Wednesday, June 3, 2020

5 Films To Watch About Systemic Racism

The brutal, senseless killing of yet another black man by a white police officer is, sadly, not a new issue. The nationwide conversation about what we can do to combat this and change society is so important. There are many things that everyone can do to educate themselves on how to recognize privilege and root out racism. Here are five films (of many) that helped me to broaden my perspective and show me what I didn’t and still can’t fully understand because I am a white person in America.


This documentary from director Ava DuVernay, who also made the vitally important limited series “When They See Us” and film “Selma,” charts how the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery and set up mass incarceration as a new form of that same institution. It’s equally informative and disturbing. Available on Netflix.


This lyrical film looks at the different experiences two childhood best friends from Oakland, one black and one white, have when it comes to law enforcement and police brutality. Co-writers Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal frame their story through an occasionally comic lens that gets deadly serious at unexpected moments, mimicking the instability of real life for those who know that they might be killed for no reason at any time. Available on HBO Go and HBO Max.

If Beale Street Could Talk

This beautiful film is set in the 1970s, but what it showcases is not merely a relic of the past. Director Barry Jenkins, who also made the incredible Oscar-winning film “Moonlight,” adapts James Baldwin’s 1974 novel, which focuses on thin, flawed evidence used to arrest and accuse a black man of a crime, and the inability of those charged with serving justice to consider letting him go even when faced with staggering proof of his innocence. Available on Hulu.

Just Mercy

This very recent film spotlights Bryan Stevenson, played by Michael B. Jordan, and the Equal Justice Initiative, a center started by the lawyer in Montgomery, Alabama to provide representation to those wrongly convicted and particularly those on death row. As unsettling and horrifying as the circumstances leading to the arrest and unfair treatment of Jamie Foxx’s inmate Johnny D. is the way that a power-hungry guard forces Bryan to be strip-searched when he comes to speak with his client. Currently available for free on Amazon Prime and Google Play.

Monsters and Men

This layered film examines the system from multiples angles, through the eyes of a black cop who himself is often pulled over by white colleagues for no reason, a young man arrested after filming and posting a clearly racially-biased police interrogation, and a black teenager motivated to do something after witnessing what is going on around him. It portrays the complexities of identity and how those who don’t fit neatly in a box are often manipulated for destructive purposes by others with malignant aims. Available on Hulu.

This is by no means an exhaustive list – can you recommend other films people watch to learn more about systemic racism?

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