The work of the anti-racist ally demands unending education and introspection. One of many steps non-Black allies are taking to dislodge an indoctrinated white perspective is to infuse their watchlists with media that confronts racism and the realities of Black people in America. While the influence of pop culture and representation cannot be understated, these movies are not the panacea to racism. These films alone cannot cure bigotry or erase anti-Black microaggressions. This list simply offers important beginnings to an unceasing effort to uproot dangerous biases and dismantle systemic oppression.
“Fruitvale Station” chronicles the events of Dec. 31, 2008, when Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old Black man portrayed by Michael B. Jordan, rode home via BART only to become entangled in a terrifying confrontation with the police. Ryan Coogler debuts his masterful direction with a heart-wrenchingly human story. He vignettes the film like a Greek drama; the first scene depicts real footage from a shaky civilian camera with Oscar and the police, steeping “Fruitvale Station” in the potency of tragedy and outrage. When a Black person is murdered by police officers, the consequent discussions often challenge the victim’s history, as if their past mistakes excuse the police officer’s violence. “Fruitvale Station” shatters the notion of a “perfect” victim, affirming that Oscar’s flaws do not eclipse the importance of his life.
“Do the Right Thing”
Spike Lee’s tour de force “Do the Right Thing” came out more than 30 years ago and reigns as one of the most relevant movies to further discussions about racism in the United States. As the director, writer and producer, Lee also stars in the movie as Mookie, a delivery boy for Sal’s Pizzeria. Sal’s Pizzeria perches as a popular establishment in a predominantly Black neighborhood. On the hottest day of the year, Buggin Out (Giancarlo Esposito) complains that Sal’s “Wall of Fame” only celebrates Italian Americans even though Black patrons keep the restaurant afloat. The day transforms into a pressure cooker as racial tensions reach a boil and a police officer strangles Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn). Lee generates a lively community, enriched by a vibrant cast of characters, none of whom are tidy or perfect. “Do the Right Thing” exhibits the many faces of prejudice, with each character refracting racist attitudes onto another, illustrating how racism is perverse regardless of who performs it.
“Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am”
The 2019 documentary “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am” amplifies the voice of the greatest American storyteller, allowing her to speak for herself and honoring her legacy. Director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders constructs “The Pieces I Am” around an interview with Toni Morrison, who recounts her life from early childhood in Lorain, Ohio to earning the Nobel Prize in literature. Morrison peeled away the literary white gaze, exploring the minds and lives of Black girls and women without editing for a white readership. The documentary cements Morrison’s literary artistry as undeniable and celebrates her innovation in reimagining a history that was degraded and ignored.
Jordan Peele distills sharp commentary on contemporary racism in his suspenseful and superb debut horror movie, “Get Out.” When Rose (Allison Williams) invites her boyfriend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) to spend the weekend at her parents’ house, Chris regards the trip with amused caution, wondering how her family members will react to their daughter’s interracial relationship. Her parents, Missy and Dean Armitage (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford, respectively), welcome him with awkward, excessive assurance that they are not racist, claiming “I would have voted for Obama for a third term.” As the weekend progresses, Chris discovers the hollow shell of white liberalism conceals a much darker, insidious truth. Enlivened by exemplary performances and a script rich in subtext, “Get Out” is as erudite as it is entertaining.
“If Beale Street Could Talk”
I have previously celebrated the gorgeous, evocative storytelling of Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk,” and it bears repeating. Jenkins adapts the film from James Baldwin’s novel of the same name, which follows Tish Rivers (KiKi Layne) and Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt (Stephan James), a young Black couple living in Harlem. When Fonny is arrested and detained for a false accusation of rape, Tish and her family strive to clear his name. “If Beale Street Could Talk” simultaneously sympathizes with the survivor of sexual assault while condemning the systemic racism that targets Black men. The movie welds Baldwin’s lyrical language into exquisite visuals to share the world of “Beale Street,” a world realized for Black people in America. Rather than victimizing its characters, the film conveys the healing, nourishing power of love to persist in the face of devastation.
“The Watermelon Woman”
“The Watermelon Woman” represents a groundbreaking triumph, delving into the experiences of Black lesbian women. Cheryl Dunye writes, directs and stars in the movie as an aspiring young filmmaker also named Cheryl. While working in a video rental store, she discovers an alluring Black actress from the 1930s, unnamed and only credited as the “Watermelon Woman.” Cheryl is profoundly moved to see a woman on screen who looks like her. She dives into Black and queer film archives, elated to discover the Watermelon Woman is also a lesbian. Dunye bridges intimacy, joy and astute observations, questioning who perches at the helm of visibility and who falls out of frame. “The Watermelon Woman” demonstrates transformative power endowed by media representation and emphasizes the importance of intersectional support.