Movies to educate yourself on the Black experience
Film is an incredibly important tool that has the power to not only educate viewers but change their hearts and minds as well. Film can be moving, eye-opening, heart-breaking, and empowering, which is why it is essential that we make and watch movies.
More specific to this current historical moment, it is essential that we watch movies about the Black experience, to better understand the history and reality that they see, and that many white allies have had the luxury of ignoring — myself included. So, I decided to compile a list of five films that I have personally found to be helpful in my journey toward becoming a better ally. These films were both educational and entertaining, insightful and affecting, and I hope you find them to be the same.
The first film I want to highlight is Ava DuVernay’s “Selma” (2015), which stars David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr. “Selma” takes place during one of the most turbulent periods of the Civil Rights Movement, emphasizing the Selma to Montgomery marches for voting rights in 1965 in Alabama. While the film did take some historical liberties, it captured the essence of the movement at the time through an incredible performance by Oyelowo and helps viewers empathize with the anger, hope, pain, and joy of the marchers. “Selma” is available to stream for free on all digital platforms for the month of June.
Next, I have to point out John Singleton’s “Boyz n the Hood” (1991), which was a cultural revolution in itself, portraying young Black men from “the hood” as real people, not just thugs and criminals. Viewers will find themselves getting an inside look at an aspect of Black life that maybe they had never seen before, and rooting for characters they may not have encountered in their lives. “Boyz n the Hood” is as haunting as it is moving.
“Straight Outta Compton” (2015), directed by F. Gary Gray, is another film that is essential to understanding Black America’s relationship with the police, and Black culture in general. The film spotlights the origins of infamous rap group N.W.A. in their triumphs and pitfalls, all to the backdrop of some of N.W.A. and Ice Cube’s biggest hits, which present a lyrical history to some amazing beats.
While Spike Lee has many films worth mentioning in this category, “BlacKkKlansman” (2018) tells the particularly mind-blowing story of Ron Stallworth, the first Black detective in the Colorado Springs police department. Stallworth intends to make an impact in his new position, taking it upon himself to infiltrate the local chapter of the KKK by impersonating a white man. The film makes you laugh and serves as a serious punch in the gut, thanks to Lee’s impeccable direction.
Last but not least is a new film, so new that as I write this, it has not yet been widely released. Written and directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples, “Miss Juneteenth” premiered at this year’s Sundance film festival and won an award at SXSW in March. The film follows a single mother and former beauty queen who is preparing her teenage daughter to compete in the Fort Worth-based pageant of same name, a reference to June 19, 1865 — the day slavery was abolished in Texas. Along with an important history lesson, the film celebrates Black beauty, offering a timely piece of indie cinema.