5 Important Movies to Watch About the Black Lives Matter Movement

As a Communications major doing one of my minors in Film Studies, it is important, if not necessary, to acknowledge our privileges, especially when it comes to the media and our consumption and access to it. Mainstream media includes highly-impactful sources such as television, movies, podcasts, and more, that work to simultaneously inform and entertain audiences. 


According to an article on the NYPost, “A study of 2,000 Americans with access to a streaming service found the average person is now streaming 8 hours of content per day, and binge-watched 3 shows in the past week.” 


On another note, educating ourselves is vital, especially with everything going on right now. Although many of us have questions we want to ask, we must understand that it is not the responsibility of our Black friends to educate us, especially as we experience activism regarding social justice in the U.S. with the Black Lives Matter movement. 


We must be proactive in recognizing our privileges and finding information ourselves. 


That being said, one way to educate ourselves during the Black Lives Matter movement amidst the COVID-19 pandemic is to check out these incredibly informative movies. If the average American is streaming 8 hours of content every day, then let’s choose to make one of those movies something that will be helpful in educating ourselves. 


Let’s make that watching decision matter.


I specifically chose these movies because although Academy-Award winning movies such as The Help or Greenbook feature racial issues, those films are not designed to educate properly about the Black Lives Matter Movement. An article on Forbes entitled Black Lives Matter: If You’re White, Pass the Mic emphasizes the point that if a movie featuring a white leads centers around a white savior ideology, then it does not amplify Black voices or Black perspectives. The advice from this article focuses on listening, educating, and then acting.


Thus, it is crucial right now, to choose to watch films (many of which are also award-winning) that are authentic to the Black experience, while giving power and voice to Black characters. 


Many of these widely-recognized films are streaming on free online platforms such as Vudu, or are included in monthly subscriptions to services such as Netflix or Hulu. If you currently don’t have access to these platforms, I also recommend reserving the movie through your local library, as many public libraries in the U.S. are doing curb-side pick-up options. 


Here are my top 5 movie recommendations:


1. 13th (directed by Ava DuVernay)

This Emmy-award documentary is available on Netflix. It focuses on the 13th amendment in the U.S. which abolishes slavery, but explains how racial injustice and systemic racism has shifted from slavery to mass incarceration of Black people. It provides detailed examples regarding the statistics of the prison system, and provides background of the movement towards police reform. 


2. Selma (directed by Ava DuVernay)

This movie starring David Oyelowo, Oprah Winfrey, and a talented cast and crew, follows the 1965 voting rights marches led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., James Bavel, Hosea Lewis, and John Lewis, from Selma to Montgomery. According to the New York Times: “‘Selma’ is not a manifesto, a battle cry or a history lesson. It’s a movie: warm, smart, generous and moving in two senses of the word. It will call forth tears of grief, anger, gratitude, and hope. And like those pilgrims on the road to Montgomery, it does not rest.”


3. Just Mercy (directed by Destin Daniel Cretton)

This is an excellent film starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx that’s based on the true story of Bryan Stevenson, a civil rights attorney, as he defends Walter McMillian, an African-American man who was wrongfully convicted of murdering a white woman in the 1980s. Warner Bros. stated that: “We believe in the power of story. Our film Just Mercy…is one resource we can humbly offer to those who are interested in learning more about the systemic racism that plagues our society.” 


4. The Hate U Give (directed by George Tillman Jr.)

This is personally one of my favorite movies of all time, scoring a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes! The author, Angie Thomas, was inspired to write this book after the real-life shooting of Oscar Grant. The Hate U Give focuses on a Black high school student named Starr Carter, who witnesses a police officer killing her unarmed best friend, Khalil. This story was then turned into a movie adaptation starring Amandla Stenberg, and was released in 2018. ABC News comments: “It's a slick, big budget teen film about the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager, that holds front and centre the notion that, as citizens, we have responsibilities that extend beyond our individual needs.”


5. Fruitvale Station (directed by Ryan Coogler)

This Sundance and Cannes-nominated film is about the real-life story of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old Black man coming home for New Year Day in 2009, who was gunned down by police officer Johannes Mehserle. This incident was captured on camera by onlookers at the Oakland train station, and sparked a series of protests throughout the U.S. The Washington Post describes the beauty and loss demonstrated in the film: “Grant’s encounters with friends, family and strangers are defined by quotidian joys as much as darker struggles, as he shops for crabs for his mother’s birthday dinner that night, arrives at school to pick up the young daughter he adores, and puts his grandmother on the phone to help a stranger with fish-frying tips.” 


All in all, there are an abundance of great movies in the Black Lives Matter collection to check out in order to promote a deeper understanding while also proving to entertain us and open our eyes to the Black experience. I hope that we continue to seek these films out and watch them. 


I would even recommend having a family movie night with your loved ones, and then have a discussion about what happened in the film. I personally have done this a lot over the years with various movies, and have found that this strategy has started a lot of insightful and necessary conversations with the people I care about in regards to current events and racism.


It’s okay to not be the perfect activist at first, or to not know where to begin. We must start somewhere. However, let’s use our talents and our gifts to help and support others. 


I believe that it takes a lot of time and reflection to learn that at the end of the day, it’s not about our non-Black voices being heard; it’s about amplifying Black voices and making sure that we are listening.