2020 has been insane, to say the least. The pandemic in and of itself is just too much, but we can’t forget about everything else going on. Most importantly, the fire behind the Black Lives Matter movement cannot continue to die down.
I was way too guilty of not knowing enough about history, especially this particular history, as I should. Most of us are still learning...I know I am. For anything to change in our society, we must first change as individuals with our knowledge base and our mindset. Though it is nowhere near sufficient, I learned a lot from these documentaries, TV shows, and podcasts. I hope y’all will, too.
Directed by Ava DuVernay, this documentary follows the present-day mass incarceration of African-Americans. It also traces slavery back to the roots of the Thirteenth Amendment, which banned slavery except when it is used as a “punishment for a crime”. In other words, jail = slavery. DuVernay also focuses on the War on Drugs policies that were implemented and expanded by Presidents Nixon and Reagan, which had negative effects on the African-American community while producing economic gain for those in power.
- American Son
Based on his Broadway play, Christopher Demos-Brown highlights the horror felt by an African-American mother while her son is in trouble. Kerry Washington plays the role of Kendra. In the film, Kendra’s son was last reported to be fleeing the scene of a crime with his friends while being pulled over by police, but now there is no trace of him.
This movie was heart-wrenching. Not only does the actual filming technique make it more emotional, but how can you not realize how terrible our society is when I’m sure you can already guess what happened to her Black son?
- Time: The Kalief Browder Story
This docu-series follows the story of Kalief Browder. At the age of 16, Browder was accused of stealing a backpack. Let me repeat that. Accused of stealing a backpack. He was sent to Rikers Island prison, one of the most dangerous prisons for adults, where he was denied bail and kept for years without a conviction. Browder was locked up in solitary confinement. Of his 1,000 days in Rikers, 700 of those were spent in solitary confinement.
The torment that Browder experienced led him to have severe mental health issues and ruined his life. Sadly, this story is not just confined to Kalief Browder.
- When They See Us
This series focuses on the true story of the Central Park Five. In April of 1989, many young African-American boys were taken from the streets and their homes. Five were selected by the NYPD to be interrogated and charged for the rape of Trisha Meli. Coerced into a confession, Korey Wise, Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, and Antron McCray were incarcerated for crimes they didn’t commit.
Wise was imprisoned at 16 and spent 12 years behind bars. Salaam was imprisoned at 15 and spent 6 years and 8 months behind bars. Richardson was imprisoned at 14 and spent 5 and a half years behind bars. Santana was imprisoned at 14 and spent 5 years behind bars. McCray was imprisoned at 15 and spent 6 years behind bars.
- LA 92
This documentary follows the Los Angeles riots of 1992 sparked by the beating of Rodney King by LAPD officers. Violence, fires, and looting erupted all over the city, and over 50 were killed and more than 2,300 were injured, with the most damage being done to minority communities.
When we look back at these riots and look to the protests of today, you can see a recurring theme: police brutality. You know, maybe those in leadership should learn how to accept and respect basic human rights, use power for positivity, and not kill or beat innocent people? I don’t know, just a thought.
Not only does this documentary highlight the struggles for people of color, but it sheds some light on the LBGTQ+ community and how they are perceived through the media, specifically members of the trans community.
Personally, this is one of the groups that I know the least about and is partly why I found this documentary so interesting. Not only does it account for personal stories, but it also dissects portrayals of trans individuals throughout cinematic history, illustrating the negative connotations that are sometimes still associated with people of color in the LGBTQ+ community.
- They’ve Gotta Have Us
Similar to Disclosure, this series focuses on the struggle of African-Americans in the film industry. Famous actors and actresses that we all know and love speak on their fight in the industry. These individuals speak to how they were, and still are, passed over for certain parts, had to conform to a white director's idea of the portrayal of the African-American life, and stereotypes that were spearheaded by D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation.
This podcast begins with a depiction of slaves being shipped from Africa to the American Colonies. It talks of their experiences, their hardships, and their life after the ships. This podcast goes on to explain the history that we, or at least I, had never learned. For example, how slaves built the economy, how African-Americans shaped our way of popular music, and traditions that are still upheld.
There is so much we should still be doing for this movement. If you can do something, why not do it? Learning is the least we can do that can make a little bit of difference. That being said, no, watching a few movies isn’t going to solve any of our problems, but learning history and trying to understand encounters that are not taught in our textbooks might at least change some of our generation's viewpoints.
I highly recommend looking into these films and so many more. Netflix and Hulu have amazing Black Lives Matter collections and Spotify has great playlists. While we’re all still trapped at home, pick up a book, watch a movie, or listen to a podcast. Do your part.