As a fan of books, movies, and TV, when something happens in the world or my life I look to pop culture to either reflect the experience or inspire. Or I look to pop culture to completely distract me. I’ve already talked about distracting or lighter pop culture and books I’ve read to soothe. Now, this week as the United States moves further into its problems with race (following the death of George Floyd), I’m realizing the pop culture I have consumed hasn’t really helped to inform me about other races. And I would say that’s both my fault for not seeking out pop culture that informs me on race, and it’s the fault of pop culture for not being an adequate representation of race.
As the United States (and elsewhere) continues to be in turmoil surrounding issues of race, streaming services and other services are offering several movies for free that deal with issues of race. I am going to take this opportunity to watch some of these movies. In this blog post, I list and discuss some movies that deal with issues surrounding race. I planned to cover books and TV as well, but I will do separate posts at a later date about those in order to do them justice.
Movies about race to watch
These movies are offered for free through my cable provider (Spectrum) and they are also offered for free for a month on the other services I list. They may be available on other platforms but I only list the free ones.
Just Mercy (2019): “It tells the true story of Walter McMillian, who, with the help of young defense attorney Bryan Stevenson, appeals his murder conviction. The film is based on the memoir of the same name, written by Stevenson.” – Summary from the Wikipedia entry. Available to watch (for free this month): Cable (Spectrum), YouTube, Google Play, Amazon Prime, iTunes (Rent).
Selma (2014): “It 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.” –Summary from Wikipedia entry. Available to watch (for free this month): Cable (Spectrum), YouTube, Google Play, Amazon Prime, iTunes (Rent).
Hidden Figures (2016): “It is loosely based on the 2016 non-fiction book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly about black female mathematicians who worked at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) during the Space Race.” –Summary from Wikipedia entry. Available to watch (for free this month): Cable (Spectrum), Google Play, Amazon Prime, iTunes (Rent).
For Ahkeem (2017): Documentary feature. “The film centers on 17-year-old Daje and her boyfriend, Antonio. It shows a series of events that take place in Daje’s life, including her being forced to switch to an alternative school for fighting in school and the birth of her son.” – From Wikipedia entry. Available to watch (for free this month): Cable (Spectrum), Amazon Prime, Tubi, Vudu, Pluto TV.
Out of Omaha (2018): “Follows twin black brothers as they come of age in racially divided Omaha, Nebraska. The film examines what it takes to overcome systemic injustice.” – From IMdB synopsis. Available to watch (for free this month): Cable (Spectrum), Amazon Prime.
The Rape of Recy Taylor (2017): Documentary feature. “Recy Taylor, a 24-year-old black mother, and sharecropper, was gang-raped by six white boys in 1944 Alabama. Common in Jim Crow South, few women spoke up in fear for their lives. Not Recy Taylor, who bravely identified her rapists. The NAACP sent its chief rape investigator Rosa Parks, who rallied support and triggered an unprecedented outcry for justice.” –From www.therapeofrecytaylor.com Available to watch (for free this month): Cable (Spectrum), Amazon Prime.
A Huey P. Newton Story (2011): “American film adaptation directed by Spike Lee. The movie was created, written and performed, as a solo performance, by Roger Guenveur Smith at The Joseph Papp Public Theater. In this performance, Smith creates a representation of the activist Huey P. Newton‘s life and time as a person, a citizen and an activist.” -From Wikipedia entry. Available to watch (for free this month): Cable (Spectrum), Amazon Prime.
Antwone Fisher (2002): “American biographical drama film directed by and starring Denzel Washington in his feature film directorial debut. He also stars in the film as the psychiatrist Jerome Davenport, alongside Derek Luke. Based on a true story.” –From Wikipedia entry. Available to watch (for free this month): Cable (Spectrum), Amazon Prime, Google Play.
Scandalize My Name (1998): Documentary “A documentary look at the confluence of the Red scare, McCarthyism, and blacklists with the post-war activism by African Americans seeking more and better roles on radio, television, and stage.”-From IMdB Available to watch (for free this month): Cable (Spectrum), Amazon Prime.
Black Panther (2019): “2018 American superhero film based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. Produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, it is the 18th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).” –From Wikipedia entry. Available to watch (for free this month): Cable (Spectrum).
The Hate U Give (2018): “American drama film… based on the 2017 young adult novel of the same name by Angie Thomas. The film follows the fallout after a high school student witnesses a police shooting.” – From Wikipedia entry. Available to watch (for free this month): Amazon Prime.
Brian Banks (2018): “American biographical drama film… about a high school football linebacker who was falsely accused of rape and upon his release attempted to fulfill his dream of making the National Football League (NFL).” –From Wikipedia entry. Available to watch (for free this month): Amazon Prime, iTunes (Rent).
13th (2016): Documentary “American documentary by director Ava DuVernay. The film explores the “intersection of race, justice, and mass incarceration in the United States;” it is titled after the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted in 1865, which abolished slavery throughout the United States and ended involuntary servitude except as a punishment for conviction of a crime.” – From the Wikipedia entry. Available to watch on Netflix (with subscription).
Netflix also has curated a collection of movies, documentaries and television in a collection they are calling “Black Lives Matter.” It includes “Becoming” (behind the scenes of Michelle Obama’s book tour), “Self Made,” “13th,” “Dear White People,” “Pose,” “When They See Us,” “Moonlight” and more. I was hoping they would do something like this.
PBS also produced a special called “ `Race Matters: America in Crisis, ’ a PBS NewsHour Special.” It aired on June 3rd and is now available to stream on their website or app.
Check your preferred viewing/streaming option because quite a few are offering films about black Americans. What I listed above is what came up when I first searched my cable and preferred streaming services.
Oprah Winfrey is also airing a TV special on her network, OWN, airing Tuesday (today) and Wednesday at 9/8 CST called “Where Do We Go From Here?” It will be a discussion about the “current state of affairs in the US with leading figures in the Black community.” (Note: it’s not just on the OWN network. This special airs on the Discovery Network channels [HGTV, FOOD Network, etc.]).
Here’s an Entertainment Weekly article listing just how late night shows are approaching the recent turmoil. It’s telling that the late night hosts had to either interview guests or members of their show who are black since late night tends to still be dominated by white males. I recommend watching this video of the incredibly eloquent and intelligent Trevor Noah (host of “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central). Noah also did another feature discussing police brutality. And he continues to produce really fantastic content on race as the discussion of racial struggles continues here in the United States. Basically, I have become a Trevor Noah fan because of the content he’s producing in the wake of COVID-19 and now the race riots.
Honestly, I feel this list and movies on race and the black experience is pretty minuscule. In 2020, we should be further along in race relations. And a list like this should be unnecessary because just saying “the black experience” separates people by race when movies should just be about people of any race, gender, or sexual orientation. That’s naive of me to think a completely nonjudgmental movie system will come into existence. I can hope but we certainly have a long ways to go.