It’s no secret that education will be our most powerful weapon in our collective fight for equality and it’s crucial to know our country’s history in order to be well-equipped for the conversations we are having today. These 10 films are a great place to start your educational journey on Black history and the Civil Rights. We all learn at different paces and have different preferences in mediums, and although don’t suggest only relying on movies or TV to further your education in Black history and the Civil Rights, these 10 films are a great place to start in becoming a well-equipped anti-racism ally.
Personally speaking, watching these 10 movies were significant to me — they either left a big imprint on my heart or they were difficult to stomach — which I think is important. It’s worth taking note that growth requires a certain level of discomfort in moving one to the point of taking action. There is no wrong or right way to feel as it will be different for everyone, but the key take-away isn’t about what you don’t know. It’s about recognizing where you are so that you know where to start.
10 Educational Films on Black History and The Civil Rights
Synopsis: “Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 legally desegregated the South, discrimination was still rampant in certain areas, making it very difficult for blacks to register to vote. In 1965, an Alabama city became the battleground in the fight for suffrage. Despite violent opposition, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) and his followers pressed forward on an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, and their efforts culminated in President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.” (IMBD)
Why it’s important: Probably the first feature film you should watch if you were to pick one. The description as mentioned above speaks for itself in it’s importance, as the film beautifully illustrates the significant events in such a breathtaking way without leaving you overwhelmed by the despair or the amount of information that’s jam-packed in, but rather inspire you to feel empowered in assuming your rightful role in fighting the systemic racism we face right now in our modern world of 2020 and taking action.
If Beale Street Could Talk
Synopsis: This film is a love story that takes place in 1970s Harlem. “Friends since childhood, the devoted couple dream of a future together, but their plans are derailed when Fonny is arrested for a crime he did not commit.” (Netflix)
Why it’s important: It’s through a perspective of young love that I think appeals specifically to younger audiences. It tells a story of the beauty of trusting love and its power, when living in a world of hate.
Synopsis: “Filmmaker Ava DuVernay explores the history of racial inequality in the United States, focusing on the fact that the nation’s prisons are disproportionately filled with African-Americans.” (Netflix)
Why it’s important: The director, Ava Duvernay’s described the film’s importance perfectly with a single, powerful statement: “It’s hard enough to get a national conversation in America going about race in a meaningful way, that’s not in reaction to something bad happening.”
The Last Black Man in San Fransisco (2019)
Synopsis: This is a beautiful art house film that’s inspired by the real-life story of Jimmie Fails. He tries to reclaim the Victorian-style house where his family once lived, in the now-gentrified Fillmore District. Through the movie, he dreams of what it could be again.
Why it’s important: It is a “heartfelt tribute to both a city and a friendship” (The Guardian) that is moving and empowering. Pairing the heartfelt art of storytelling with gorgeously composed cinematic visuals will leave a memorable impact on your heart.
Freedom Summer (2014)
Synopsis: This documentary highlights the 10 memorable weeks in the summer of 1964, Mississippi, known as Freedom Summer, where over 700 student volunteers joined with organizers and local African Americans to protest against the white supremacy. (Amazon Prime)
Why it’s important: Mississippi was one of the most segregated states in the nation and knowing its history is crucial to furthering our education in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. (Amazon Prime)
The Uncomfortable Truth (2017)
Synopsis: This is an honest and personal exploration of the 400 years of black history through the perspective of the son of a Civil Rights hero, where he discovers the unexpected reality that his family helped start it all. (Amazon Prime)
Why it’s important: This is an exploration of the history of racism and its origins specifically will give you a new sense of empathy and compassion for the oppressed, as the narrator of the film shares with the painfully transparent, brutally honest reality of the heartbreaking and horrific, sadistic crimes of violence that were inflicted on black people by law enforcers.
Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2016)
Synopsis: This film tells the story of the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party, and the significant (and controversial) impact on black activism and civil rights in the 60’s.
Why it’s important: The average non-black person’s association of the Black Panthers is picturing Michael B. Jordan on the big screen, crossing his forearms against his chest in an X formation and shouting, “Wakanda Forever“. While we all can acknowledge that it’s a great film, it’s vitally important to know about the origins and history of the real Black Panthers and their significance during the civil rights movement in Los Angeles during the 60’s.
Ken Burns: The Central Park Five
Synopsis: A true incident where five innocent black and Latino teenagers were arrested in Harlem and manipulated into confessing guilty to raping a white woman.
Why it’s important: This film is incredibly eye opening that is a great example in highlighting the corruption of law enforcement, where this specific story highlights how the police controlled and manipulated the story of the “Central Park Five”.
Synopsis: Based on a true story, this film exposes the corruption and brings light to the government’s invasion of privacy, as it tells the story of “French actress, Jean Seberg, [who] becomes the target of the FBI due to her support of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s and her romantic involvement with Hakim Jamal (cousin of Malcom X)– a Black Panther activist. She soon finds her life and career in jeopardy as the overreaching surveillance and harassment starts to take a toll on everything she holds dear.”
Why it’s important: The film is a cinematic exposeé that explores the dangers/consequences of being a Civil Rights activist during the new age of surveillance in the 60s. The film shows the government’s involvement with the invasion of privacy — at the time, primarily phone-tapping — and will help you start your own conversations with others today about protecting your privacy and your anonymity in a world of surveillance so that you can continue to fight for your rights.
Burn, Motherf*cker, Burn! (2017)
Synopsis: Burn, Motherf*cker, Burn! is a provocative documentary that takes a look into the LA Riots in 1992, and the historical moments that happened in Los Angeles that lead up to the uprising, starting from the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
Why it’s important: This is a great “starter documentary” for non-black allies if you’re unsure of “where to start”. This documentary does a terrific job at educating its viewers on the basics of civil rights by outlining LA’s historical timeline from the 1960s to the 1992 LA riots. The documentary is packed with real film footage which is unfiltered, poignant and somewhat jarring in it’s rawness. It shares stories from multiple perspectives (Black survivors, famous musicians/hiphop groups, activist leaders/members, gang members, former LAPD, police officers, etc). Moreover, it is especially memorable in illustrating how current problematic issues such street gangs, drug dealing, S.W.A.T. team raids, the “looting/loitering”, etc. were actually birthed as a collective response from a history of corruption and systemic racism at the hands of the LAPD. The film is riveting in it’s honesty and it gets 5/5 stars in my book as a must watch.