When They See Us – Netflix
While this isn’t as much a movie as it is a mini-series, it is, by far, the best series on Netflix. The series is split into 3 episodes and covers the story of the Central Park 5. The Central Park 5 case took place in Central Park in New York City If you’re like me and you’re a gen z, you probably didn’t know the significance of this case. I remember watching this series, and I was mentally impacted by watching the way that these young black men were treated. I was literally angry walking around my house, I felt a fire burning in my gut. And I know most won’t feel the same way as me, because, while I strongly believe in the equal treatment of all minorities, my passion for Black rights, burns stronger than no other. And I hope even if you don’t feel that fire building up within, you will leave the mini-series with more of an understanding of what African Americans have experienced, currently experience, and will experience here in the United States. Now it also essential to remember that what the Central Park 5 went through wasn’t the first and wasn’t the last. The 5 were lucky, in that their names were eventually cleared. There are African Americans who are wrongly accused and, unfortunately, never given a chance to clear their names. I would also like to note that I haven’t put these movies/mini-series in ranking order. Still, this series is definitely my favorite, so I highly suggest you watch it.
Harriet — On-Demand/Theaters
This movie was just in theaters, so I’m not sure if you’ll be able to find it anywhere, maybe somewhere on-demand. However, this movie was excellent in most areas and lacking in others. I thought that the film summarized Harriet Tubman’s childhood, her journeys to free slaves, and her adult life quite well. Though I felt that the movie lacked detail, it was like reading the description on the back of a book. I understand the darker details were kept out to make it appealing to a broader audience. But I feel it does Tubman a disservice by “censoring” the reality of the adversities she endured on her trips freeing the slaves. I also think it was a mistake in casting Cynthia Erivo as Harriet because Erivo is African British, not African American. Just make myself clear I think Cynthia did an excellent job playing Tubman. But being Black in the United States is different than being in Black in Britain, just the same as it is different than being black in African countries. And in the United States, historically and present, Black people are consistently passed over for interviews, jobs, and opportunities, etc. So, when a movie about a prominent figure in Black History releases, I think it is of utmost disrespect to cast someone whose culture has no relation. The critiques aside, however, I think this film is an excellent overview of Harriet Tubman’s life and offers a strong foundation for beginning to understand Black History.
American Son — Netflix
American Son was first a play in theatres and eventually made its way to Netflix. This was one of those movies, like When They See Us, that struck anger within me. The film takes place in one scene, which allowed for the movie to really showcase the dialogue. There are minimum characters, approximately 4 or 5, which, again, helps to make the conversation stand out more. This film takes place in a police station with a mother who was called to the station late at night about her son. But the mother is given no details over the phone and when she arrives at the station the one officer refuses to tell her anything more until his boss comes. When you watch this, it is crucial to pay particular attention to how the white husband, the white cop, the black mom, and the black cop treat each other differently. Note, however, it is not just about race, look for when the boss shows up and how he sides with the other cop regardless of race. This shows there is a sense of brotherhood in law enforcement that bypasses race. This is a movie that I could relate to being black while growing up around majority white people (you’ll understand after you watch). The film also does an excellent job of showing how new racism works. There are points where the racism is apparent, but most often the racism is “hidden” in slights and remarks. I remember two questions the cop asked the mom, “Is he in a gang,” and “Does he have any street names?” These don’t explicitly mention race at all, but they assume that since the son is black, that he might be in a gang, or he might have a street name, whatever that may mean. These questions are what are known as microaggressions because they prejudge based on race without actually mentioning race. If you haven’t seen the play, I recommend watching it, and even if you have seen the play, I still recommend it.
Green Book — On-Demand
This movie is an all-time personal favorite because of the complexity of the issues that it goes into it. Green Book is a true story about Dr. Don Shirley, a well-renowned pianist who is about to embark on a musical tour into the deep south. So, he needs a driver/bodyguard, and he finds Tony Vallelonga, a white, middle-class father who bounces between jobs. The movie starts with the two of them beginning their journey, with merely tolerating each other, however as the trip progresses, they quickly become good friends. And Vallelonga becomes protective of Dr. Shirley, which confuses the white people of the south. Since Vallelonga is driving a Black man around, he is treated as unequal, just as Dr. Shirley is. And from the wrongful treatment, Vallelonga’s perspective opens up. He begins to see just how hard it is to be Black in the United States. In one scene, Vallelonga tells Dr. Shirley that he can stand up for himself and that he shouldn’t let people push him around just because he is Black. Dr. Shirley responds by telling him that if he fought back, it would get him nowhere. This is especially true in his position because low-class black people look at him and don’t accept him. They assume he thinks he is better than other Black people. And the White people just look at him like he’s another Black person, which puts him in a complicated situation, leaving him lonely and outcasted. This is the complexity which I mentioned, the dialogue didn’t end at “I can’t because I’m Black,” I went further it dug into how his own people don’t even accept him. And frankly, this still happens in today’s society, Black people need to unite and diminish the injustice between us before we can fight institutionally enforced racism. Green Book is full of racism, struggle, laughter, and friendship, each together makes for an excellent film.
Malcolm X — Netflix
I have recently been researching about Malcolm X’s life and what he believed in, and I came upon this movie on Netflix. The film is a biography of Malcolm X. It covers most of his life in explicit detail, while simultaneously grabbing your attention. If you are like me and didn’t know much about him other than the five-sentence chapter you read in high school, then you probably consider Malcolm an extremist. And while at the beginning of his civil rights activist career, he was a bit more aggressive in that he told Black people that they should always have guns. This, however, is no different than what the NRA does or any other gun rights activists. But once Malcolm realized that he needed to unite all the African American community, he began to settle down. Yet, he is still made out to be an extremist and an advocate for violence. Watching this movie will open up your eyes to who Malcolm X really was. He believed that we could never be treated equally by the nation if Black people couldn’t treat each other equally. Malcolm routinely said that Black people need to go back to Africa. And what he meant by that is that we, as African Americans, do not have our own identity. The African diaspora essentially stole our identity and our culture away from us. Malcolm mentions that if you go to a Korean neighborhood, you don’t see Black restaurants, if you go to a Chinese neighborhood you don’t see Black restaurants, if you go to a Jewish neighborhood you don’t see Black resturants, but the second you step into a Black neighborhood you see every kind of restaurant. The racist history of the United States diluted African American culture with the White culture so much that we are hardly African anymore. I genuinely agree with Malcolm X that we do need to “go back to Africa.” And while this movie was a bit long just over three hours, it was well worth the watch.