BLACK STORIES MATTER! To understand the depth of the injustice experienced by our nation’s Black communities and other people of color, we must listen to their stories and embrace their truths.
BLACK MOVIES MATTER! Films presenting stories that reflect Black perspectives, culture and lifestyle are essential, entertaining and enlightening vehicles that drive home the need for change — at breakneck speed.
With this in mind, all members of Team #MOTW have selected and written about a film that delivered a personal moment of truth, opening their eyes to a spectrum of points of view and leading to greater understanding of not only the day-to-day discrimination, prejudice, breach of civil rights and other abuses faced by Black people living across the United States, but also of the hope, love, joy, perseverance and resilience shown by Black communities in the face of centuries of oppression.
Team #MOTW’s selected titles range from compelling historical dramas and documentaries to thoroughly engaging broad comedies and sophisticated satires. Several are truth-based narratives that recount well-documented incidents of police brutality and other inexcusable abuse. And there are love stories.
We list fifteen films, but there are hundreds more. We hope you will watch and enjoy our recommendations and that you will listen to the stories, embrace their truths and learn from them at this time of change when you are either part of the solution or you are the problem. — Jennifer Merin
Team #MOTW’s recommendations:
With incisive academic precision, Ava DuVernay’s documentary shows that America’s post-Civil War 13th Amendment didn’t abolish slavery, but merely transformed it into a form that allows deniability and soothes collective white conscience, but maintains paradigms of racial superiority and allows Black bodies to be harnessed for white stakeholders’ economic benefit. Cultural programming casting Black boys and men as inherently criminal legitimizes mass incarceration of Black men in for-profit prisons that benefit for-profit corporations. 13th‘s analysis of the deliberate construction of systemic racism in America is undeniable. No American gets to look away. We must understand this in order to change it. — MaryAnn Johanson Read more
Tim Story’s Barbershop has never received its proper due. This sharply focused snapshot of people working at a barbershop and their regular clients isn’t just funny; it wonderfully captures the Black community’s day-to-day life with characters who feel like real people rather than clichés. It’s easy to write off Barbershop as forgettable comedy. In truth, the jokes aren’t particularly memorable and the characters, while interesting, aren’t memorably flamboyant, but that’s one reason Barbershop works. A fantastic cast led by Ice Cube makes Barbershop an entertaining movie that celebrates the Black community and portrays Black lives and experiences in a way anyone can relate to. — Marina Antunes
While Spike Lee’s satirical Blackkklansman is based on a true story of a black police officer impersonating a white man on the phone to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1970s, it also features a love story between the law-and-order cop and a Civil Rights activist. Lee understands well that sometimes you can say pointed things about society more effectively through humor, as Blackkklansman certainly does. The cop and protester theme couldn’t be more relevant now. Originally sent to spy on protesters, the cop comes to realize that police and peaceful protesters should be on the same side – against wrong-doers and for justice. Blackkklansman offers hope for the present, for true change and “liberty and justice for all.” — Cate Marquis
Blindspotting, slang for looking at something you haven’t seen before, is what screenwriter/actor duo Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casals slyly demand of you in their brilliantly satirical and smartly stylish take down of social stereotyping. The interracial creative duo play best friends whose lives are completely intertwined. Diggs, who’s Black and on parole, wants to lead a clean cut law-abiding life, but Casals, a white guy who’s demeanor is unequivocally gangsta, keeps dragging him into law breaking situations. As the swift paced plot tests their friendship, their behavior defies stereotypical racial profiling. Blindspotting works. It makes you take a look at culturally programmed biases you never knew you had. — Jennifer Merin
Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit is a relentless, hair trigger nightmare about cops killing black men in 1967, when the city’s all-white police force raided a black speakeasy and arrested its patrons. The docudrama focuses on a devastating factual incident: police murdered three black men at the Algiers Motel. Detroit initially generated controversy because Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal are white. But, based entirely on historical accounts and interviews with eyewitnesses, the scenario creates palpable fear akin to horror films. With racist hate, incompetence, fear and stupidity, the cops brutalize and kill. A stinging indictment of systemic racism, Detroit is still maddeningly relevant. — Loren King
DO THE RIGHT THING (1989)
Upon its release, mainstream media said Do The Right Thing would incite riots. Spike Lee highlighted gentrification, police vs. community, and white business ownership in Black communities long before they became part of the racial vocabulary. The film’s most poignant character is Radio Raheem, the definitive Brooklynite with his African medallion, sneakers and, most importantly, his boom box. Before the Walk-Man, that was how Black people accessed portable music. Lee’s characters brilliantly reflect 90’s urban America, making people recognize that we don’t all have the same experiences. The film boldly exposes America’s most prominent cancer: racism. It’s is a shame that in 31 years not much has changed. — Kathia Woods
FRUITVALE STATION (2013)
New Year’s Eve revelry in San Francisco ended in death on an Oakland train station for Oscar Grant, his back pierced by a transit cop’s bullet. Filmmaker Ryan Coogler’s debut feature focuses on the police misconduct that ended in Grant’s murder. Michael B Jordan’s performance reveals the soul of the 22 year old still trying to find his way in the world. In death, Grant became a symbol of systemic racism, police brutality, officially sanctioned homicide, and a Black community under siege by adversarial police. Fruitvale Station restores the humanity to the symbol while taking the full measure of Grant’s murder and its impact. — Pam Grady Read more
THE HATE U GIVE (2018)
Filmmaker George Tillman Jr.’s powerful coming of age drama is based on Angie Thomas’ best-selling YA book about the personal and civic repercussions of a young Black man’s death at the hands of a white police officer. With scenes of individual and neighborhood outrage, grief, protest, and a community coming together to express their pain and rage, this compelling film couldn’t be more timely. It’s relatable, empathetic, and extremely moving, with a great lead performance by Amandla Stenberg. — Betsy Bozdech
I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO (2016)
“There are days when you wonder what your role is in this country, and what your future is in it,” says James Baldwin in I Am Not Your Negro, Raoul Peck’s documentary based on Remember This House, Baldwin’s unfinished memoir about civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Using archival material, Peck traces the civil rights movement through #BlackLivesMatter. Baldwin expresses the rage, hope, frustration, and sadness of Black people who want peace, equality and justice in the America they built. An incendiary examination of American racism, I Am Not Your Negro should be required viewing for students, government officials and public servants — especially now. — Leslie Combemale Read more
Was there ever a more fitting name in a Supreme Court case than Loving v. Virginia? The case challenged bigoted laws preventing marriage between people of different races and tested Constitutional law, but what Richard Loving most wanted to tell the court was simply, “I love my wife.” Richard and Mildred Loving, portrayed with exquisite tenderness by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, are the heart of Jeff Nichols’ quiet, intimate, beautifully realized truth-based drama. Additionally, Nancy Buirski’s documentary The Loving Story 2011), with archival footage of the Lovings, shows the virulent racism expressed by Virginia citizens and the court. — Nell Minow Read more
Dee Rees’ historical drama Mudbound, a tale of 1940s racist America, focuses on two families – one Black, one white – each with a war hero returning home: Jamie moves to his brother Henry’s failing farm in the Mississippi Delta, while Ronsel goes back to his folks, who are sharecroppers on Henry’s land. Both suffering from PTSD, the vets form a bond that’s anathema in the overtly racist town, and to Jamie’s hate mongering father. There are scenes of unimaginable Black pain and torture, but also of joy, hope, and love. As we unwrap America’s history of institutional racism, Mudbound is a required reminder of generational Black trauma and survival. — Sandie Angulo Chen
A PATCH OF BLUE (1965)
I saw this intimate drama when I was in grade school in the mid-‘60s. It taught me what the saying “Love is blind” really means. Selina, an 18-year-old sightless white girl who’s been sheltered and abused by her witch of a mother, encounters Gordon, a kind black office worker and they form a beautiful bond that symbolizes the meaning of tolerance. He gives her joy and confidence, she gives him purpose. Elizabeth Hartman and Sidney Poitier make us root for them despite the odds. British director Guy Green could have made the film in color but wisely chose to use black and white. Scenes of the two leads kissing were cut when the film was shown in the South but are intact in the DVD. — Susan Wloszczyna Read more
THE RAPE OF RECY TAYLOR (2017)
In 1944, in racist Alabama, a horrific crime was perpetrated by six white boys on one black woman. Recy Taylor, a married mother, minding her own business, was forced into a car, driven into the woods and raped repeatedly. When she reported the rape to authorities, she was not believed, but was threatened – and silenced. Nevertheless, with support from Rosa Parks, Recy Taylor bravely persisted in her quest for justice. Nancy Buirski’s compelling documentary chronicles this heroine’s story and preserves her legacy. Unfortunately, not much has changed in the past 80 years regarding justice, racism and sexism. — Liz Whittemore Read more
Ava DuVernay’s Selma, focusing on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s heroic fight for voting equality in Alabama, never shies away from showing the inherent dangers of being Black in the South. The film opens with the gruesome death of four young girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. DuVernay fully embraces these terrifying moments to honor the spirit of Dr. King and all those whose struggle, and sometimes death, became a catalyst for change. Selma is still relevant today because the fight for equality still rages on. With new catalysts for change such as the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade, Selma remains more important than ever. — Sharronda Williams Read more
TONI MORRISON: THE PIECES I AM (2019)
Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning African American author Toni Morrison is profiled with reverence in Timothy Greenfield-Sander’s documentary, filmed before Morrison’s death in August 2019. More biographical collage than chronological march, archive footage and commentary from scholars, peers and friends paint a portrait of a formidable woman fighting systemic racial prejudice with the power of her words. The highlight is the extended interview with the 88-year-old Morrison which runs through the film. Facing the camera head on, she recounts her experiences with warmth and humility, often punctuated with hearty chuckles; as compelling and profound a storyteller in person as she is on the page. — Nikki Baughan Read more
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Marina Antunes, Nikki Baughan, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Pam Grady, MaryAnn Johanson, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Liz Whittemore, Sharronda Williams, Susan Wloszczyna, Kathia Woods
Edited by Jennifer Merin