This is a time for all of us, but for white people in particular, to listen and learn.
Stories are a big part of how many of us understand the world. Movies, as with books and TV, can help a lot of us understand situations or communities or circumstances that we don’t see in our day-to-day lives.
To that end, Warner Bros. just made the 2019 movie “Just Mercy” available to rent for free through June. That offer is specific to the American market, but luckily for us, “Just Mercy” is now streamable for free for Canadian audiences via Cineplex.
The movie, which premiered at TIFF last fall, stars Michael B. Jordan as civil rights defence attorney Bryan Stevenson, who created the Equal Justice Initiative in 1989. The Equal Justice Initiative, a legal advocacy organization that fights for criminal justice reform, has scored a rare 100 per cent and 4/4 stars from the nonprofit watchdog Charity Navigator.
Cineplex has also made a number of movies by Black directors available to stream for free on their website. Those movies include Spike Lee’s seminal “Do the Right Thing,” Jordan Peele’s genius horror movie “Get Out,” and “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am,” a 2019 documentary about the acclaimed writer.
Below is a list of more movies that can help you understand the history of racism, Black identity and the bleak realities of police brutality. They’re available on a range of platforms, including Netflix, YouTube and Crave.
I Am Not Your Negro
Premise: Filmmaker Raoul Peck uses an unfinished James Baldwin project about Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. to tell a story about entrenched racism in America. All three men were close friends of Baldwin’s and were ultimately assassinated.
The documentary juxtaposes photographs and footage from Baldwin’s time with visuals of contemporary racism, such as ongoing police brutality.
Samuel L. Jackson narrates Baldwin’s words.
Director: Raoul Peck
Debut date: Feb. 17, 2017
Runtime: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Premise: After making the Martin Luther King Jr. movie “Selma” (available to stream for free on Cineplex!) Ava DuVernay’s next major project was this documentary about a clause in the 13th Amendment of the U.S. constitution that allows involuntary servitude if it’s punishment for a crime.
After abolishing slavery, the U.S. has disproportionately imprisoned Black citizens, often for questionable crimes and with questionable sentences. These actions have created a jailed Black workforce.
Watch: Netflix, but you can also watch the full movie above on YouTube
Director: Ava DuVernay
Debut date: Oct. 7, 2016
Runtime: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Premise: The movie tells the true story of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old Black man who was shot by police at a subway station on New Year’s Day in 2009.
Director: Ryan Coogler
Debut date: July 26, 2013
Runtime: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Notes From the Field
Premise: Anna Deavere Smith wrote and performed this one-person play about the school-to-prison pipeline. Smith based the story on over 200 interviews with those involved in this system, which disproportionately sends young Black children to jail.
The play also features real-life footage on the stage that depicts police brutality against children.
Director: Kristi Zea
Debut date: Feb. 24, 2018
Runtime: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Premise: Roger Guenveur Smith performs this one-person show about the life of Rodney King. The Los Angeles Police Department beat Rodney King nearly to death on March 3, 1991.
Smith’s spoken-word performance focuses heavily on the aftermath of the event, telling the story of what the country expected from King.
Director: Spike Lee
Debut date: April 28, 2017
Runtime: 52 minutes
Premise: This documentary focuses on the days following the verdict in the King trial. It immerses viewers in that tumultuous period of protests, violence and looting in Los Angeles using rarely-seen archival footage.
Director: Dan Lindsay, T.J. Martin
Debut date: April 21, 2017
Runtime: 1 hour, 54 minutes
If Beale Street Could Talk
Premise: This lush, tender adaptation of the James Baldwin novel tells the story of a young couple in 1970s Harlem whose plans for the future are derailed by the injustices of law enforcement when one of them is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit.
Director: Barry Jenkins
Debut date: Dec. 25, 2018
Runtime: 1 hour, 59 minutes
The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975
Premise: This documentary resurfaces found footage of interviews conducted by Swedish journalists with members of the Black Power movement. The film gives snapshots of different facets of Black culture from activism to artists.
These old interviews are combined with archival footage from the period and contemporary commentary from people such as Erykah Badu and Questlove, who also has a scoring credit.
Director: Göran Olsson
Debut date: April 1, 2011
Runtime: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Premise: A small town in Georgia struggles to progress beyond its racially-divided past. One year after the town’s prom is de-segregated, as there’s a Black candidate sheriff for the first time in the town’s history, a young unarmed Black man is murdered by an older white man.
Director: Gillian Laub
Debut Date: May 18, 2015
Runtime: 1 hour, 27 minutes
Premise: “Nancy’s Workshop” focuses on Nancy Falaise, a Montreal salon owner and natural hair expert, who leads a private monthly workshop for young Black girls struggling to love their natural hair.
Director: Aïcha Diop
Debut Date: Aug. 27, 2019
Runtime: 19 minutes
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