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In a year of Black Death, the movies showed us Black Life

From a literal plague that took the lives of a disproportionate number of people of color, to the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Aubury and, most recently, Casey Goodson, 2020 has threatened to become the Year of Black Death. When “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman died of colon cancer in August, it felt like an especially cruel blow – one that shattered not just the life of a brilliant young artist, but the dreams of a community for whom he symbolized Blackness at its most historically regal and cosmically aspirational.

But while anguish and outrage mounted, something else was happening on our screens. When the theaters closed and American audiences encountered endless streaming choices, what they found were films that, in a variety of ways and through disparate forms, presented Black stories as quintessentially American and, ultimately, universal.

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