Beyond the tragic loss of George Floyd, for me the saddest part of this past week is realizing how little progress we’ve actually made on racial inequality since the founding of the Civil Rights movement well over half a century ago.
I think of how many times over the years we’ve seen police brutality publicized against an African-American citizen, and felt collective outrage. Always, we hear cries for reform.
However, outrage is one thing, justice another. Weeks go by and we move on, once again failing to confront the messy social and economic issues that make these occurrences inevitable.
Will this time be different? That’s entirely up to us.
I have never had to walk in the shoes of an African-American, so I’ve always treasured those special films that illuminate their particular world — a world totally alien to white people of privilege, like me.
Getting a glimpse into their challenges on a personal, human level should inspire us to do more and do better, so that this time is indeed different and we don’t just move on. One important step is making sure we all vote this fall.
Maddeningly, several landmark films, notably “Nothing But A Man” (1964) and “Killer of Sheep” (1977) are only available on DVD or bluray. Still, they’re well worth the price, as is the documentary “Citizen King” (2004), from the American Experience series on PBS.
In addition, the ten excellent titles below are all streamable on Amazon. At this crucial moment, they should all make us think, and more importantly, act.
A Raisin in the Sun (1961)
Walter Lee Younger (Sidney Poitier) looks to his widowed mother Lena (Claudia McNeil) to invest her savings in a new business that could lift him and his family economically. But Ma has other plans for the money. Based on Lorraine Hansberry’s landmark play, this tight, beautifully acted film still packs a wallop. Co-starring Ruby Dee.
Full review here. | Rent now on Amazon Video. Also available on Google Play Movies, Vudu, YouTube, DIRECTV, Microsoft Store, FandangoNOW, Apple iTunes.
This stunning, made-for-TV film features Cicely Tyson in the title role, aging from a young slave girl to an old lady of 100, living through the Civil Rights era. Tyson is fabulous, as we relive the century of change and tumult that Miss Pittman lived through. A touching drama and vital history lesson, this is also ideal family viewing. Tyson is incredible.
Full review here. | Rent now on Amazon Video.
Edward Zwick’s moving, majestic war film traces the first African-American regiment ever formed during the Civil War, led by the young, white Union colonel, Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick). A superb Morgan Freeman co-stars, and Denzel Washington gained stardom — and an Oscar – for his role as a defiant enlisted man.
Full review here. | Rent now on Amazon Video. Also available on Vudu, Google Play Movies, YouTube, Apple iTunes, Microsoft Store, AMC on Demand, DIRECTV, Redbox, FandangoNOW, FlixFling.
Do the Right Thing (1989)
Spike Lee’s devastating film tracks how racial tensions rise along with the mercury one sweltering summer in Brooklyn’s Bed- Stuy section. Mookie (Lee) delivers pizzas for Sal (Danny Aiello), a white business owner whose son Pino (John Turturro) is a bigot. It doesn’t end well. Co-starring Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Samuel L. Jackson, and many others.
Full review here. | Rent now on Amazon Video. Also available on Google Play Movies, Vudu, YouTube, AMC on Demand, Microsoft Store, FandangoNOW, Apple iTunes.
Boyz n’ the Hood (1991)
The late writer/director John Singleton’s breakout film follows the fortunes of three young black men (Cuba Gooding, Jr., Ice Cube, and Morris Chestnut) trying to make their way in South Central L.A., which is awash in gang warfare. Here it’s not just about succeeding, but surviving. Co-starring Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett. Unmissable.
Full review here. | Rent now on Amazon Video. Also available on DIRECTV, fuboTV, Showtime, Vudu, Google Play Movies, YouTube, Microsoft Store, AMC on Demand, DIRECTV, Redbox, FandangoNOW, Apple iTunes.
Malcolm X (1992)
Spike Lee’s vivid, ambitious biopic covers the life of the martyred civil rights leader, from his early days as a small-time pimp, through his religious conversion and ascent to chief spokesman for the Nation of Islam. Denzel Washington is uncanny as Malcolm; he looks and sounds just like him. Masterful filmmaking from Lee and crew, and an important film.
Full review here. | Rent now on Amazon Video. Also available on Netflix, Vudu, Google Play Movies, YouTube, Apple iTunes, DIRECTV, Microsoft Store, Redbox, FandangoNOW.
Sean Nelson plays the title character, a street smart twelve year-old in Harlem who’s already dealing drugs to support himself and his sister. Life gets more complicated when he witnesses a murder. His only hope is somehow to outwit the gang that now wants him dead. Boaz Yakin’s riveting film co-stars Giancarlo Esposito and Samuel L. Jackson.
Full review here. | Rent now on Amazon Video. Also available on Google Play Movies, YouTube, Microsoft Store, Vudu, FandangoNOW, Hoopla.
Lee Daniels’s Oscar-winning film concerns a poor, obese teenager (Gabourney Sidibe) living in Harlem with an abusive mother (Mo’Nique), who finds herself pregnant for a second time. Transferred to a new school, she meets a teacher (Paula Patton) who honestly wants to help her. With the odds stacked against her, can Precious hope for a better life?
Full review here. | Rent now on Amazon Video. Also available on HBO Go, HBO Now, HBO Max, Google Play Movies, YouTube, Apple iTunes, Vudu, AMC on Demand, Redbox, Microsoft Store, FandangoNOW, FlixFling, DIRECTV.
Chiron never quite fits in. Neglected by his junkie mother (Naomie Harris), he’s mentored by drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali). Eventually realizing he’s gay, Chiron tries to make sense of his life. Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes play Chiron at different ages. Barry Jenkins’s intense film deservedly won the Best Picture Oscar.
Full review here. | Rent now on Amazon Video. Also available on Netflix, Kanopy, Vudu, Apple iTunes, Google Play Movies, YouTube, Microsoft Store, DIRECTV, Redbox, FandangoNOW.
Queen and Slim (2019)
A couple out on their first date (Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith) find themselves in a nightmare when a minor traffic stop escalates into violence. The two are forced to go on the lam, and their doomed road trip brings them even closer together. Melina Matsoukas’s debut feature speaks to our moment, and both the leads are fabulous.
Full review here. | Rent now on Amazon Video. Also available on Microsoft Store, Vudu, Google Play Movies, YouTube, FlixFling, Redbox, FandangoNOW, Apple iTunes, DIRECTV.