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African-American History Month: Film recommendations

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This African-American history month, let’s discover new literature, music and film together. Every week in February I am going to search for material by African-American writers, performers and musicians. I am doing this to help reinforce the idea that white people like me need to listen to voices that don’t sound like our own.

Topping many great African-American films and TV shows are classics like “The Color Purple,” “Roots” and “Boyz n the Hood.” However, the following films include feature dramas, comedies and documentaries produced in the last three years in order to emphasize that great African-American films are not a normality of the past.  

Let’s pop open a bag of popcorn, and kick back to some of the most commanding and critically-acclaimed African-American films and TV shows of the last few years.

 

“13th” (2016, crime/documentary)

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay’s Netflix documentary chronicles how the U.S. criminal justice system has been driven by racism from the days of slavery to today’s era of mass incarceration. The film is named after the constitutional Thirteenth Amendment that abolished slavery with the exception of punishment for crime.

This documentary is especially important because most of our high school history books taught us that slavery and racism ended when Abraham Lincoln signed the Thirteenth Amendment.

 

“Dear White People” (2014, satire/comedy-drama)

Samantha White’s new position as head of a traditionally black residence hall sets the stage for a college campus culture war. “Dear White People” is hilarious and at the same time offers an irreplaceable lesson on values. It’s not a comfortable movie by most standards, and it’s not intended to be. It’s a film about racism in America in what is alleged to be a post-racial era.

It’s a movie that proclaims, “Why at this time in history do I still need to tell you people this stuff?”

 

“Dope” (2015, crime/drama)

In “Dope,” the main character, Malcolm, is carefully surviving life in a tough Los Angeles neighborhood. He’s juggling college applications, academic interviews and studying to pass the SAT. That is, until a lucky invitation to an underground party leads him into an adventure that could allow him to go from geek, to drug dealer, to ultimately finding himself somewhere in between.

 

“Hidden Figures” (2016, historical drama)

This is the incredible untold true story of brilliant African-American women working at NASA who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: launching astronaut John Glenn into orbit. The visionary trio crossed all gender and racial lines to inspire later generations to dream big.

“Moonlight” (2016, drama)

The film is a personal and poetic meditation on identity, family, friendship and love. It is set in the 1980s during the height of the war on drugs, and gives us an intimate portrait of a young, gay black man living in a Miami housing project with his mother, who is addicted to crack.

“Moonlight” is profoundly meaningful in its portrayal of the moments, people and the esoteric forces that shape our lives.

 

“Selma” (2014, historical drama)

“Selma” tells the story of the campaign led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other Civil Right’s Movement members to draw the nation’s attention to the struggle for equal voting rights by marching from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in March of 1965. Duvernay became the first African-American female director to have a film nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards.

This film is especially important for anyone who still thinks the story of the Civil Rights no longer applies to American life decades later.

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