News Reviews

On Screen: Civil Rights and BLM edition

Admittedly, in this week’s recommendations we are four white voices discussing black films and black artists. Theirs are the voices we’d like to lift up so instead of taking up space by discussing our opinions, what we think and how we feel about the protests and BLM, we’re simply going to lift up those voices that need to be heard and more importantly, seen. Below is a small (and far from complete) list of films streaming right now that have made an impact on us and call out the racism, injustice and inequity painfully present in the history of black folks in America. 

First a couple of notes about organizations also working to lift up black voices:

  • Northwest Film Forum will be donating proceeds of ticket sales to “support funds and organizations whose common goal is to protect and uplift Black lives, from clinics and LGBTQ organizations which serve communities of color to bail funds for Washington residents arrested for protesting unjust police killings of black people.” This week’s programming includes Ferguson documentary Whose Streets? and Sean Baker’s gorgeous shot-on-an-iPhone trans drama Tangerine; Thee Debauchery Ball joins the collection next week, with proceeds benefiting Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County.
  • SIFF has posted a Black Lenses and Voices page that highlights Seattle-based arts organizations that feature Black storytellers through cinema and other art forms and has a selection of recommended watching.

Required Watching

  • Via Indiewire, Criterion Channel has made a bunch of films available including Titles streaming for free on Criterion Channel include Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust, Maya Angelou’s Down in the Delta, Shirley Clarke’s Portrait of Jason, Agnès Varda’s Black Panthers, Kathleen Collins’ Losing Ground
  • Barry Jenkins’s Oscar-winning Moonlight is on Netflix; Hulu has his gorgeous and underseen  If Beale Street Could Talk
  • Ava du Vernay’s Oscar-nominated Selma, about Martin Luther King Jr. and the contentious marches for the Voting Rights Act, is on FXNow and rentable on a variety of platforms; her documentary about the criminalization of African-Americans and the U.S. Prison boom 13th is available on Netflix.
  • Just Mercy is streaming for free on various platforms including YouTube and AppleTV. If you’re interested in the plot and a review before you watch, check out Josh’s review from a couple months ago. However, I implore you to simply watch it. Our opinion of the film itself, while wholly positive, doesn’t really matter right now; the content and historical significance has a great deal of import to this moment in time and it’s well worth watching just for that.
  • I Am Not Your Negro is one of the most powerful and beautiful documentary films about African American and civil rights I’ve seen. Period. It weaves together interviews, writings and recordings of the eloquent and indomitable civil rights activist James Baldwin. If you haven’t read his works, add them to the list of things you should already have in our library. He made white folks uncomfortable by pulling no punches, and speaking plainly about the reality of being a black person in the US. The visuals in this film are all too familiar to anyone paying attention to the protests in the United States right now. You can stream it for $0.99 on Google Play, Youtube, and Amazon Prime Video. (MS)
  • One more film that made an unexpected impact on me just this last year is The Banker. If you’re like me, you made a quick assessment of the title and waited for some odd and well-crafted pr introduction attempt to spin something kinda boring into an intriguing story. This one didn’t need a spin; it’s based on a true story about an incredibly talented and intelligent black man in the early 50’s attempting the impossible: owning real estate across Los Angeles. Not just a home of his own, but apartment buildings and commercial properties alike. It’s fascinating, infuriating and will give you faith and dash your hopes all at once. This is definitely a story you’ve never heard and a great one to add to your vocabulary in the long list of little known heroes in the fight for justice. You can check out my review from earlier this year, or better yet just stream it right now on Apple Tv+. (MS)
  • There are many pivotal actors in the history of the civil rights movement. While stories here and there pick up on the role played by Marsha P. Johnson, the trans black activist known and honored for her part in the Stonewall uprising, she has yet to truly get her due. In Netflix’s The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson at least she begins to have her voice heard. The first step in healing, understanding, and hearing those stifled voices is listening and learning. It’s time we all learn about Ms. Johnson. You can find it streaming here on Netflix. (MS)
  • (Trigger warning, there are some pretty horrific scenes/photographs even early on in this film). A stark look at the US justice system and how it simply feeds the school-to-prison pipeline; 13th pulls no punches. With quotes, sound bites and educated discussion about rates of incarceration in the US and how we have accrued 25% of the world’s prisoners (the largest prison population in our country’s history), we are confronted with systematic racism and how it heavily contributes to the population behind bars. Streaming on Netflix.
  • Stanley Nelson’s Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution is a solid and absorbing chronicle of that pivotal movement’s genesis and impact, and The Trials of Muhammad Ali zeroes in on the social battles fought by one of the greatest athletes in American history. Both of these great docs are streaming for free on Amazon Prime.  (TK)

And a little levity that packs a punch: Powerful black characters

  • Not only is Jordan Peele’s Get Out and similarly creepy follow up Us straight-up smacks in the face about racism today, they’re scary and fun as hell at the same time. So get smacked in the face and confront your preconceived notions with both of these poignant and playful films. Both streaming on Amazon Prime, Youtube and GooglePlay with Us also streaming on HBO.
  • Fast Color isn’t directly pointing to a discussions of racism but it puts black actors and stories in the forefront with a well-considered sci-fi storyline, powerful female characters, and stunning visuals capping off an intimate portrait of a woman just looking for release from the constant struggle of simply existing as herself. Hmm ok, maybe there are some parallels there after all. Streaming on Hulu.
  • Since we had the first commercially-built space craft to breach our stratosphere and orbit the Earth this week, let’s celebrate one of its foremothers with Hidden Figures. I doubt I need to give you an introduction to this film but I would be amiss if I didn’t add it into my powerful characters list. You can stream it now on FX
  • Speaking of Get Out: the movie that initially lured me to subscribe to Shudder, the excellent horror streaming service, is especially relevant in these times, and serves up some fascinating analysis of Jordan Peele’s Oscar-winning horror movie (among many others). Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror, a Shudder Original documentary, covers the history of the black experience in horror cinema, and it’s terrific. Even if you’re a genre hardcore, it’s a massive eye-opener, boasting a feast of fascinating historic background and terrific interviews with everyone from scholar/author Tananarive Due to iconic actors like Tony Todd, Rachel True, and Ken Foree.  (TK)

Header image from Whose Streets? via Magnolia Pictures