Tuesday, June 2, 2020

20 Essential Films: Understanding #BlackLivesMatter

Here is a list of movies that detail the black experience in America and why a movement like #BlackLivesMatter is necessary. This country was built on slavery and black people, even after supposedly being freed from slavery, have still suffered from oppression to this very day. A lot needs to change before freedom and equality will truly exist. Until then, here's a sort of beginner's guide to being black in America.

Denzel Washington in Malcolm X (1992)
Denzel Washington as Malcolm X in Malcolm X directed by Spike Lee

12 Years a Slave - Directed by Steve McQueen
In some respects, 12 Years a Slave is not an easy movie to watch as the scenes depicting both physical and mental torture are, I'm assuming, very realistically portrayed. - Full Review

Black Panther - Directed by Ryan Coogler
"Can you believe that? A kid from Oakland walking around and believing in fairy tales." That kid became director Ryan Coogler who went on to make what many consider to be one of if not the best entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This movie is so important on so many levels for people of color to see themselves on screen as heroes, as highly intelligent contributors, as families, as communities, as productive citizens, as expressive individuals, and not just as the basic stereotypes that have been ingrained into American culture for decades. - Full Review

BlacKKKlansman - Directed by Spike Lee
BlacKKKlansman is a powerful and necessary movie that mixes in humor to help with the hard to swallow pill that is racism in America. This is basically Spike yelling "Look at all the racism, it still exists" to mainstream America in hopes of bringing awareness and context to what we see from the media every day. - Full Review

Blindspotting - Directed by Carlos López Estrada
Blindspotting is a love letter to Oakland. It is a love letter to the Bay Area. It is a love letter to any neighborhood in the world that has a sense of identity and is in danger of losing it. It is a love letter to music. It is a love letter to hip hop and hip hop culture. It is a love letter to the struggle, the hurt, the pain, the reality, the loss, and the power of powerlessness in the face of oppression and so called progress. It is a love letter to strength, identity, friendship, and the brotherhood shared between two young men who couldn't be any more different yet are exactly the same. - Full Review

Bodied - Directed by Joseph Kahn
Bodied is a movie you need to see. It exists to make you think about reality instead of avoiding it. It will shake up your brain with social commentary that leaves no one untouched. Aside from the heavy hitting message it carries, this is also one of the most entertaining movies I have seen this year, just don't expect the story to be wrapped up in a nice bow and a happy ending. It knows better than to let you off the hook that easily. - Full Review

Boyz N the Hood - Directed by John Singleton
"Either they don't know, don't show, or don't care about what's going on in the hood." Powerful words from Doughboy, played by Ice Cube, about how the media ignores the issues of the inner city. John Singleton's debut feature film was a shock to the system that created a conversation about what life is like for black people in South Central Los Angeles.

Detroit - Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
The story draws its power from the shocking moments of racism and brutality that take place while the three police officers are holding the men and women for questioning and by questioning I mean physical torture, emotional torture, and just about any and every civil rights violation you could ever think of. - Full Review

Do The Right Thing - Directed by Spike Lee
The messages in this movie were glaring and so connected to the time period the movie was released and yet they are still just as relevant today. Why? Ain't a damn thing changed, that's why. The one thing I look at that is absolutely relevant to right now is why Mookie throws the garbage can. The entire movie leads up to this moment and the messaging is some of the most important of Mr. Lee's career.

Fresh Dressed - Directed by Sacha Jenkins
This documentary gives us the fun of hearing from hip hop stars like Kid and Play, Kool Moe Dee, and Run DMC, but we are also taken through the more serious sides of the game like racism, cultural economics, and police brutality. If you grew up loving hip hop music, culture, and fashion, you will love this documentary. - Full Review

Fruitvale Station - Directed by Ryan Coogler
If you pay attention to the news at all, you know the story of Oscar Grant who was killed by an Oakland transit police officer on New Year's Eve. Protesting and riots ensue over what appeared to be a gross act of misconduct that was all caught on video. Fruitvale Station, written and directed by Ryan Coogler, is the story of that young man during the 24 hours leading up to a moment in time that will live in infamy forever. - Full Review

Get Out - Directed by Jordan Peele
The social commentary portion of the film explores some of the underlying nuances of what it's like to be a black man within a culture that does everything it can to exploit and discard you. Peele does a fantastic job with this subject matter and adds a layer of depth to the story that is actually quite thought provoking to go along with the thrills and laughs. - Full Review

Amandla Stenberg in The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give - Directed by George Tillman Jr.
"Hands Up! Don't Shoot!" Based on the powerful novel of the same name, George Tillman Jr. puts the audience right into the middle of a situation that plays out far too often. As the story plays out, Tillman pulls back layer after layer of racism, oppression, and the nuances of racist behavior that is so ingrained in people's lives, they aren't even aware of its existence. A powerful story that has repeated itself for generations. - Full Review

Hidden Figures - Directed by Theodore Melfi
Hidden Figures is an entertaining movie, it is a powerful story, and it is a shining example of what can be accomplished when racial and societal barriers are pushed aside in favor of progress and equality. - Full Review

I Am Not Your Negro - Directed by Raoul Peck
This documentary about James Baldwin is a great way to get to know the man who may not have been as well known as Malcolm, Medgar, or Martin, but had just as much impact on their generation's history and culture. - Full Review

Loving - Directed by Jeff Nichols
The battle for freedom and equality that Richard and Mildred Loving had to endure is one of the more powerful stories to come out of the civil rights movement and Jeff Nichols' retelling is just as powerful and just as essential. He takes great care in letting the audience get to know who the Lovings are as individuals as well as the racially charged environment they have grown up in. - Full Review

Lynch: A History - Directed by David Shields
Director David Shields has taken every aspect of the man known as Beast Mode and pieced together a film through TV and internet clips that shed light on who Marshawn is, what he stands for, and how he has lived his life as a black man in America. Shields shows Marshawn's experience with the media, the people, the politics, and the culture, and he also parallels the man's life with what the black experience in America has been since the formation of the country itself. - Full Review

Malcolm X - Directed by Spike Lee
Spike Lee is one of the most important directors in the history of cinema and this might just be his masterpiece and ultimate statement on being black in America. Chronicling the life of Malcolm X is no small task and Mr. Lee went to great lengths to get this story right. This is also the defining moment of Denzel Washington's career as his performance is impeccable and the only reason he didn't win an Oscar is because the Academy is filled with racist cowards.  The movie is worth a watch just for the speeches alone and each one of them speaks to today just as they did back then.

Moonlight - Directed by Barry Jenkins
Adapted from a story by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight takes Hollywood's, and quite honestly America's, stereotypical version of what it means to be black in this country, turns it upside down, rips it apart, and shocks you with simple, honest reality. This is something you have to see for yourself because it is a very personal experience and not something you get told about. - Full Review

Selma - Directed Ava Duverney
The mid 1960's was a turbulent time indeed and especially when it came to achieving racially equality within the United States of America. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was one of the champions of this cause and his peaceful protests led to accolades like the Nobel Peace Prize and a presence great enough to warrant private meetings with President Lyndon B Johnson. This is an important story to understand because, as the current protests are happening and unfortunate violence at times takes over the media narrative, misguided people are pointing to Dr King as a man who only got results through peaceful protest.

They are trying to tell black people who Dr Martin Luther King, Jr is through quotes and memes and they don't understand how horribly wrong of a thing that is to do. Dr King was beaten, threatened, hated, ridiculed, and eventually murdered for his beliefs. He was perfectly fine with violent protest because sometimes that is what is needed to get people's attention. After Dr King was assassinated, there were six days of riots in over 100 cities across the nation and only that level of activity is what led the powers that be to approve the Civil Rights Act. - Full Review

Straight Outta Compton - Directed by F. Gary Gray
Gray doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the racism, violence, police brutality, and discrimination that ruled south central L.A. during the same era as the Rodney King beating and subsequent riots. We see reporters assuming the members of the group are weak minded kids and they quickly shrink into the background when they realize just how wrong they are. On the other side of that coin, we see how police officers refuse to back down and force their will, often violently, for no reason other than because they can. Through all of this, Gray keeps the group centered in an us-against-the-world mentality and uses that strength, even when the group eventually falls apart, to show just how determined they were to change their situation no matter what the cost. - Full Review

David Oyewolo as Dr Martin Luther King Jr in Selma directed by Ava Devurnay

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