We all know how easy it is to get sucked into the black hole of Netflix. One minute, it’s 7 p.m., and you’re watching the seconds tick town to automatically play the next episode of your favorite show. Next thing you know, you’re wondering how on earth it’s already midnight.
Netflix consumption can be mindless, but it doesn’t have to be. Movies can also prompt you to look deeper into social justice issues and get involved. If you’re looking for some films that will inform and challenge as well as entertain, here are a few places to start:
Ava DuVernay’s stunning documentary examines the ways slavery hasn’t been abolished so much as given the opportunity to evolve into a more socially acceptable version of itself via mass incarceration, and the enormous racial disparities at play. It’s a provocative thesis but with expert testimony and astonishing data, she makes a sobering case.
Let It Fall
For many white Americans, the Rodney King riots were a wakeup call to the feelings of injustice felt by Black Americans across the country, particularly as it related to policing. But for Los Angeles, it was the culmination of long-simmering tensions that were either ignored or in some cases deliberately exacerbated by people in authority. Let It Fall follows the decade leading up to the Rodney King riots, and shows how the outcome was not only predictable, but predicted.
Beasts of No Nation
Based on the realities of child soldiers in parts of Africa, Beasts of No Nation tells the story of a boy forced to join a unit of fighters after losing his family in civil war. In showing the boy’s journey from harmless schoolboy to killer, the film doesn’t doesn’t shy away from the nightmarish realities of war, but rather explores the humanity of it—and the thin line that can exist between being a victim of atrocities and becoming one who commits them. Idris Elba stars as the soldiers’ commander, and he manages to show both his character’s sadistic power and his desperation. At points disturbing and at others hopeful, Beasts of No Nation is not an easy movie to watch, but it’s the kind that sticks with you.
Before they collaborated on breakout hit Creed, filmmaker Ryan Coogler and actor Michael B. Jordan teamed up for this true story of unarmed 22-year-old Oscar Grant, who was inexplicably killed by police after a night out with his friends. The film depicts the last day in the life of Grant, who, though he had his share of troubles in life, is portrayed as a good-hearted guy trying to make good decisions. The confrontation with police is senseless and tragic, and even though the actual events took place in 2009, the movie is just as poignant today as it was when it debuted in 2013. (Warning, the movie is rated R for strong language and violence.)
When They See Us
Ava DuVernay also helmed this staggering miniseries about the true story of the Central Park Five — the Black kids who were falsely imprisoned for the brutal assault of a White New York City woman in 1989. The story became a media frenzy that eventually involved a certain future President of the United States who called for the boys’ deaths in the pages of the New York Times. But at the center were five, innocent, precious lives whose hopes and dreams were sacrificed at the feet of a corrupt system that simply did not value them. DuVernay gets to the heart of the story in this utterly grueling, utterly necessary series.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.