Contrary to popular belief, Black cinema was rich and abundant before the boom of blaxploitation films in the late ’60s and ’70s. “Is That Black Enough For You?!?,” a new Netflix documentary that premiered Nov. 11, not only gives these films their flowers, but it also magnifies the historical revolution behind Black cinema that’s often gone unheard. With archival footage and interviews with Black film legends like Whoopi Goldberg, Laurence Fishburne, Samuel L. Jackson, and more, “Is That Black Enough For You?!?” director and historian Elvis Mitchell examines the grandeur of Black creators in film — from their origins in the early 1900s to the landmark era of the ’70s.
Mitchell tells POPSUGAR it took him roughly 23 years to finally bring his kaleidoscopic documentary to life. Pieces of his project began with Alain Locke lectures he delivered at Harvard University in 2002. Nearly two decades later, he connected with producers Steven Soderbergh, David Fincher, and Netflix to tell a crucial part of Black cinematic history he felt wasn’t being told.
“The people you named happened to all be people I know.”
“We always hear about the Golden Age of film in the 1970s,” Mitchell says. “All of these great filmmakers and great films. And that’s true, there were a lot. But to leave out, to me, what was a big part of the story is basically part of the African American struggle . . . We changed a lot of the rules for people of color, the way that narrative was shaped and didn’t get the credit. So I wanted to try to shine a little bit of light on that and draw some attention.”
For Mitchell, “Is That Black Enough For You?!?” is a deeply personal film essay that he poured a lot of labor and love into — with help from a few of his famous friends. In addition to Jackson, Goldberg, and Fishburne, the documentary also features testimonials from Zendaya, Billy Dee Williams, Mario Van Peebles, Margaret Avery, and Glynn Turman, who were all eager to participate.
“The people you named happened to all be people I know,” Mitchell shares. “So it was like, ‘OK, Fish[burne]. I’m doing this thing.’ [He said,] ‘Tell me when.’ ‘OK, Sam. Well, I got this thing I’m doing.’ [He said,] ‘When is it happening? OK, talk to my people so we can do it.'” Even getting someone as renowned as 95-year-old acting icon and singer Harry Belafonte on board was an effortless task, according to Mitchell. Hearing these figures’ stories and revisiting the history of Black cinema with them was an especially rewarding part of putting “Is That Black Enough For You?!?” together.
“Something that really links everybody in this is they all have a sense of humor, even though they know how important this is,” Mitchell explains. “This is what they do and how they take measure of themselves. . . . One of the things you see about Sam Jackson is he really knows this stuff, backward and forwards. So does Whoopi. So does Fish[burne]. Zendaya knows movies, and it was great to get them combined with this group of folks. . . . Most of the people who are in the [documentary] are people who were in those movies during that time. So they could all speak from the point of experience about what they were doing, what was going on, and how they felt about doing these things.”
Mitchell also wanted to pick the brains of many other figures for “Is That Black Enough For You?!?,” some of whom died before he had the chance to get them on camera. But his documentary pays homage to them, all while honoring a pivotal era of Black American film, too.
“Is That Black Enough For You?!?” is now streaming on Netflix. Read ahead to see what other celebrities are featured in the film.