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Best movies and series for understanding racial injustice

Best movies and series for understanding racial injustice

Best movies and series for understanding racial injustice
June 25
11:51 2020

Last week I touched on some of the best resources for understanding racial injustice in books and documentaries. But movies and TV shows can be just as eye-opening as their non-fiction counterparts, offering both factual and historical context through a Black perspective. It’s through these stories, which offer more of the intimate and emotional details of the Black experience, that us non-Black folk can learn more about racism.

Just Mercy” (2020)

You’ll notice a lot of these movies are based on true stories. In this case, “Just Mercy” follows civil defense attorney Bryan Stevenson (who was also mentioned in last week’s article for his “True Justice” documentary), played by Michael B. Jordan, as he fights to free the wrongfully-imprisoned Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx) sitting on death row. It’s a moving story about how the criminal justice system fails Black men and chronicles the start of Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative, which has saved 135 inmates from death row. It’s an eye-opening watch for those who think racism and injustice is in the past, as this case is not that old — Bryan Stevenson is alive, and he’s definitely not ancient.

Do the Right Thing” (1989)

Of course Spike Lee had to make it on this list. Lee directs and stars in the classic “Do the Right Thing” which depicts race relations both between Black people and police officers and within the Brooklyn community. As tensions boil over, violence ensues in a way we know to be all-too familiar. As the oldest movie on this list, it’s still wildly applicable today for its depiction of police brutality and racism within white communities (in this case, Italian and Korean communities).

BlacKkKlansman” (2018)

One of Lee’s more recent films, “BlacKkKlansman” is a thrilling and comedic crime movie based on the life of Ron Stallworth, Colorado Springs Police Department’s first Black officer, who was hired in 1978 (again, not even remotely that long ago). Stallworth, played by John David Washington, navigates the racist police force while working with fellow officer Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) to infiltrate the operations of KKK Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace). Lee’s representation of police here is especially important because it addresses the whole “not all cops are bad” rebuttal, mainly through the lens of Stallworth (who seems to believe he can fix the corruption from the inside of the system) and the pushback he receives from his Black activist friends (who understand there is no fixing a system designed to oppress people of color). Next time your relative tries to tell you racism is over, tell them the Grand Wizard of the KKK is still alive.

The Banker” (2020)

I wanted to include this film because it has nothing to do with the police — racism permeates more than just law enforcement. Inspired by a true story from the 1960s, “The Banker” follows aspiring businessmen Bernard Garrett (Anthony Mackie) and Joe Morris (Samuel L. Jackson) who move from real estate to banking to help fight the racial inequality of loan offerings. Being hindered in one’s professional career because of one’s race is still a prominent obstacle for Black people today, as individuals with Black-sounding names are less likely to receive an interview and only 3.2% of CEOs are Black.

When They See Us” (2019)

This grueling four-part limited series follows the devastating true story of the Central Park Five and is directed by Ava DuVernay of “13th.” In 1989, five teenagers — four Black and one Latino — from Harlem, New York, were put into police custody for the rape of a white jogger in Central Park. After seven hours of torturous interviews, false promises of freedom and confessions forced by the police, the five kids were tried and found guilty on several charges. Four of the teens spent eight years in prison, while Korey Wise, old enough to be tried as an adult, was locked up for 13. In 2002, the real criminal (with matching DNA evidence) came forward, and “When They See Us” shows us the heartbreaking details of their unjust incarceration.

Honorable Mentions

Sadly, I can’t break down every amazing movie to watch in a reasonably-lengthed article. After making your way through these five, be sure to check out “If Beale Street Could Talk” (2018), “Get Out” (2017), “Dear White People” (2017-), “Black-ish” (2014-), “Malcom X” (1992), “The Hate U Give” (2018), “Fruitville Station” (2013) and “Da 5 Bloods” (2020).

Featured image: Courtesy Warner Bros.

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Haley Arnold

Haley Arnold

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