Top 10 racism movies you need to see to fully understand black rage in America


Ever since the murder of George Floyd has stirred the consciences of Western white people again, many have wondered how they can contribute to the anti-racist cause and be valuable allies. Cinema, which has always been – when it is of quality – not only pure entertainment, but a means of exploration and knowledge, on this side becomes a valid tool to be used alongside reading and listening to black people, to investigate the causes , the historical events and the individual and daily experiences that still nourish the plots of racism, often even very subtle.

  1. A bunch of sunshine (1961)

Adapted for cinema by Canadian director Daniel Petrie in 1961, A bunch of sun (A Raising in the Sun) it is based on a theatrical performance by Lorraine Hansberry, the first black woman to make her Broadway debut as a playwright. Chosen for storage in the National Film Registry of the United States Library of Congress, the film is set in Chicago in the 1950s, where the African American Younger family finds themselves having to decide what to do with a $ 10,000 reimbursement of health insurance.

The story focuses on financial struggles, the lack of opportunities and discrimination, obstacles that still prevent black people from achieving their goals, and how the American dream seemed to be achievable only through assimilation to the white majority. It is the eternal gap between rich and poor. To use the words of Walter Lee, one of the protagonists, “between those who earn and those who are exploited”. Attempting to achieve financial security and climbing the social ladder still requires significant effort for African American people. An black family is estimated to earn $ 36,000 a year on average versus 80,000 for a white family, while black people are also paid 20% less than their white colleagues for the same level of education.

  1. The purple color (1985)

When framed for the first time, Celie is running with her sister Nettie through a field of purple flowers, she is still a little girl, we don’t know anything about her. Soon, however, we discover that she is pregnant, abused by her father, and is already the second child who gives life and from which she is forced to separate. His will be a life of abuse and punishment, victim first of his stepfather and then of her husband, Albert. Based on the novel of the same name with which the American writer Alice Walker will be the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1983, The Color Purple (The Color Purple) focuses on the female condition of the early twentieth century in the southern United States, where being black and woman was equivalent to counting nothing. It is thanks to mutual support that Celie and Nettie manage to survive. By questioning the previously unknown meaning of happiness, Celie comes to an awareness that will allow her to rise above any stereotype that until then had been imposed on her by the men of her life. The film, directed by Steven Spielberg, sees the acting debut of Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg, who for the role of Celie won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar, in which the film was nominated in ten other categories. The purple color reflects on racial murders, the deviation generated by violence, the predominance of white culture and male power in the black community and does so through the attempt of a woman to resist the cruelty of everyday life and to emancipate herself from the drama of the present.

  1. Mississippi Burning. The roots of hatred (1988)

On the night of 21-22 June 1964, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, activists of the civil movement for the rights of African Americans, were shot dead by some members of the Ku Klux Klan with the connivance of the Sheriff of Neshoba County, Mississippi, where the three had gone to convince the black community to register in the electoral registers. It is from this fact that really happened that the film directed by Alan Parker and starring Gene Hackman, Willem Dafoe and Frances McDormand starts.

In those years the entire southern United States, including Mississippi, was marked by episodes of violence and terror. African Americans, in the wake of the words of Martin Luther King, fought everywhere for their rights and dignity, trying to undermine the racial division that whites gave for necessary. The judicial process was complex and continuously hindered by local newspapers. Despite the FBI indicting 21 people in the following years, the three boys obtained justice only in 2005, when former Klan chief Edgar Ray Killen was convicted of pre-intentional murder. Although many have criticized Parker’s film for the lack of a real black protagonist and for a somewhat paternalistic spirit, Mississippi Burning he was nominated in four categories for the Golden Globes and seven for the Oscars, of which he won only for photography. According to some, it was the success of the film that led the American Congress to approve in 1989 a resolution that honored the memory of the three activists: “We are deeply sorry for what happened here 25 years ago,” said Secretary of State Dick Molpus of Mississippi, publicly apologizing on behalf of the institutions during a memorial service attended by relatives of the victims.

  1. Do the right thing (1989)

Accused of instigating violence – probably by the same kind of people who today tell blacks how they should oppose the abuse and the white system they suffer – Do the right thing (Do the Right Thing) it starts from a sentence of Malcolm X and explores how racial inequality in a predominantly African American community leads to conflict. Inspired by a news story of 1986, in which four black boys were beaten and one of them died in a fight in a pizzeria run by Italian Americans in Queens, the film, defined by the New York Times “The living, lively and fascinating proof of the arrival of a new great talent of cinema”, marks the debut of Spike Lee and shows the dynamics behind racism, emphasizing some clichés, and bringing attention to institutionalized racism all existing today. The warning with which the film opens – “Wake up“, Wake up – there is still a great lesson to be learned, making the work a means of opening a window on a country that has historically devalued the lives of black people.

  1. American History X (1998)

Directed by Tony Kaye and played by Edward Norton and Edward Furlong, American History X tells the true story of Frank Meeink, one of the greatest exponents of white suprematism. The protagonist is Derek, a young neo-fascist skinhead who has come out of prison visibly changed, and of his younger brother Danny, who wants to follow in his footsteps. During his years in prison, however, Derek realized how much everything he believed was nothing more than harmful fanaticism, and he tries in every way to make Danny embrace the new ideals of community in which he believes. The director, who at the end of the shoot tried to dissociate himself from the film due to the excessive changes to the script made by Norton, to bring back the two time trajectories uses a very effective formal trick: in black and white the unruly life and the past of Derek, in a world where there was only the opposition between us and them to indicate the right and the wrong, while the images become colored in following the present and trying to find a balance.

American History X it reflects the birth of today’s phenomena, such as Trump’s sovereignty and high right: the emulation of family values ​​and the inability to question them, the lack of knowledge and openness to others, relying on an ideology which does not allow any other idea to take root. “Listen to me well, you have to open your eyes. There are over two million illegal immigrants sleeping on our land tonight, “says Derek in a scene from the film,” This is about your life and mine. Of honest American workers who today are ignored and treated like shit because their government cares more about the constitutional rights of a group of people who do not have citizenship “. More than twenty years later, this could still be the speech of any of our many politicians.

  1. The 25th hour (2002)

“We felt that shooting a film like this in New York, so shortly after the attack, forced us to make it even as if it were a comment on the city after 9/11. This is why we have transformed New York into a character in history, treating it as a wounded city, populated by people who simply try to live their lives, “says Spike Lee describing The 25th hour (The 25th Hour). The film, inspired by David Benioff’s book of the same name, reflects on America marked by terrorist attacks and is the first to show Ground Zero. Rich in cinematographic references – from Taxi Driver to Once upon a time in America – history criticizes the sentiment of marginalization, the culture of suspicion, and the use of nationalist myths children of capitalist society, but also describes the melancholy that characterizes the mood of the United States after the collapse of the Twin Towers. The narration follows the twenty-four hours preceding the arrest of Monty Brogan, a drug dealer engaged to Naturelle, a girl of Puerto Rican origins. Framed by a tip and reluctant to collaborate with the police, Brogan is sentenced to seven years in prison for drug detention and decides to spend the last night in the company of the girl and some friends, despite the bitterness that ends up infecting everything the group. The 25th hour is therefore the hour of truth, the one in which to decide whether to surrender to life or become masters of one’s own destiny, and the one that Brogan’s father hopes will serve his son to remedy his mistakes.

  1. The birth of a nation. The awakening of a people (2016)

Set in Virginia in 1831, The birth of a nation (The Birth of a Nation) it tells the life of Nat Turner, a slave who will become a great preacher thanks to the religious education received as a child and who will be used by his master to quell “with the voice of God” the revolts of the other oppressed. The title is an ironic reference to the namesake The Birth of a Nation, silent film of 1915 directed by David Wark Griffith, which describes the birth of the Ku Klux Klan. The original film attracted numerous protests, especially from the NAACP, because it praised the creation of white groups and incited them to attack black people. The one shot by Nate Parker in 2016, instead, starts from an episode that really happened: for 48 hours Nat, rebelling against his master, leads a revolt in some plantations in Virginia. The most original element of the film, in addition to telling the biography of a practically unknown character, is to underline how sacred scriptures can always be used for both peaceful and bloody purposes, justifying the most atrocious gestures. The Birth of a Nation it is an indispensable document to probe not only the brutal American past, but also its present contradictions. An ambitious attempt to correct the contradictions of history within the conventions of narrative mainstream.

  1. Next stop – Fruitvale Station (2013)

Perhaps the most representative film of the protests of these weeks in America, Fruitvale Station tells the true story of Oscar Grant, an African American killed on the night of January 1, 2009 after being arrested for a fight. The policeman who shot, sentenced to two years, served only half the sentence and justified himself by saying he confused the gun with the electric taser. The entire Bay Area of ​​Oakland, California, was shocked by the protests, because many subway passengers, who filmed and shared the images of the beating, had also witnessed that death, as happened for George Floyd. It is precisely with these frame amateur who begins the film by Ryan Coogler, making his debut in a feature film, in which the only sound we hear is Grant’s feeble voice wondering why it is up to him that fate, father of a little girl to look after. “What happened to Oscar could have happened to me. I’m more or less the same age, I’m not Californian like him, but like him I grew up in one inner city, one of those urban ghettos inhabited by African Americans. It was not difficult to identify with him, “said Michael B. Jordan, who plays the protagonist. The director has chosen to recount the last 24 hours of Grant and to do it without transforming the man into a symbol, polarizing him towards the good or the bad boy, but bringing back all the nuances of a difficult life and the humanity that can derive from it : struggled to have a regular job and had been in prison for dealing, but he was trying to remedy the mistakes of the past to give a future to his daughter and his partner. In short, neither saint nor hero, just another victim of gratuitous and deep-rooted violence at the bases of the American police.

  1. 12 year old slave (2013)

To let Steve McQueen know the true story behind 12 years a slave (12 Years a Slave), passed down in a memoir written in 1853, was his wife Bianca. Solomon Northup, protagonist of the memoir and from the film, he was a black man born free but kidnapped in Washington D.C. and sold in Louisiana as a slave. The book was published at a time when slavery was already illegal in the North American states, while in the South it was starting to crumble: not for humanitarian reasons, but because whites had noticed that it was economically cheaper to hire people only to make them work rather than “keep” a slave even in times when work was scarce. By reproducing the rhythms and routine of the work, with scenes of extreme cruelty, together with the disturbing intimacy between oppressed and oppressors, 12 year old slave it reflects the condition of African Americans in the period before the civil war, without sparing anything of what really happened and giving a detailed description of what the daily lives of these people were at that time. The first film by a black director to win the Oscar for Best Picture – which he already has with Shame is Hunger had demonstrated his skills – and Lupita Nyong’o’s great debut, celebrated with the one for Best Supporting Actress, the release of the work in Italy produced quite a few controversies. On the posters made by the Italian distribution company, in fact, only the white actors were promoted, such as Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender, who despite having minor parts had been placed in the foreground, relegating the protagonist Chiwetel Ejiofor to a place in the bottom corner .

    1. The right to object (2019)
      Inspired by the trial of Walter McMillian, a black wrongfully accused of killing a girl, Just Mercy, The right to object retraces the history of defense attorney Bryan Stevenson, founder of Equal Justice Initiative and professor at New York University School of Law, who from a young age chose to fight against injustice. McMillian’s fault is in fact more linked to the color of his skin than to a real involvement in the murder. Beside Stevenson will be the white activist Eva Ansley, who will help him find evidence that exonerate McMillian, and will find himself being hindered by the Alabama white community, guilty of helping a black man. According to data from the Sentencing Project, although African Americans are 13% of the American population, they represent about 40% of detainees and are imprisoned at a rate five times higher than that of whites. Poverty is also decisive for the imprisonment of these people and Just Mercy, representing racism in its most everyday expressions, reflects the white system that does not care to pursue the truth, but only feeds the idea that African American people should be stopped and represent a danger. In this sense, the film directed by Destin Daniel Cretton starring Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx and Brie Larson, joins the other films that highlight racism endemic to the various floors of the US judicial system, such as The dark beyond the hedge is When They See Us.

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