TOP 5: Historical Films & Human Rights

(photos courtesy of Focus Feature Films, BBC Films, the Weinstein Company, Paramount Pictures, and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Mount Holyoke College had the great honor of having a pre-screening of Suffragette (2015) one month before it was released. This superb feminist film is one of many historical films that depicts incredible true stories and events focusing on the struggles for human rights. Why do we love these types of films so much? First of all, they’re inspiring. They give us someone to root for. Secondly, it’s astounding to see portrayals of how things were years ago because it makes us realize how some things are still the same now. Nearly all historical films are criticised for their accuracy, but they are still loved and nominated for many prestigious awards. Here are some fantastic historical films from the last five years.

Suffragette (2015)

Suffragette is the most recent historical film to come out and is based on the suffragettes in Great Britain as they fight for their right to vote. Directed by Sarah Gavron, this wonderful film is brought to life by powerful female actresses including Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst and Helena Bonham Carter as Edith Ellyn. Carey Mulligan’s moving performance as Maud Watts helps support the film because, while her character was not a real person, she was an amalgam who stood for many women facing challenges in the 20th century, including Child Custody Rights. For all of the feminists out there, Suffragette is one hell of a movie for you to see.

Suffragette will be on limited release in the US on October 23rd, 2015.


Pride (2014)

Pride is a British LGBT-related historical drama that takes place in 1984 during the miner’s strike in Great Britain. Based on a true story, the film hones in on a group of gays and lesbians who help out a mining town by raising money. The group soon becomes the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners and works to form an alliance with the National Union of Mineworkers, which was initially reluctant to form such an alliance with an openly gay activist group. Filled with an outstanding cast including Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, and Ben Schnetzer and nominated for a Golden Globe Award and BAFTA, Pride is a fun, heartfelt movie you definitely need to see.


The Imitation Game (2014)

The Imitation Game is an intense historical film that focuses on Alan Turing and his cracking of the Enigma machine during the Second World War. This film does not hone in on a particular human rights movement, but it does focus on a gay mathematician's struggle against a society that jailed and chemically castrated men for “public indecency.” This inspirational film follows the chronicles of cryptographers and mathematicians at Bletchley Park as they attempt to crack the Enigma machine that has allowed the Nazis to share messages. Alan Turing’s deciphering machine ultimately saved millions of lives and shortened the war by a few years. The Imitation Game collected several Golden Globe, BAFTA, and Academy Award nominations. For computer science students or 20th century history buffs, this film is for you.


Selma (2014)

Selma is a historical film following Martin Luther King Jr. and his marches from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. This film highlights the social injustice black citizens faced, including violent beatings, attacks, arson, and even death threats, and their fight for voting rights. With a stunning cast, beautiful shots, and a phenomenal soundtrack, Selma brings a harsh light to a very intense reality. An inspiring story for voting rights for black citizens, this is not a movie to miss, especially now with the incredibly significant Black Lives Matter movement. Selma was nominated for various Golden Globe awards and an Academy Award for Best Picture and won an Academy Award for Best Original Song for “Glory.”


The Help (2011)

The Help is a period drama rather than a historical film, but its story is close to what black people experienced during the Civil Rights era in the 1960s. The Help shares the story of a young white woman, Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, played by Emma Stone, and her relationship with two black maids, played by Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. Stone’s character helps expose the racism black maids faced under their employment for wealthy white families in Jackson, Mississippi. This film is fun, dramatic, and realistic. It’ll tug on your heartstrings and make sure you know who to root for. The Help was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture and won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.


Other historical films that depict the struggles for human rights include Milk (2008), The Pianist (2002), Malcolm X (1992), Hotel Rwanda (2004), The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008), Schindler’s List (1993), The Color Purple (1985), 12 Years a Slave (2013), and many, many more! Share your favorite historical films on human rights or documentary in the comments below or tell us what human rights movement you want to see depicted in a film.