart escapism.”

Maria Cabrera

Queen of Katwe

“Lupita Nyong’o made her way back to the big screen earlier this year in the Mira Nair directed Disney feel-good, Queen of Katwe. Set in Uganda, the movie opens with a thumping afrobeat soundtrack that weaves its way throughout, and recounts the story of ten-year-old chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi, a young girl growing up in the slums of Kampala. The movie is the triumphant tale of Phiona’s success despite all odds, going from a local chess club run by Christian missionary Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), to the international chess championships. What makes Queen of Katwe particularly poignant is the fact that it’s a story of African victory without the “white saviour”. The movie highlights the classism and poverty faced by Phiona and her family as they battle eviction, crime and illness without being reminiscent of a Save the Children advert. Although Nyong’o and Oyelowo’s stellar performances as Phiona’s mother and mentor give the movie its emotional depth, it is newcomer Madina Nalwanga who steals the show. Nalwanga, alongside the other young actors give the movie its joy and comic relief, counteracting the occasional weightiness of the narrative. Vibrant and spirited, Queen of Katwe is an important movie that gives its African characters the agency that has been missing from Hollywood for a long time.”

Iman Mohamed