Certainly, a movie blog is the last place anyone is looking for thoughts on these recent racially charged violent outbreaks. However, as a former teacher I feel qualified in saying that nearly every enlightened being who has ever spoken his or her mind has echoed the idea that if ignorance prevails, danger is soon to follow. While these incidents breed reactionary feelings of outrage, anger, and hopelessness, they also leave us in a prolonged state of fear for what’s coming next. The fear is our greatest weakness. Scientifically, fear prepares our body for a threat. Our body releases hormones that shut down functions not needed for immediate survival and hormones flood the brain ramping it up, disabling rational thought, and transforming the receptive process into one that perceives any events as negative. Emotionally speaking, fear causes selfishness and conformity. As masses of people experience non-rational thought leading to a negative outlook that culminates in a decision to hide out, an environment is set for radical behavior to dominate.
So, what does this have to do with movies? I’ll get to that. But first, another word about ignorance. Ignorance is a word tossed around at times like this as a blanket to cover all of the injustice and boil it down to one fundamental. However, like everything else it the world, it is not that simple. Ignorance is not the cause but rather a symptom of institutionalized racism as it continues to exist. In the same vain, the latest rash of police violence against Black Americans is not the main problem but again a symptom of a greater problem.
It is important to keep in mind that like in medicine managing the symptoms alone will not cure the disease. However, once the disease is diagnosed, proper symptom treatment is critical for preparing the mind and body to successfully rid itself of the illness. Therefore, what I offer is the prescription of cinema to ward off the effects of ignorance and fear so that the mind and body can act uninhibited against the greater threat. Take one of these films every day for five days before going out and doing something to help your community grow and thrive.
A Raisin in the Sun (1961) – The film based on Lorraine Hansberry’s landmark stage play is not only a reminder of the intangible benefits of the American Dream but also the fact that even the most subtle forms of racism are devastating.
Do the Right Thing (1989) – Exemplary of its subject matter both on and off screen, Spike Lee’s narrative about a Brooklyn neighborhood experiencing the heat of racial tension coincidentally during one of the city’s hottest summers on record is an example of the rare film that captures the feelings and emotions associated with modern day racism. Controversy surrounded the film in that many critics worried the film would incite riots all over the country, which of course it did not. It also was noticeably snubbed from the many deserving major categories of the 1990 Academy Awards for other admittedly inferior films like Driving Miss Daisy and Dead Poets Society. Never has there been a better time for Hate to be KO’d by Love! (PS, the film 42 was thrown around as a possible addition to this list, but I’ll just let Mookie’s Jackie Robinson jersey represent for that film as well.)
Fruitvale Station (2013) – When the credits roll at the end of this true story about a young man’s last day before being fatally shot by Bay Area Rapid Transit authorities, you are left thinking, well hopefully we learn from this and history doesn’t repeat itself. Sadly, this film’s events hit far too close to home given the recent incidents of lethal police brutality against innocent young Black men. Still the message of this film is one of supreme importance and as hard as it is to watch, it’s never been more relevant than right now.
Hotel Rwanda (2004) – This film serves as a reminder that our troubles are not solely within our borders. This story of a hotel manager whose family is jeopardized by a civil war erupting around him is tense and powerful. Ethnic violence prevails as political unrest quickly leads to the early stages of genocide. This film also reminds us that racism is a global problem that affects all cultures and peoples, not just Americans and not just over skin color.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) – Yes, this film is a bit cliché in these conversations, but that’s not to say it’s not significant. To Kill a Mockingbird may be the most important film on this list as it is the only one that truly captures the importance of parents instilling values into their children before society’s corruption can take hold. Mob mentality, Southern White supremacy, and gender politics all swirl together in this tale of a small-town Southern lawyer who simply believes that all people are to be treated fairly, against the beliefs of most of his fellow community members.