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Coded Bias - Netflix
Just Mercy (2019)
In this powerful legal drama (and true story), Michael B. Jordan plays Bryan Stevenson, a real lawyer who worked tirelessly to get death row inmate, Walter McMillian (played by Jamie Foxx) off for a murder he didn’t commit. Just Mercy’s story may take place in 1989, but its events still ring true today. At times frustrating to watch given everything Walter McMillian had to go through, Just Mercy is a textbook study on how the criminal justice system is flawed, and how we still have a ways to go before we can have true equality for everyone.
The Hate U Give (2018)
Based on the novel of the same name by Angie Thomas and directed by George Tillman Jr., The Hate U Give (Or THUG, which is a term some people like to attribute to African Americans after they’ve been murdered as a justification for said murder) is about a girl named Starr Carter (played by Amandla Stenberg) who witnesses the death of her friend at the hands of a cop. Her journey is a mostly internal one, with this question hanging at the center of it—Should she remain silent about what she saw, or should she testify and potentially get slandered herself? The story is unfortunately highly relevant today given recent events with the police.
You can stream The Hate U Give on Max Go.
In this unique approach to a biopic from director Ava DuVernay, Selma chronicles a groundswell effort by Dr. King (played by David Oyelowo) and many others as they fight to make it easier for blacks to vote in Selma, Alabama. Many sacrifice their safety as they walk together, arm-in-arm, from Selma to Montgomery, and the film makes a point to show how politics played a large role in shaping the Civil Rights Movement in this country. It’s a great movie to watch right now, especially given these recent protests, since it shows that the fight for freedom doesn’t belong to one race or ethnic group, but to all of us. We’re much stronger when we march together.
You can rent Selma on Amazon Prime.
If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)
Based on the James Baldwin novel of the same name and directed by Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk is the story of two lovers named Clementine “Tish” Rivers (played by Kiki Layne) and Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt (played by Stephan James). Alonzo is in jail for a crime he didn’t commit, and Tish is pregnant with his child. Tish wants to get Alonzo free so he can see the birth of their child, but she faces hurdles along the way. If Beale Street Could Talk is relevant today, even though it takes place in the 70s, since Fonny is wrongly convicted, and racism definitely plays a part in that conviction.
You can stream If Beale Street Could Talk on Hulu.
Fruitvale Station (2013)
Another film starring Michael B. Jordan, this one directed by Black Panther’s, Ryan Coogler, Fruitvale Station is a tough film to watch, especially if you’re already aware of the events in question. This film, based on a true story, chronicles the short life of Oscar Grant, a young man killed by a police officer at Fruitvale Station in San Francisco. The movie is hard to stomach since it gives Oscar's life as a character, only to show him have his life snuffed out unjustly.
You can stream Fruitvale Station on Tubi.
Do the Right Thing (1989)
Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture back when it came out in 1989. Today, it would probably win the top prize. It takes place in a single, simmering day in a Brooklyn neighborhood and showcases the racial tension that exists within it. The story also deals with gentrification, making it almost like a time capsule for the Brooklyn we have today. The film is relevant for many reasons, but mostly because of its brutal ending, which also concerns a police officer using excessive violence against a person of color. Rest in peace, George Floyd.
You can rent Do the Right Thing on Amazon Prime.
12 Years a Slave (2013)
This 2013 film won the Academy Award for Best Picture and a Best Supporting Actress Award for Lupita Nyong’o. 12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen, tells the true story of Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free man who was captured and sold into captivity for 12 years, as the title suggests. It’s a gruesome film to watch as it fully details the harsh realities of slavery, and by the end of it, you don’t feel any sort of catharsis or happiness. Just depression. The movie is still relevant since many will tell you that the events of slavery still impact African Americans today. Watch it for historical purposes, not for enjoyment.
You can rent 12 Years a Slave on Amazon Prime.
I Am Not Your Negro (2016)
Another film based off of James Baldwin’s writings (this one on his unfinished memoir, Remember This House), I Am Not Your Negro is a documentary directed by Haitian filmmaker, Raoul Peck, that attempts to finish the memoir and connect it to today’s events, such as the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, it goes over Baldwin’s personal thoughts on his contemporaries, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers, all of whom were assassinated. The documentary is relevant today, as it’s important to often look to the past in order to possibly understand the future.
You can rent I Am Not Your Negro on Amazon Prime.
The Learning Tree (1969)
In this period piece directed by Gordon Parks, The Learning Tree follows a black teenager named Newt Winger (played by Kyle Johnson) who has to grow up quickly following a series of events involving murder and race-blaming. The Learning Tree bares the distinction of being the first film directed by an African-American for a major studio, and it deals with issues that many young, African American males still have to confront today, such as whether or not we can trust that the legal system will do the right thing if we come forward to report a crime.
You can rent The Learning Tree on Amazon Prime.
Ken Burns: The Central Park Five (2012)
This is the true story of five Black and Latino teenagers who were wrongly accused of raping a jogger in Central Park. At the time of this film’s release, it was the first time the teenagers’ side of the story was shown. There is also a series on Netflix called When They See Us centered around the events that are very difficult to watch for the first time. Mere weeks ago (in Central Park, no less), a black bird watcher who wanted a woman to leash her dog had the cops called on him, and she used his race as a weapon against him. So despite the events of the Central Park Five happening over three decades ago, race is still being weaponized. Thankfully, films like this make the victims visible.
This depressing documentary by Ava DuVernay that gets its title from the 13th Amendment, which ended slavery, goes into how Blacks in this country are overwhelmingly pushed into the prison system. It posits that slavery is actually still ongoing, but it's just been given a different name—incarceration.
Another Barry Jenkins movie, Moonlight won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and also netted Mahershala Ali an Academy Award, making him the first Muslim to win an acting Oscar. Moonlight is a very special movie since it tackles homosexuality, which is unfortunately still somewhat taboo in the African American community. The film took a brave approach, and was thankfully rewarded for it.
You can stream Moonlight on Netflix.
More Releases . . .
- Brett Fuller: Lessons from the Past, Vision for the Future
- The Truth About the Confederacy in the United States
- Malcolm X
- Free At Last?: The Gospel in the African American Experience (Carl F. Ellis, Jr.)
- Let Justice Roll Down (John M. Perkins)
- Roadmap to Reconciliation 2.0 (Brenda Salter McNeil)
- Parting The Waters (Taylor Branch)
- Before The Mayflower (Lerone Bennett)
- Divided by Faith (Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith)
- Beyond Racial Gridlock (George Yancey)
- Better Together: Crossing the Divide in South Africa (Roger Pearce)
- Just Mercy (Brian Stevenson)
- How to Be an Antiracist (Ibram X. Kendi)
- The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy (Nicholas Lemann)
- Why Teaching Through Crisis Requires a Radical New Mindset (Sharon M. Ravitch)
- I Came as a Shadow (John Thompson, Jr.)
- Overcoming: Lessons in Triumphing over Adversity and the Power of Our Common Humanity (Dr. Augustus White)