Sometimes, reading is just beyond our day’s reach. And other times, a story is best told visually. Importantly, films help paint pictures of the experience of an individual’s truth that we may not otherwise have encountered. In the social justice space, films help take us beyond our every day and can illustrate the systemic roadblocks our society has created to hold back some while unequally advancing others. Below, we are excited to feature a few videos on our must watch racial justice film list.
Central Park Five
This 2012 documentary is about the 1989 Central Park jogger case of five teenage black and Latino boys who were pressured into false confessions and wrongly convicted. The boys spent between six to 13 years in prison before a serial rapist confessed to the crime. The documentary highlights injustice and racism rampant in the court of public opinion, but also in the police, court, and prison systems.
When They See Us
This Netflix four-part miniseries came out in 2019 and humanized the story of the Central Park Five beyond sensationalized systemic racism. The writer and director, Ava DuVernay, was lauded for the incorporation of so many critical perspectives after extensive interviews with individuals who were involved in the case, including the teenage boys.
In 2013 this film captured the outrage of America after witnessing another young black man shot by a white police officer in 2009. The story of Oscar Grant’s last day alive highlights questions around police brutality but also goes deeper into the humanity of Grant, neither a saint nor an individual who deserved to die that day.
This 2020 film follows the story of Bryan Stevenson, Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) founder, whose journey to free the innocent began with the case of Walter McMillian. Sentenced in 1987 to death for the murder of a teenage girl, despite evidence of his innocence. The film, and Stevenson’s lifelong work, addresses the racial inequality in our justice system and challenges mass incarceration. It is particularly meaningful to us after visiting EJI last summer for a few days and meeting Bryan Stevenson at one of the film screenings.
The Hate U Give
Based on the eponymous book (a reading recommendation for Black History Month by Starfish as well!), this drama follows the experience of Starr Carter, a young girl caught between two very different worlds. After Starr witnesses the shooting of her best friend, she experiences a new weight of pressures from both the communities she inhabits – the underprivileged black neighborhood where she lives and the wealthy white community of her prep school. Beyond the compelling story of Starr, the film more powerfully describes the influence of hate.
This 2016 film poignantly describes the systemic failures of our current criminal justice system and draws clear through lines from slavery in the post Jim Crow era we live in. This look at our prison industrial complex clearly shows how black people are disproportionally the target of the system, and invokes a powerful call to action against discrimination and mass incarceration.
Some bonus watches that tell a lighter story with underlying themes of social and racial justice include Hidden Figures, The Help, and the Trevor Noah comedy specials Afraid of the Dark and Son of Patricia.
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