We have always believed that movies can change the world; they hold the power to examine topics that many people are uncomfortable discussing. Movies can get the ball moving so that we have a starting point from which the conversation can begin.
We compiled the list of 7 of the most touching movies about systemic racism you can watch online.
Director Ava DuVernay made her Netflix Original debut with this potent Oscar-nominated documentary that dives into the legacy of the 13th amendment, which ended slavery but left a loophole that currently allows prisons to use criminal labor, leading to the prison industrial complex. DuVernay grippingly and methodically traces through the history of the United States, from the end of the Civil War to modern times, to uncover how racial inequality has found new methods of imprisoning and subjugating Black citizens for profit.
“The Blood is At the Doorstep”
Milwaukee plays the unfortunate backdrop for local director Erik Ljung’s outstanding documentary, following the aftermath of the police killing of Dontre Hamilton at Red Arrow Park in 2014. Ljung breaks down what happened that tragic night and the fateful mistakes made by both the officer and the twitchy Starbucks employees at the time. The heart of the doc, however, is what comes after, staying on the ground with Hamilton’s family as their loss turns them into protest leaders, learning to use their spotlight to hopefully save more lives and trying to pull the growing movement toward productive protest methods and reforms. It’s emotional and essential viewing about a family trying to rebuild and reform themselves after a brutal loss, the system that caused their pain and the city they call home. Most poignantly, it’s a difficult conversation cities and families are still having years later.
This mesmerizing Sundance award-winning doc takes audiences behind the scenes at the Oakland Police Department as it attempts to reform and clean up a history of bad behavior and abuse amidst growing protests across the city and nation against police brutality. Director Peter Nicks gets incredible access, riding with the police, walking through protests and sitting in on classes as officers are taught about bias and negotiating the difficulty perspectives and decisions made on the job – only to have all of their progress toward improving community relations disintegrate with new transgressions and shocking discoveries of corruption. Nicks’ film is a gripping but grim look at the state of the crumbling social contract between police and citizens, a relationship that may be broken beyond saving.
“The Hate U Give”
Director George Tillman Jr.’s moving adaptation of Angie Thomas’ hit YA novel was unfortunately overlooked when it came out in the fall of 2018. It’s impossible to overlook now, telling the story of a Black high school girl named Starr (Amandla Stenberg) who finds her political voice, battles her once-stable sense of identity and challenges those around her after witnessing the police murder her childhood friend after confusing a hairbrush with a gun. It may be based on a book for young adults, but “The Hate U Give” delves into its central issues of racism and police brutality with surprising nuance but also rousing passion and righteous anger. It also features a great cast – including an underrated supporting performance from Russell Hornsby as Starr’s ex-con father who tries his best to help his kids how survive both the streets and the cops. Whether young or old, it’s an excellent entry point into the issues and underrepresented perspectives discussed today.
Fruitvale Station (2013)
Fruitvale Station is one of the most heartbreaking movies about police brutality I have ever seen. While some of the movies on this list are focused more on other issues while touching on police brutality, Fruitvale Station is simply about the life of Oscar: a Black man who was murdered by the police. The film tells his story, detailing everything that led up to the fateful moment when Officer Caruso (Kevin Durand) decided to murder Oscar.
Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of the most influential people in history; he was truly admirable, and someone we should all look to as an example for protest and advocacy. Selma shows King’s power, his spirit, and his determination to fight for what is right. It shows the lengths people went to discredit him, to condemn him, and to ridicule him. Much of what was said to him and those marching with him are the same things being said today against the Black Lives Matter movement.
Selma is an important reminder of just how hard it is to bring about change. Throughout history, people have defended the status quo by saying, “this is just the way things are. Things are never going to change.” Time and time again, people like Martin Luther King, Jr. have pushed back on that mindset, and have brought about change. We may not be very far down the path to total equality, but movies such as Selma show us just how vital it is to keep fighting even when it feels hopeless.
Ron Stallworth, an African-American detective, embarks on a mission to infiltrate his town’s chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist hate group.
While police brutality isn’t so much a focus of the film, it gives a good window into the hostility within the department when Ron first joins. There is a powerful scene where Ron is talking with a couple of other cops about this one officer who pulled Patrice over and threatened her life while sexually harassing her. The cops say that this officer killed a Black kid a few years back, and everyone knew he was bad. Ron asks why nobody has done anything about it, and the cops say that for good or bad they’re all a family, and you don’t turn your back on family.
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