What is happening in America now is more than a moment. It is a movement. It is an important one that has been decades, if not centuries in the making. Slavery, the fight for Civil Rights, the Rodney King verdict, and all the tragic shootings by white police and others of unarmed black people in recent years, has led to this. As a reaction to the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, at the knees of white police officers, people of all races are peacefully taking to the streets demanding justice. This particular police “incident” is one of way too many in just recent years. Before it was George Floyd, it was Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin and too many more. Although we often look to films to entertain and to escape from reality and problems, now is not necessarily the time for that. It is a good time to learn from our history, learn from our mistakes, or to be inspired by the lives and stories of leaders, agents of change. Here are a few movie suggestions for your viewing education and inspiration. (In alphabetical order by title)
1. 1 Angry Black Man (2020, Hans Charles) – A hard-hitting, engaging film evolving around heady issues of race, class and identity as experienced by a black liberal arts student. https://rafaelfilm.cafilm.org/.
2. 13th (2016, Ava DuVernay) – This documentary gives a painfully hard look at the racial inequities pertaining to America’s prison system, past and present.
3. The Black Power Mixtape (2011, Goran Hugo Olsson) – Recently rediscovered audio and video footage from a Swedish news agency of interviews with characters from the Black Power movement has been put together and released as a captivating documentary titled “The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975.” The Swedish journalists who launched the project during that period were intrigued by the movement and were determined to discover “Black America” from a non-biased, non-white American perspective.
4. Dear White People (2014 Justin Simien) – A fun, but poignant satirical look at college life for a group of black students on a predominantly white campus. The central character is Samantha White, a bi-racial black student who moderates an anti-racism show on the campus radio station. This feature film has since been developed as a Netflix series.
5. Do the Right Thing (1989, Spike Lee) – During a sweltering summer week in the Bedford-Stuyvesant community of Brooklyn, issues of racism come to a head as the black residents clash with bigoted Italians.
6. I am Not Your Negro (2016, Raoul Peck) – Based on the unfinished work by author James Baldwin, “Remember This House,” this documentary discusses the state of race in contemporary America. Directed by Raoul Peck and featuring James Baldwin and Samuel L. Jackson. Now available on Amazon Prime.
7. Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland (2018, Kate Davis) – This documentary gives carefully researched look into the bizarre and maddening arrest and subsequent suspicious death in jail of Black Lives Matter activist Sandra Bland.
8. Selma (2014, Ava DuVernay) – Before there were Black Lives Matter and the current wave of righteous race protests, there was the Civil Rights Movement and the fight for black voter rights. This movie explores the campaign spearheaded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to secure equal voting rights via what became a dangerous and iconic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. Now available on Amazon Prime
9. Seven Seconds (2018, Veena Sud) – This vibrant Netflix mini-series is hard to watch because of the rage-inducing characters and scenes, but even harder to look away from because of the issues explored and the taut performances by a fantastic ensemble cast. An outer borough neighborhood is shaken to its core when a young black teen is critically injured by white cops. The case is officially investigated by a troubled black prosecutor battling her own demons, but unofficially investigated by the victim’s angry and suffering mother.
10. When They See Us (2019, Ava DuVernay) – An accurately fictionalized depiction of the arrest and conviction of five young men falsely accused of raping a white woman in Central Park in 1989. Made into a limited mini-series for Netflix by writer/director Ava DuVernay recreates the over 20 year time period in which the accused- mostly teens and pre-teens at the time- were arrested, coerced into confessions, convicted and spent many years in jail before being exonerated. The examination of the young men that came to be known as “the Central Park five,” going through the system that beat them up and let them down, is riveting and heart wrenching. Every member of this cast gives a stellar performance, leaving audiences with a portrayal that will haunt long after the final scenes.
Yama Rahimi is a correspondent for Ioncenima magazine. Although he watches and reviews many types of films, personally and professionally, he believes films with focus on social issues have particular significance in the cinematic world.
“Movies are a great way to get personal perspective and take you on an emotional journey. The best way to understand other points of view is to watch a movie on a topic such as social injustice.” He further describes how many of the films comprised of this list resonated with him personally. “While I was familiar with some of issues in the films above, they gave a better perspective and information that I wasn’t aware. Each film affected me profoundly and gave me empathy that I wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Some may call it fanning the fire, some may say it’s soothing the soul. I believe it’s art responding to relevant issues of our times, be it the Civil Rights marches of the 60s, the protests against the Vietnam War, the fight for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, or police brutality against a race of people or peaceful protesters. As such, these films- some features, some documentaries- inspire and educate. While StayingAtHome, you may want to take a break from the news and take advantage of streaming platforms giving a platform to concerns of race, identity and other pressing issues.