Review: Elvis Mitchell’s ‘Is That Black Enough for You?!?’ is a detailed look at Black cinema

Marquee of the Palms Theatre in Detroit in 1971, from the documentary "Is That Black Enough For You?!?"

Attempting a nuanced and caring overview of Black screen history in a little more than two hours is an unenviable task, but film critic turned writer-director Elvis Mitchell’s first foray into documentary filmmaking, “Is That Black Enough for You?!?,” certainly makes good work of it. Spanning from the first glimpses of Black life onscreen in the early 20th century through the changing nature of contemporary Black filmmaking cycles, Mitchell weaves the historical with the personal in his ambitious study of Black screen images.

Particular emphasis is placed on the 1970s — for good reason — and the voices we hear from, including Samuel L. Jackson, Charles Burnett and Billy Dee Williams — are more than willing to share their firsthand experience as both Black moviegoers and makers of Black cinema. More than that, Mitchell is particularly insightful in his focus on the methods of (dis)identification that have historically shaped Black audiences and the ways in which we have both projected and rejected the images we carry and see of ourselves within film’s cultural history.

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Notable too are his introspections into Black stardom, with observations of the supposed “nonrepeatable phenomenon” of Black stars and the politics of representation at work within this, as well as the contributions and concomitant erasure of Black women from conversations regarding the Black film canon.

While vast in its scope, “Is That Black Enough for You?!?” can’t quite hold up to the weight and breadth of all its material, specifically in the final third, where its pace becomes slightly rushed. It’s a delayed, almost breathless sense of urgency that is easily forgiven considering the strength of Mitchell’s commitment to a detailed and embodied historiography. A glossy and breezy summation of Black cinema history this is not, and thank goodness for that.

'Is That Black Enough for You?!?'

Rated: R, for nudity, some sexual content, language, violence and drug material

Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

Playing: Starts Oct. 28, Bay Theater, Pacific Palisades; available Nov. 11 on Netflix