7 Sundance 2023 Films (Featuring Black Talent) That You Need To Watch This Year

by Shaye Wyllie
sundance 2023 black films to watch

Last year, I covered the Sundance Film Festival from the comfort of my home … okay, well actually, from the comfort of a hotel! And yes, it was as peaceful as it sounds. But this year? Chaos! I’m a freakin’ MESS y’all. And that’s probably because I’ll be covering the festival in person this year! Yup, I’ll be screaming my love for each film I watch from the very tippy top of Utah’s snowy mountains this year. As if.

I’m already super annoyed that there’s actually snow on the ground there, when there hasn’t been a single snow flake here in NYC all winter so far. Not that global warming is a good thing or whatever.

Yet, despite my lack of interest for Utah’s weather at the momento, I am super excited to visit Salt Lake City for the very first time, and to finally meet a ton of folks that I’ve been talking to over the last few years. But you know what? Knowing that I’ll be covering all the BLACK films at Sundance 2023 for a THIRD year in a row … this time I’ll be there in person, covering the ones you’ll be dying to watch this year, is what REALLY makes me happy!

Last year, some of my favorite films premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, so I can’t wait to see what becomes a hit this year. Anywho, on to what you really came here for …

Here Are 7 Sundance 2023 Films (Featuring Black Talent) To Get Excited About This Year

1. All Dirt Roads Taste Of Salt

sundance 2023 black films
A still from All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt by Raven Jackson, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Jaclyn Martinez

Starring our faves — Sheila Atim (The Woman King) and Moses Ingram (Obi Wan Kenobi), Sundance raves that Raven Jackson’s “striking debut is an assured vision, unafraid to immerse us in moments of grief and longing, or within the thickness of things left unsaid”.

With, “All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt” … we get a taste of the life of Mack, a Black woman in Mississippi. Winding through the anticipation, love, and heartbreak she experiences from childhood to adulthood, the expressionist journey is an ode to connection — with loved ones and with place. And if you know me, you know ion’ care about none of that! I’m just here for the wild ride Sheila and Moses are gonna take us on, because they give POWERFUL performances every time they’re on screen!

Apparently the film has also already been acquired by A24. So for those of us following along on A24’s insane ride of a roster — with them releasing films like “Everything Everywhere All At Once” and “Zola”, this means “All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt” is surely in good hands, and may turn out to be an audience favorite.

2. Magazine Dreams

sundance 2023 black films
Jonathan Majors appears in Magazine Dreams by Elijah Bynum, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Glen Wilson

Listen, Jonathan Majors is in this. Do I really need to say more?

For those of you rolling your eyes at me, and screaming “do your job and tell us what the damn film is actually about sis” … fine. Magazine Dreams, is about an amateur bodybuilder who struggles to find human connection as his relentless drive for recognition pushes him to the brink. Killian Maddox lives with his ailing veteran grandfather, and obsessively works out between court-mandated therapy appointments and his part-time shifts at a grocery store where he harbors a crush on a friendly cashier.

Though Killian’s struggles to read social cues and maintain control of his volatile temper amplify his sense of disconnection amid a hostile world, nothing deters him from his fiercely protected dream of bodybuilding superstardom, not even the doctors who warn that he’s causing permanent damage to his body with his quest.  

The film also stars Taylour Paige (Zola), who I’m hoping isn’t his love interest, but probably is? Eh, we’ll see! This is one of my most anticipated watches though, so I’m excited. And hopefully I run into Mr. Majors during Sundance? One can only dream.

3. Young. Wild. Free.

sundance 2023 black films
A still from Young. Wild. Free. by Thembi Banks, an official selection of the NEXT section at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. | photo by Tommy Oliver.

Featuring a star studded cast that includes Sierra Capri (On My Block), Algee Smith (The New Edition Story), Sanaa Lathan (Love and Basketball) and Mike Epps (Meet the Blacks), “Young. Wild. Free.” is Emmy-nominated (Only Murders in the Building) writer-director Thembi Banks’ feature debut, following her short film “Baldwin Beauty” that premiered during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.

The story follows Algee Smith, as Brandon, a struggling teen in school, caring for his two younger siblings, and having just been let go from his job, Brandon often uses his art as an escape from the confines of his subdued day-to-day life. Enter Cassidy (played by Sierra Capri), a bedazzled bad girl dripping in confidence, freedom, and danger. Lured in by her whimsy, Brandon teams up with Cassidy, seamlessly slipping into the role of Clyde to her Bonnie as they make their way down an increasingly perilous path.

I’m not saying this is gonna take the world by storm like “Queen and Slim” did a few years ago … but um, it’s giving — I can’t WAIT to see how this ish plays out because this sounds hella interesting. Pretty sure I read somewhere that she robs him? So yeah …

4. A Thousand And One

Teyana Taylor and Aaron Kingsley appear in a still from A Thousand and One by A.V. Rockwell, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Focus Features

While I’m not overly excited about the potential path “A Thousand And One” is planning on taking us down. I am a bit excited to see Teyana Taylor (Coming 2 America) on screen again.

Directed by Sundance alum A.V. Rockwell, “A Thousand and One” is set to take us on a journey, one that I’m sure many can possibly relate to. Aside from the kidnapping I suppose?

Alongside Teyana, Will Catlett (Charm City Kings, Black Boy Joy) — another one of my faves, also stars in this dramatic competition feature film. Convinced it’s one last, necessary crime on the path to redemption, unapologetic and free-spirited Inez kidnaps 6-year-old Terry from the foster care system. Holding on to their secret and each other, mother and son set out to reclaim their sense of home, identity, and stability in New York City.

5. Little Richard: I Am Everything

Little Richard appears in Little Richard: I Am Everything by Lisa Cortes, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute

I’m not one for documentaries, but every now and then someone releases a doc that intrigues me. Last year it was the Cosby and Kanye docs, the year before that it was “Summer of Soul” and now this year it’s Little Richard.

According to Sundance, “director Lisa Cortés’ eye-opening documentary “Little Richard: I Am Everything” explodes the whitewashed canon of American pop music and shines a clarifying light on the Black, queer origins of rock ’n’ roll, and establishes the genre’s big bang: Richard Wayne Penniman.”

So I look forward to learning all about the icon I grew up hearing so much about.

6. Landscape With Invisible Hand

A still from Landscape With invisible Hand by Cory Finley, an official selection of the Premiers program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute

In “Landscape with Invisible Hand”, Adam is a teenage artist coming of age in the aftermath of an alien takeover. The Vuvv, a species of hyper-intelligent extraterrestrials, brought wondrous technology to Earth, but only the wealthiest can afford it. The rest of humanity, their livelihoods now obsolete, have to scrape together money in the tourism industry.

Writer-director Cory Finley returns to Park City with a sci-fi trip flick that stars Asante Blackk (“When They See Us”, “This Is Us”), Tiffany Haddish (Girls Trip), and William Jackson Harper (The Good Place). I will be honest here though — Tiffany being apart of this cast, definitely lets me know how this fill will go. I tend to not like the films she’s in, especially when she’s casted for her comedy chops, but I’ll definitely be giving this a shot to see if she shocks me.

7. Rye Lane

sundance 2023 black films
A still from Rye Lane by Luke Lorentzen, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute

In “Rye Lane”, Dom and Yas’ paths collide at the least opportune time: when Dom (David Jonsson) is ugly-crying in a toilet stall, steeling himself for an awkward meal with his ex, who cheated on him with his best friend. Nursing her own breakup wounds, freewheeling Yas decides to jump headfirst into the fray to lessen the sting as Dom’s date. What follows is a day of impulsive and joyous mayhem, as these two 20-something Londoners roam Peckham through karaoke bars and playgrounds, all the while inching toward the possibility of opening their hearts again.

And if I’ve learned anything over the last few years, it’s that I love me a British film, so I can’t wait to see what director Raine Allen-Miller has in store for us with this romantic comedy that celebrates meeting the right person at the wrong time. And if it’s already been acquired by Searchlight Pictures … there’s definitely hope here. (Okay, maybe that’s not all the way true, but you get my point.)

sundance 2023 black films

But yeah, that’s my list of Black films you have to watch at Sundance 2023 this year.

Last year’s list (and the year before that) was super duper long, but I’m no longer interested in being the crazy person that tells you to watch ALL the things. Cause I don’t even have the dang gon’ time to watch ALL the things, so let’s not pretend that we can do it all this year.

This year, I’m sharing all the things that excite me, or annoy the f*ck out of me, no in between, mediocre mumbo jumbo crap. Let someone else tell you about the things that aren’t even worth mentioning … *cough* like Netflix’s Kaleidoscope series. I’m just saying. Get somebody else to do it! Otherwise, happy Sundancing! Let me know what’s on YOUR watch list, and if you’ll be watching any of the films above.

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1 comment

Gina April 12, 2023 - 3:49 pm

A Thousand and One was dark but the performances were amazing, even the young men who played Terry. I wasn’t familiar with Teyana Taylor, but now I want to see what she does next.


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