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Ten Important Black Films to Support Right Now

Black Films to Support
Clay Banks

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Ten Important Black Films to Support Right Now

If we’re saying Black Lives Matter, we’re saying Black stories matter too.

Recently it was revealed that during several days of Black Lives Matter protests, viewership of The Help on Netflix skyrocketed. While not a bad film, The Help has been criticized for perpetuating the “White Savior” trope because it focused on Emma Stone’s character while relegating Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer’s characters to supporting roles. Viola Davis has even stated that she regrets being associated with the film. In The Help, “it wasn’t the voices of the maids that were heard,” she said in 2018.

Many film critics believe that there are more urgent films made by Black filmmakers to support right now (The Help is written and directed by a White man, Tate Taylor, and the book it was based on was written by a White woman).

These films include, in no particular order:

Selma, dir. Ava DuVernay, 2014

Selma focuses on a single chapter of Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights advocacy, but a nonetheless powerful one: his march from Selma, AL to Montgomery, AL to secure voting rights. In a time when people cherry-pick images and quotes from the great civil rights leader to serve their own purposes, director Ava DuVernay tells King’s story honestly. A must-see for anyone who wants to understand the man behind the icon.

Rent for free on Google Play and Amazon Prime

Malcolm X, dir. Spike Lee, 1992

Unlike Selma, Malcolm X deals with the eponymous civil rights leader’s entire life, from his rough childhood to his criminal background and incarceration to his rise and fallout with the Nation of Islam. While the movie tells the story of Malcolm X and takes place in the 1930s through the 1960s, Spike Lee draws overt parallels between the events of the movie and the context in which it was released: the LA riots following the police beating of Rodney King.

Streaming on Netflix

Get Out, dir. Jordan Peele, 2017

Jordan Peele rose to prominence as a comedian through sketch shows Mad TV and Key and Peele. He shocked the world when he released the horror film Get Out, which is a timely and chilling satire of the racism present in elite White progressives. While the film doesn’t blatantly deal with police brutality, a key moment towards the end of the film makes the viewer realize that the optics of a situation can be just as deadly to Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) as any killer.

Rent on Google Play or Amazon Prime for $3.99

Do The Right Thing, dir. Spike Lee, 1989

At the time of its release, Do The Right Thing was denounced as a catalyst for racial riots. But over 30 years later, it’s now lauded for its honest portrayal of racism in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn. Spike Lee’s confrontational filmmaking style, once seen as a Hollywood liability, is now his trademark. Spike Lee plays Mookie, a Black pizza delivery driver who stands by his friend Buggin’ Out (Giancarlo Esposito) when Buggin’ Out confronts Sal (Danny Aiello), Mookie’s White boss, for having an all-Italian “Wall of Fame” in his pizza restaurant situated in a Black neighborhood.

Rent on Google Play or Amazon Prime for $3.99

Fruitvale Station, dir. Ryan Coogler, 2013

Longtime collaborators Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan first worked together on Fruitvale Station, which tells the true story of Oscar Grant III in the final hours of his life. Michael B. Jordan and Ryan Coogler show us a nuanced portrait of a young man trying to turn his life around, who became one of the first victims of police brutality that was exposed by bystanders’ personal cell phone footage. That said, Coogler and Jordan, who plays Grant, argue that Grant had an entire life before his untimely death, and that matters.

Streaming free on Tubi or rent on Google Play or Amazon Prime for $3.99

Just Mercy, based on the memoir written by Bryan Stevenson, 2019

While not directed or written by Black people, Just Mercy has shown up on many must-watch lists for its wrongful-conviction relevance. Based on Bryan Stevenson’s memoir of the same name, Just Mercy follows Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), an idealistic young recent Harvard law graduate who wants to help those who are wrongfully convicted. He travels to Alabama and meets death row inmate Walter “Johnny D.” McMillan (Jamie Foxx). After looking into his case, Stevenson discovers that McMillan may have been coerced to confess to the murder of a White woman, and then fights for justice on his behalf.

Rent for free on Google Play and Amazon Prime

American Son, dir. Kenny Leon, 2019

Kerry Washington reprises her role in the Broadway play of the same name as Kendra, a mother who faces racial bias when she goes to the police for help to find her missing son. When her ex-husband Scott (Steven Pasquale) who works for the FBI, shows up, lengthy and emotionally fraught but important discussions about race and law enforcement take place. Nearly everyone who worked on the Broadway play reprises their role, including playwright Christopher Demos-Brown.

Streaming on Netflix

13th, dir. Ava DuVernay, 2016

The lone documentary on this list, 13th is named after the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery except as punishment for a crime. DuVernay examines the prison industrial complex, the war on drugs which heavily affects minority populations, and how it all came to be during Reconstruction and Jim Crow laws. By following the money and the strategy of politicians who claimed to be “tough on crime,” she uncovers a vast network of people who are interested in keeping prisons full for their own benefit.

Streaming on Netflix

If Beale Street Could Talk, dir. Barry Jenkins, 2018

Based on James Badwin’s novel of the same name, If Beale Street Could Talk centers on Fonny (Stephan James), who is falsely convicted of rape, and Tish (KiKi Layne), who is deeply in love with Fonny and pregnant with his child. As he did in Moonlight, in If Beale Street Could Talk Barry Jenkins portrays human relationships that have been through a lot of hardship with compassion and, in spite of everything, hope.

Streaming on Hulu

The Hate U Give, dir. George Tillman, Jr., 2018

Based on the best-selling young adult novel by Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give takes a ripped-from-the-headlines premise and adds complicating perspectives that give the story depth. Starr Jackson (Amandla Stenberg) is an honor student at a mostly-White private school, but she still hangs out with her friends from her mostly-Black neighborhood. When Starr witnesses her friend’s death by a policeman’s hand, she runs into a lot of different deep-seated perspectives from her former Black Panther father, her friends at school, her boyfriend, and her cop uncle.

Streaming on Hulu

Honorable mentions include When They See Us by Ava DuVernay, a TV miniseries about the wrongful accusation of the Central Park Five, and BlacKkKlansman, a Spike Lee joint telling the true story of Colorado Springs cop Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. Now is not the time to watch The Green Book, Driving Miss Daisy, The Blind Side, or The Help. If we’re saying Black Lives Matter, we’re saying Black stories matter too.

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