If you’ve been following along with our column, perhaps you’ve taken steps to learn about allyship, support Black-owned businesses, and read essays by Black women writers. This month, we put together a list of movies, perfect for those of you staying home to practice social distancing. Watch these five films to learn more about the history and current state of race in America.

  1. “Queen & Slim” (2019)
    Directed by: Melina Matsoukas
    Written by: Lena Waithe
    Currently available on: HBO Max, HBO via Hulu
    Rent or buy from: Prime Video, Google Play, YouTube, iTunes, and more

    This film is a dream collaboration between two powerful Black creators: Melina Matsoukas (director on HBO’s “Insecure” and of iconic music videos like Beyoncé’s “Lemonade and “Formation”) and Lena Waithe (creator and writer of “The Chi, writer and actor on “Master of None”). Not only does every frame ooze beauty and style, but what seems like a simple story of a first date gone wrong goes on to explore complex territory like racial profiling during traffic stops, police brutality, and protests. This film will have viewers questioning first impressions, biases, and what we would do in life-threatening situations.
  1. “Do the Right Thing” (1989)
    Written and directed by: Spike Lee
    Currently available on: Peacock (free with ads)
    Rent or buy from: Prime Video, Google Play, YouTube, iTunes, and more

    In “Do the Right Thing, racial tension simmers to a boil in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn, bringing out fear, frustration and violence. Spike Lee’s Oscar- and Golden Globe-nominated film resonates as strongly today as it did when it premiered in 1989. The film was controversial 31 years ago, as critics worried it would provoke riots, but now is recognized as an important work that helps audiences understand Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous quote, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” Through memorable characters and truthful dialogue, the viewer feels the oppression of racism, and examines what it means to “do the right thing.”
  1. “Just Mercy” (2019)
    Based on the book by: Bryan Stevenson
    Directed by: Destin Daniel Cretton
    Currently available on: Apple TV
    Rent or buy from: Prime Video, Google Play, YouTube, iTunes, and more

    Have tissues ready when you rent this one. Masterful acting and an all too true story of systemic racism make this a necessary film to watch in our time. “Just Mercy,” based on  Bryan Stevenson’s memoir of the same name, introduces us to Stevenson as a young lawyer finding his calling. He goes on to become the founder of Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit organization fighting for those who are wrongly convicted or otherwise abused by the justice system. Though heartbreaking at times, the overall message in Stevenson’s story is one of hope and empowerment. It’s a call to action, asking each of us to use whatever power we have to push the world closer to justice. Watch the film to understand the importance of the work that EJI does, and donate to the organization here.
  1. “The Hate U Give” (2018)
    Based on the novel by: Angie Thomas
    Directed by: George Tillman Jr.
    Rent or buy from: Prime Video, Google Play, YouTube, iTunes, and more

    Though this film is based on a YA novel and rated PG-13, it doesn’t shy away from heavy and complex topics. In its opening scene, main character and narrator Starr Carter recalls “the talk” her father gave her about what to do when pulled over by the police. She learns a way to speak and carry herself in order to stay safe, a politeness and code-switch that becomes half of her life, as she moves between her mostly white school and her Black friends and family. When she witnesses a childhood friend killed by police during a traffic stop, Starr faces pressure from all facets of her life, political and personal, and finds a way to use her true voice. Of all the films on this list, this is the most reflective of the challenges that the next generation faces.
  1. “If Beale Street Could Talk” (2018)
    Based on the book by: James Baldwin
    Directed by: Barry Jenkins
    Currently available on: Hulu
    Rent or buy from: Prime Video, Google Play, YouTube, iTunes, and more

    Both of Barry Jenkins’ best-known films (2016 Oscar winner “Moonlight,” available on Netflix, and “If Beale Street Could Talk”) are beautiful, thought-provoking depictions of lives that aren’t shown often enough on the big screen. We’ve chosen to highlight “If Beale Street Could Talk,” as it also delivers some of the words of James Baldwin, one of the most prescient and important voices on race in America. Baldwin published the novel of the same name in 1974, and Jenkins brings it to life using direct quotes from the book, and his signature close-ups. In it, we see the effects of a criminal justice system built to punish innocent Black men, their families and their children. More than that, it’s a love story, one that constricts the viewer’s heart with disappointment one moment, and expands it with hope the next.

Learning is a first and ongoing step in being anti-racist. These films can help us trace some of the history of today’s racial injustice, and help us understand how it feels to be in circumstances different from our own. 

This list is by no means exhaustive — there were many more movies we wanted to include. We focused on film-length dramas, but plan to do future lists with documentaries, TV shows and more. Help us expand this resource by letting us know in the comments which films you would add to the list, and why. 

Photo credit: Universal Pictures

Mochi magazine’s Black Allyship @ Mochi column is an ongoing project that urges an awareness of racial injustice in the United States, particularly the oppression of Black people in America. The articles, resources and opinions we share are a call to action, an open discussion, and a place to take a stance against anti-Black racism. Read more about the column here.

We want Black Allyship @ Mochi to spark productive conversation. We want to know how we can do better: Feel free to email the co-editors at giannina.ong@mochimag.com. 

Author

  • Tria Chang is co-editor of the Black Allyship @ Mochi column and writer for Mochi magazine. Her writing has been featured in The Washington Post, Ozy, the NYT Now app, HuffPost, Narratively, Slant’d Media, Thought Catalog, and the Editor’s Picks of Medium, among other places. When not writing, she co-runs Make America Dinner Again, and has appeared on NPR, BBC, ABC, Mother Jones, and at SXSW to discuss and model how to build understanding across political lines. Find her on Instagram.

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