“George Floyd, say his name.” Over the last two weeks, thousands of protestors peacefully marched throughout major metropolitan areas in solidarity with black Americans to fight current injustice. Many instances similar to Floyd’s frequently go unnoticed, and history repeats itself amidst the new decade. Inspired by society’s increased activism, I compiled a list of eight powerful, perspective-shifting films that highlight systemic racism.
The Hate U Give
A teenager (Amandla Stenberg) lives a dual life, attending a predominantly white private high school while living in a poor, historically black community. After witnessing the unjust murder of her best friend (Algee Smith) by a white cop while driving home from a party one evening, she struggles with her identity. Traumatized by the incident and originally afraid to speak up amidst the event’s nationally televised coverage, a mentor (Issa Rae) encourages her to acknowledge the power of her voice. Brilliantly navigating the polarizing worlds of the police shooting, the NAACP Image Award winning film authentically captures racial inequality in modern society. The cast includes Regina Hall, Common, KJ Apa, Sabrina Carpenter, Russell Hornsby, and Anthony Mackie.
Inspired by Bryan Stevenson’s New York Times bestselling autobiography, Just Mercy highlights the civil rights lawyer’s early work in Alabama defending death row inmates wrongfully convicted of murder. Focusing on one of Stevenson’s (Michael B. Jordan) first cases in 1987 involving Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), a black man unjustly sentenced to death for killing a white teenage girl, the film powerfully reveals their arduous battle with Alabama’s racist law enforcement and corrupt judicial system. Currently available to stream for free on all digital platforms this entire month, Just Mercy is a timely story that educates viewers and sparks conversation regarding today’s political climate. The cast includes Brie Larson, Tim Blake Nelson, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Rob Morgan, Rafe Spall, and Karan Kendrick.
Queen & Slim
Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) and Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) escape the police after their first date transforms into a self-defense shooting of a white cop. A politically dramatic turn of events following a minor traffic violation, Lena Waithe’s Queen & Slim centers around the protagonists’ on-the-run journey aided by Americans standing in solidarity with their bravery. Embodying a twenty-first century black Bonnie and Clyde, Slim and Queen’s actions symbolize a fresh take on justice amid police brutality.
Based on a true story, Spike Lee’s Academy Award winning BlacKkKlansman follows the Colorado Springs Police Department’s first black detective, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), and his Ku Klux Klan infiltrative investigation with Jewish colleague Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver). An outrageously eye-opening crime/dramedy set in the 1970’s, the groundbreaking film straightforwardly reveals the notorious hate organization’s extreme racism in a satirical fashion. The cast includes Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Ryan Eggold, Paul Walter Hauser, Corey Hawkins, Harry Belafonte, and Alec Baldwin.
If Beale Street Could Talk
The screen adaptation of James Baldwin’s 1974 same-titled novel, If Beale Street Could Talk is a cinematic masterpiece about love, trust, and pain. Revolving around a young woman (KiKi Layne) struggling to free her lover (Stephan James) of wrongfully convicted rape, the romantic drama stunningly portrays hope and grief alongside the couple’s budding relationship. With an Oscar-winning performance by Regina King and artistic representation of systemic racism, sexual harassment, teen pregnancy, and familial divides, If Beale Street Could Talk remains a must-see film.
Receiving the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 2018, the psychological thriller communicates societal racism through an innovative, glass-shattering lens. An extremely dark take on the iconic Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Jordan Peele’s directorial debut hyperbolically emphasizes deeply-rooted racism among privileged suburbanites. Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Lakeith Stanfield, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, and Lil Rel Howery, Get Out addresses ‘black inferiority’ in a disturbing manner bound to keep viewers glued to their seats.
Sorry to Bother You
Exceptionally bizarre, yet surprisingly informative. Set in a dystopian Oakland, California, Sorry to Bother You provides an unparalleled look at corporate America’s inherent manipulation and mainstream discrimination. Closely analyzing the emotional psyche of salesmen while simultaneously monetizing individual citizens, the film’s chilling alternate reality challenges capitalist perspectives on race, class, and moral dilemmas. The cast includes Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Steven Yeun, Armie Hammer, Danny Glover, Omari Hardwick, Terry Crews, and Forest Whitaker.
A raw coming-of-age story following a poor, gay black man’s development in Miami, FL, the 2017 Academy Award Best Picture, Moonlight, highlights vulnerability through an underrepresented experience. Void of police brutality and interracial conflict, the three-part narrative centers around Chiron’s journey toward self-discovery. Raised by a crack-addicted single mother (Naomie Harris) and strong father figure (Mahershala Ali), Chiron censors his sexuality and actions out of pressure to maintain a tough facade. From high school bullying to domestic abuse, the beautifully-crafted drama profoundly connects with audiences nationwide. The cast includes Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, Alex R. Hibbert, Jharrel Jerome, André Holland, and Janelle Monáe.
Films that I plan on watching this month:
- American Son
- Do the Right Thing
- LA 92
- Monsters and Men