The murder of George Floyd, the death of yet another Black person at the hands of a white police officer, has angered people of all colours around the world, resulting in protests, riots, calls for cuts to police funding, and even the total abolition of policing. In light of Floyd’s murder, Black people need White people to fight for justice alongside them, educate themselves on the history of Black oppression and to become active anti-racists. Whilst a deadly pandemic, which disproportionately affects and kills people of colour, has limited access to typical forms of protest, film and TV are one way of educating ourselves on police brutality, racism and oppression.
White allies and anti-racists, committed to end the repression, murder, and discrimination of Black people should use their free time in lockdown to watch these harrowing, raw and eye-opening films and documentaries, created by Black people, about Black oppression, for anybody ready and willing to fight against it. The films are listed below in no particular order.
13th (2016), dir. by. Ava DuVernay.
Named after the 13th Amendment which abolished slavery in 1865, 13th explores the mass incarceration of Black and Brown people in America. By naming the documentary after the Amendment that promised Black people the end of unpaid labour, sexual and physical abuse and brutal exploitation, DuVernay highlights how, infact, slavery was never truly abolished. The BLM Movement has highlighted and made public police brutality and murder, but less spoken about is the unpaid, gruelling labour Black and Brown people carry out in American prisons. The documentary takes viewers not only through the changing nature of Black oppression, but through the changing nature of Black imprisonment and unpaid labour, from convict leasing, to segregation, to the war on drugs, and to mass incarceration. DuVernay shoots down in flames the idea that the cruel and barbaric institution of slavery ended in 1865. Available on Netflix.
LA92 (2017), dir. by. T.J. Martin and Daniel Lindsay.
After the death of Latasha Harlins and the filmed brutality Rodney King endured at the hands of police officers, there are protests and civil unrest in America. The perpetrators are subsequently let off the hook by the criminal justice system and the LA ‘race riots’ of 1992 begin. The riots, carried out by black protesters, activists and supporters essentially shut down Los Angeles and resulted in the deaths of 63 people, over 2,000 injuries and property damage of over $1 billion.
The documentary depicts the anger felt by the Los Angeles Black community, not only at the fact neither Latasha Harlins nor Rodney King receive justice, but at the years of struggle, poverty and oppression Black Americans have faced over hundreds of years. The death of George Floyd and the revitalisation of the Black Lives Matter Movement may seem new or unprecedented to some, but Black struggle, police brutality and the lack of justice that follows are events the Black community experience everyday; only sometimes do they reach international levels of attention. Available on Netflix.
When They See Us (2019), dir. by. Ava DuVernay.
In 1989 five Black boys were arrested and convicted of the rape of a jogger in Central Park, in what was to become known as the Central Park jogger case. Despite a lack of any evidence, DNA that linked the boys to the crime and the fact all the boys denied attacking the woman, the boys were imprisoned. In another masterpiece by DuVernay, the series shows how the boys were criminalised for being young, black and in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were coerced into admitting to the crime and the series graphically explores themes of police brutality, the barbarism of the prison system and the ‘guilty until proven innocent’ attitude towards Black men.
Race is shown, in the eyes of both the law and wider society as the difference between guilt and innocence, between inclusion and exclusion and between wealth and poverty. Not only do the men suffer the injustices of the prison system, but the injustices of “freedom” from incarceration, where the inability to obtain an income, start a family or gain any respectability are barriers put up by a racist society. DuVernay challenges you to not only ask “what if they weren’t there at that time?”, but “what they weren’t black at that time?” and “what if being black didn’t make you guilty in the eyes of the law?” Available on Netflix.
Fruitvale Station (2013), dir. by. Ryan Coogler.
Sam Quentin was 22 and unarmed when he was shot by a police officer on New Year’s Day. This film, however, does not delve into any subsequent trials or criminal convictions, Keziah Spainebut instead shows Quentin as a young man, in love, with a daughter and a loving family. Coogler fills Quentin with the humanity the police officer who murdered him didn’t see, and he also fills his family, friends and community with a humanity that often isn’t given to Black characters in films. We are forced to confront the fact Black men aren’t the only ones robbed from life when killed by police, but families suffer the unjust death of a loved one, and it is yet again proven to the Black community that to some, their lives don’t matter. Available on Netflix.
Imperial Dreams (2014), dir. by. Malik Vitthal.
John Boyega plays a young man who has just been released from prison, as he tries to get his life back together through looking after his son and writing. We are shown how poverty, a criminal record and the ghettoisation of Black communities creates barriers to individual prosperity. Bambi (Boyega) witnesses the death of loved ones and finds his life and being community repeatedly infiltrated by police presence, highlighting the lie that a release from prison means freedom. Available on Netflix.
Time: The Kalief Browder Story (2017), dir. by. Jenner Furst.
The heartbreaking story of the life of Kalief Browder shook America and inspired a movement. At the age of 16, Browder, a Black teenager was accused of stealing a backpack- there was no evidence and Browder was eventually dismissed of all charges at the age of 22. This was, however, after serving 3 years in one of the most notorious prisons in the country (known as the “Guantanamo Bay of New York”) and spending a significant amount of time in solitary confinement.
The documentary finds a broken “justice” system that criminalises young Black men in particular, the way solitary confinement affects one’s mental and physical health, a flawed and broken criminal justice system that breaks Constitutional rules on a daily basis, and the toll watching a loved one experience such extreme levels of brutality and injustice takes on a family. Available on Netflix.
Image Credit: When They See Us, TheMovieDB.