As conversations about systemic racism and a need for mass societal reform continue in the wake of George Floyd’s death, Hofstra University Library has partnered with the Center for "Race," Culture & Social Justice to suggest these films and documentaries that may help guide the broader education process.
The oldest known surviving film made by an African-American director, Oscar Micheaux’s silent film “Within Our Gates,” was a noteworthy response to D.W. Griffith’s racist “The Birth of a Nation.” Micheaux’s landmark film provided a rebuttal to Griffith’s depiction of black violence and corruption, with a story of the injustices faced by African Americans. Preserved by Library of Congress Motion Picture Conservation Center
The Battle of Algiers (Criterion Collection, 1966)
Considerably more controversial in its day, “The Battle of Algiers” reconstructs events that occurred during the Algerian war of independence from French colonists in the late 1950s. Recalling its rallying cry — “It’s difficult to start a revolution… even more difficult to sustain one… and still more difficult to win one” — it’s a seminal work of cinema that still very much resonates today, with visceral thrills galore — due, in large part, to director Gillo Pontecorvo’s realistic representation of the real-life scenarios the film is based on, through a distinct grainy newsreel-like cinematography, the use of real locations, and observance of factual information. Embraced by leftist groups like the Black Panthers, it’s certainly timely in light of uprisings that have been taking place around the world in recent days.
Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Movement 1954-1985 (PBS, 1986)
Produced by Blackside, Eyes on the Prize tells the definitive story of the civil rights era from the point of view of the ordinary men and women whose extraordinary actions launched a movement that changed the fabric of American life, and embodied a struggle whose reverberations continue to be felt today. Winner of numerous awards, Eyes on the Prize is the most critically acclaimed documentary on civil rights in America.
Tongues untied (California Newsreel, 1989)
Marlon Riggs' essay film gives voice to communities of black gay men, presenting their cultures and perspectives on the world as they confront racism, homophobia, and marginalization. The film was embraced by black gay audiences for its authentic representation of style, and culture, as well its fierce response to oppression. Tongues Untied has been lauded by critics for its vision and its bold aesthetic advances, and vilified by anti-gay forces who used it to condemn government funding of the arts.
Do the right thing (Spike Lee, 1989)
The hottest day of the year explodes onscreen in this vibrant look at a day in the life of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. A portrait of urban racial tensions sparked controversy while earning popular and critical praise.
Black is ... Black Ain’t (California Newsreel, 1995)
In this documentary, acclaimed filmmaker Marlon Riggs explores the diversity of African American lifestyles and cultural expressions, even as many speakers bare their pain at having been called too black, or conversely, not black enough. Riggs brings viewers face-to-face with African-Americans young and old, rich and poor, rural and urban, gay and straight, while offering a powerful critique of sexism, homophobia, and colorism within the black community. Includes performances by choreographer Bill T. Jones and poet Essex Hemphill and commentary from noted cultural critics Angela Davis, bell hooks, Cornel West, and others.
The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (PBS, 2013)
Written and presented by Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., director of W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University, this six-hour series explores the evolution of the African-American people, as well as the multiplicity of cultural institutions, political strategies, and religious and social perspectives they developed - forging their own history, culture and society against unimaginable odds. Commencing with the origins of slavery in Africa, the series moves through five centuries of remarkable historic events. By highlighting the tragedies, triumphs and contradictions of the black experience, the series reveals to viewers that the African-American community has never been a uniform entity, and that its members have been actively debating their differences from their first days in this country.
Black America since MLK: “And still I rise” (PBS, 2016)
In this 4 part series, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. embarks on a deeply personal journey through the last fifty years of African American history. Joined by leading scholars, celebrities, and a dynamic cast of people who shaped these years, Gates travels from the victories of the civil rights movement up to today, asking profound questions about the state of black America—and our nation as a whole.
I am not your negro (Raoul Peck, 2017)
I am not your Negro' is an examination of racism in America through the lens of James Baldwin's unfinished book, 'Remember this house.' Intended as an account of the lives of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr., each of whom James Baldwin personally knew, only a 30-page manuscript of the book was ever completed. Combining Baldwin's manuscript with footage of depictions of African-Americans throughout American history, 'I am not your Negro' uses Baldwin's words to illuminate the pervasiveness of American racism and the efforts to curtail it, from the civil rights movement to #BlackLivesMatter.
True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality (HBO Films, 2019)
This feature documentary follows Bryan Stevenson - lawyer and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative - through his experiences as a capital defense attorney and advocate for community-based reform. Interweaving watershed moments from Stevenson's cases with insights from his clients, colleagues and members of his family, the film focuses on Stevenson's life and career - particularly his indictment of the U.S. criminal-justice system for its role in codifying modern systemic racism - and tracks the intertwined histories of slavery, lynching, segregation and mass incarceration. Offering intimate access to Stevenson as he reflects on the transformative moments in his career, the film chronicles his work in Alabama, the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement and home to the Equal Justice Initiative, as well as the early influences that drove him to become an advocate for the poor and the incarcerated. Illuminating the power of memory in cultural change, True Justice instills hope of a brighter American future through the insights of this remarkable pioneer.
John Lewis: Good Trouble (ro*co films, 2020)
An intimate account of legendary U.S. Representative John Lewis’ life, legacy and more than 60 years of extraordinary activism. After Lewis petitioned Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to help integrate a segregated school in his hometown of Troy, Alabama, King sent “the boy from Troy” a round trip bus ticket to meet with him. From that meeting onward, Lewis became one of King’s closest allies. He organized Freedom Rides that left him bloodied or jailed, and stood at the front lines in the historic marches on Washington and Selma. He never lost the spirit of the “boy from Troy” and called on his fellow Americans to get into “good trouble” until his passing on July 17, 2020.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is remembered as an American hero: a bridge-builder, a shrewd political tactician, and a moral leader. Yet throughout his history-altering political career, he was often treated by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies like an enemy of the state. In this virtuosic film, award-winning editor, and director Sam Pollard lays out a detailed account of the FBI surveillance that dogged King's activism throughout the '50s and '60s, fueled by the racist and red-baiting paranoia of J. Edgar Hoover. In crafting a rich archival tapestry, featuring some revelatory restored footage of King, Pollard urges us to remember that true American progress is always hard-won.
Who we are - a chronicle of racism in America (Sony Pictures Classics, 2021)
Interweaving lecture, personal anecdotes, interviews, and shocking revelations, in WHO WE ARE — A Chronicle of Racism in America, criminal defense/civil rights lawyer Jeffery Robinson draws a stark timeline of anti-Black racism in the United States, from slavery to the modern myth of a post-racial America.
Filmmaker Ava DuVernay explores the history of racial inequality in the United States, focusing on the fact that the nation's prisons are disproportionately filled with African-Americans.
When They See Us, Ava DuVernay (2019)
When They See Us is a 2019 American tragedy web television miniseries created, co-written, and directed by Ava DuVernay for Netflix, that premiered in four parts on May 31, 2019. It is based on events of the 1989 Central Park jogger case and explores the lives and families of the five male suspects who were falsely accused then prosecuted on charges related to the rape and assault of a woman in Central Park, New York City.
Selma, a historical drama directed by Ava DuVernay and written by Paul Webb, is based on the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches initiated and directed by James Bevel and led by Martin Luther King Jr., Hosea Williams, and John Lewis.
Just Mercy, Destin Daniel Cretton (2019)
After graduating from Harvard, Bryan Stevenson heads to Alabama to defend those wrongly condemned or those not afforded proper representation. One of his first cases is that of Walter McMillian, who is sentenced to die in 1987 for the murder of an 18-year-old girl, despite evidence proving his innocence. In the years that follow, Stevenson encounters racism and legal and political maneuverings as he tirelessly fights for McMillian's life.
If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins (2018)
In early 1970s Harlem, daughter and wife-to-be Tish vividly recalls the passion, respect and trust that have connected her and her artist fiancé Alonzo Hunt, who goes by the nickname Fonny. Friends since childhood, the devoted couple dream of a future together, but their plans are derailed when Fonny is arrested for a crime he did not commit.
Fruitvale Station, Ryan Coogler (2013)
Though he once spent time in San Quentin, 22-year-old black man Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) is now trying hard to live a clean life and support his girlfriend (Melonie Diaz) and young daughter (Ariana Neal). Flashbacks reveal the last day in Oscar's life, in which he accompanied his family and friends to San Francisco to watch fireworks on New Year's Eve, and, on the way back home, became swept up in an altercation with police that ended in tragedy. Based on a true story.
BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee (2019)
BlacKkKlansman is a 2018 American biographical black comedy crime film directed by Spike Lee and written by Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, and Spike Lee. The film is based on the 2014 memoir Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth. The film stars John David Washington as Stallworth, along with Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, and Topher Grace. Set in the 1970s in Colorado Springs, the plot follows the first African-American detective in the city's police department as he sets out to infiltrate and expose the local Ku Klux Klan chapter.
The Hate U Give, George Tillman, Jr. (2019)
Starr Carter is constantly switching between two worlds -- the poor, mostly black neighborhood where she lives and the wealthy, mostly white prep school that she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is soon shattered when she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend at the hands of a police officer. Facing pressure from all sides of the community, Starr must find her voice and decide to stand up for what's right.
Strong Island, Yance Ford (2017)
William Ford Jr. was shot and killed on April 7, 1992, an incident at the center of the documentary “Strong Island.” Something deep inside his family also died that night, and Yance Ford, one of William’s siblings and the film’s director, explores that loss, exposing a grief that is profound and agonizing. William, an unarmed, black 24-year-old teacher, was slain by Mark Reilly, a 19-year-old white man who was working at an auto body shop on Long Island. Mr. Ford had gone there after a dispute over a repair and confronted Mr. Reilly about an insult that was said to have been made earlier to Mr. Ford’s mother. A grand jury declined to indict Mr. Reilly.
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