Eight documentaries to help you understand the Black Lives Matter movement
In 2013, the Black Lives Matter movement started as a hashtag on social media in the United States after the acquittal of African American teen Trayvon Martin’s murderer. The movement is an ongoing protest highlighting the police brutality against Black people in the United States. The movement recently made headlines and garnered global attention after the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and many other Black individuals. The deaths of these people have sparked protests that demand the divestment of police departments, and for funds to be directed towards social services for communities of colour. It also calls for police officers to be screened for racial bias and mental soundness.
Black history in the US is complex and often whitewashed by predominantly white educators and leaders. Here are eight documentaries directed and produced by Black voices that will help you understand systemic racism and Black history in the US.
1. 13th (2016)
13th, directed by Ava DuVernay, examines the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution. Although the law abolishes slavery, a clause in the Amendment manages to find a loophole – the use of free labour is allowed as punishment for a crime. The documentary highlights how the loophole is used to justify the mass incarceration of Black people and people of colour. The film explores how the militarisation of the American police was a long, historical process based on the loophole in the 13th Amendment. Available on Netflix.
2. Becoming (2020)
Based on the memoir of the same name, this documentary directed by Nadia Hallgren follows the journey of former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, the first African American First Lady. The film highlights the importance of Black women and Black feminism. The film features some of the work Michelle Obama did during her tenure as First Lady. Available on Netflix.
3. Happy Birthday, Marsha! (2018)
This is a short film about the transgender artist and activist Marsha P. Johnson, who was one of the leaders responsible for igniting the Stonewall riots against police brutality in 1969. This 14-minute long film, directed by Tourmaline and Sasha Wortzel, shows the instrumental part that queer black activists played in the LGBTQ+ movement. Available to rent on Vimeo for $3.99.
4. Kevin Hart’s Guide to Black History (2019)
Comedian Kevin Hart reenacts moments in American history centred around Black folk. Directed by Tom Stern, his special uses Kevin Hart’s humour and archival footage to highlight unsung Black heroes. It is informative and family-friendly. Available on Netflix.
5. Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement (2016)
This documentary follows the Black Lives Matter movement since its inception in 2013. It shows how the movement gained momentum after the hashtag on social media. The film, directed by Laurens Grant, provides context to modern-day civil rights movements in the United States. Available for free on YouTube.
6. I Am Not Your Negro (2016)
This documentary is based on the book “Remember This House” by James Baldwin. The film illustrates Baldwin’s memories of civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers. The film shows the history of the civil rights movement through Baldwin’s eyes. The documentary is directed by Raol Peck. Available on Netflix.
7. The Force (2017)
This film chronicles the reforms implemented by the Oakland Police Department in California after repeated police brutality and scandals. The police department is fraught with corruption and faces scrutiny from the federal government. Directed by Peter Nicks, this film exposes the truth of the policing system in Oakland and shows their proclivity for racial bias. Available on Netflix.
8. All Power to the People: The Black Panther Party and Beyond (1996)
The film narrates the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party through a series of interviews of former members of the party and government agents. The Black Panther Party (1966-1982) was a political organisation that propagated socialism and protest against police brutality. The film offers key insights about the Black Panther Party’s role in the Civil Rights movement. The film is directed by Lee Lew-Lee. Available for free on YouTube.