Photo: Netflix

    Six films that explore racism in America

    15 June 2020

    The tragic death of yet another unarmed black man by a white police officer has resulted in a wave of anti-racism protests that started in America but have inspired hundreds more protests across the world. These six films raise deeply uncomfortable questions about racial inequality in America’s criminal justice system and probe the racial wealth gap. The films highlight how racism manifests itself not only in visible ways through individual prejudices but through institutions, unjust legislations and unfair social policies.

    1. Fruitvale station (Netflix)

    Based on a true story Fruitvale station tells the tale of the final day of Oscar Grant, a young black man from Oakland, California who was shot by a white police officer in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2009. The shooting took place at point-blank range, while Grant was both unarmed and handcuffed and lay face-down on the floor.

    The police officer later testified in court that the shooting occurred in a moment of distress which resulted in him using his gun in error, instead of his taser. The jury found him guilty of involuntary manslaughter and after serving just 11 months in prison he walked free. Fruitvale station is a superb portrayal of the multiple identities of the young black male victims of police brutality: Grant was a son, a grandson, a brother, a boyfriend, a father and a friend.

    The film digs beneath the news headlines and protests that followed Oscar Grant’s death and focuses on the everyday life of the victim.

    2. 13th ( Netflix)

    Named after the Thirteenth Amendment to the USA constitution enacted in 1865 which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude except for as punishment for those convicted of a crime. 13th is a powerful documentary which examines the relationship between crime, race and the rise in for profit prisons. If you think racism is just a matter of language, 13th will cause you to think again.

    In a long sweep of American history the documentary shows how unjust laws and unfair social policies worked to the advantage of whites, while disadvantaging blacks and increasing the likelihood of an encounter with the American Criminal justice system. The documentary discusses the rise of for-profit prisons and raises lots of interesting questions about whose interests are truly being served by them.

    3. I’m Not Your Negro (Amazon Prime)

    Based on James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House as well as other works, I’m Not Your Negro is a documentary narrated by actor Samuel L. Jackson. It explores historic attitudes to race in America, with a particular focus on the inaccurate and harmful representations of black Americans in American cinema during Baldwin’s youth.

    A examination of the films: Dance, Fools, Dance (1931) and Imitation of Life (1934) and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) as well as others, the documentary shows how racism works through an onslaught of racist representations and stereotypes of black criminality and acquiescence. On the one hand, the documentary highlights how far America has come in terms of racial equality, and on the other how far it still has to go.

    4.When They See Us ( Netflix)

    A four-part drama which tells the true story of five young black boys who suffered a miscarriage of justice. All five were wrongly accused and imprisoned for assault and rape of an adult white woman who was attacked while jogging in New York’s central park in 1989. Donald Trump condoned the imprisonment of the boys in the years before running for president and even took out advertisements following their arrest calling for the return of the death penalty in the state.

    When They See Us highlights how racist discrimination against the boys operated through the entire police investigation, from the presumption of guilt, aggressive coercion into false confessions and imprisonment, all despite a lack of DNA evidence.

    The series invites us to question our stereotypes about black youths and puts institutional corruption and racial injustice under the spotlight.

    5. Just Mercy (Amazon Prime)

    Adapted from a legal memoir, Just Mercy tells the true story of Walter McMillian, a black man from Alabama, who was falsely accused of the murder of a young white woman and sentenced to death. McMillan appeals his murder conviction with the assistance of a young black Civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson, and after a long laborious appeal process his sentence is eventually overturned. The film shows how racism is visited on both black men.

    While McMillan is denied a fair trial, despite Stevenson’s Harvard education and,middle class profession, it doesn’t shield him from racism from white prison officers as he works to defend McMillian. Most importantly, Just Mercy clearly shows what is at stake when racist attitudes embedded in the hearts of both individuals, communities and institutions go unchallenged.

    6. Explained | Racial Wealth Gap (Netflix)

    This short documentary examines the wealth gap among blacks and whites in America. Prominent American politician Cory Booker along with other household names discuss how slavery, housing discrimination and centuries of racial inequality have created deep-seated inequality that is far from natural or inevitable.