Weekend Movie Takeaway: Films You Can View to Learn and Engage
June 12, 2020
In the weeks following George Floyd's murder at the hands of the Minneapolis police, the United States has been taking a long overdue look at the systemic racism at its core. Although screen narrative is obviously not at the center of the discussion, it’s role is undeniable, as America has often articulated its perception of itself through the movies it makes.
In addition to the massive swell of on-the-ground activism, a lot of online discussion emerged about how Black filmmakers and Black stories need to play a larger role in America's popular culture.
Many public-facing media corporations have responded to the movement by posting messages of solidarity on social media, but some have also taken action by offering easier access to existing Black stories and films that highlight the social justice issues the Black Lives Matter movement stands for.
For example, Warner Bros. made their 2019 film Just Mercy available to stream for free across multiple platforms for the month of June.
The film stars Michael B. Jordan (an actor who has fronted up to protests as a civil rights lawyer attempting to free a wrongly convicted African American prisoner (played by Jamie Foxx) from death row in late '80s Alabama in this true story.
On other end of the spectrum, David Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King, Jr. in Ava DuVernay's 2014 film Selma, recently spoke about how the cast's decision to wear “I Can't Breathe” T-shirts to the film's premiere following Eric Garner’s murder by a police officer in July 2014 cost the film its chances at Oscar® glory.
That controversy speaks to the role Hollywood gatekeepers have played in ignoring or indeed suppressing storytellers that seek to highlight social injustice. DuVernay announced several days ago that Paramount is now offering Selma to stream for free during the month of June, as well.
Many people have been hailing DuVernay's 2016 documentary 13th,, which detailed slavery's tangible modern legacy, as essential viewing for anyone who wants to consider themselves an ally to the cause. Netflix subsequently made the entire movie available to view for anyone on their YouTube channel.
DuVernay's acclaimed 2019 mini-series When They See Us is also being widely cited as key viewing. It tells the story of the five young Black men who were falsely accused of rape and assault in the 1989 Central Park jogger case and treated abominably by law enforcement.
Magnolia Pictures also made I Am Not Your Negro, the documentary about influential civil rights activist James Baldwin, available to stream for free in June.
Meanwhile, prestige streaming service The Criterion Collection has made a raft of films by Black filmmakers streamable for free on their service.
And there are heaps of relevant recommendations going around, like this Letterboxd list highlighting films by Black filmmakers and/or about Black communities
Movies aren't the solution to this problem, but filmed narrative can be a powerful force in challenging or calcifying attitudes about race, and the examples platformed by these gestures are as good a place to start as any to learn and engage.
Written by: Dominic CorryDominic Corry is a Los Angeles-based film critic, writer, journalist and broadcaster. Raised in New Zealand, he is also the West Coast editor of Letterboxd, the social network for movie lovers. For more of his film writing, see his website www.TheGoodInMovies.com