13th by Conrad Hoyt June 2, 2020
Protesters are out all across the United States voicing their displeasure with the killing of black lives, law enforcement, and police brutality.
A more righteous cause than any we have seen during our lifetimes, the support by citizens of all races has been a dose of inspiration in an otherwise harrowing and suffocating time.
Though in any righteous cause, there are those who want to muddy the waters, or worse, to exploit the time for their own nefarious means. Anarchists and alt-right groups have destroyed property and attacked people under the guise of being with BLM (Black Lives Matter).
We must be educated on why the police acts the way it does, and how we can rise above the system’s white-supremacist and trigger-happy foundations as protesters. Being safe is one thing, but being smart is just as important. Understanding how to protest in a way where you disrupt the power structure, keep yourself safe, and most importantly, keep the larger goal in mind, is no easy feat.
Luckily, there are magnificent auteurs out there who have made movies and documentaries chronicling the sinister behavior of police, the justice system, and protesters being fed up. Here is a list of six films that document the struggle:
1989. Brooklyn. Hot Summer day.
Conversations get heated (no pun intended), and the brilliant Spike Lee shows how each race has its own prejudices, its own issues. On a hot day that starts off whimsical, humorous even, and eventually turns to violence, destruction, and loss of life. No one does the right thing.
Of course, the police are the most in the wrong, strangling Radio Raheem to death. Constant violence and fear from police, instead of even-keeled temperament and de-escalation is what we see as much in real life as we see in films.
The cops kill Radio Raheem, and the protesters don’t know what to do with themselves. Everyone is stunned, reaching a boiling point, but waiting for the ball to drop.
Eventually, it is our main character Mookie, played by Spike Lee, who throws a trashcan through the pizza shop that causes everyone to go wild. Rage festering, not just from the day, but from constant inequity and unfairness in their lives.
This film shows us that all races have their prejudices, cops may disagree with what their partner does but are ultimately too loyal to do anything about it, and that protesters act more off of raw emotion than they do with cautious preparedness.
And that isn’t a fault of protesters, just a reality of years and years of disenfranchisement and constantly getting the short end of the stick.
Constantly watching black people murdered with no ramifications for the murderer. But there is a lesson for protesters as much as there is for white people and police to be better.
Plan. Be smart. Be safe. Focus on the larger goal of drawing attention and disrupting the status quo without giving them a reason to muddy up your message. Do The Right Thing.
Auteur Ava DuVernay chronicles the history of racial inequality in the US, from the end of slavery to today. When it became illegal to own slaves, the powers that be in the country had to find another way to exploit unpaid labor.
The 13th Amendment allowed for institutions to use “criminals” as this unpaid labor, and black people were arrested for arbitrary reasons. Loitering, homelessness, “disturbing the peace.” Black people today still make up a distressingly high percentage of inmates in prisons and are arrested at alarmingly higher rates for similar crimes than their white counterparts.
There is no better film to explain the plague of the criminal justice system in America and how black people have continued to be exploited, hunted, and killed since slavery ended. To be informed is the first step. This film does that. To take action is next.
“Fruitvale Station” is directed by Ryan Coogler, and stars his frequent collaborative partner Michael B. Jordan. Jordan plays Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old man recently released from prison, trying to find his way and do the right thing within a system that doesn’t give second chances to black convicts.
This film is based on a true story, even when (spoiler alert) Grant is handcuffed and lying down on his stomach when he is shot and killed by a cop.
The fear in Grant, the escalation of the cops instead of deescalation, the anger and despair his family feels are all reminiscent of what we are dealing with right now. This movie is a gut punch, but a deep exploration into what it means to be a black male, and how cops more often than not do much more bad than they do good.
Also an Ava DuVernay film, “Selma” is important because it tells more about Martin Luther King Jr. than that he preached for peaceful protest.
The naysayers right now are saying to protesters “violence is not the answer,” while they watch countless videos of cops being the ones spearheading the violence.
Dr. King was arrested in 1963 during a peaceful protest. All this talk by white people of how it is against what Dr. King preached to be violent and forceful right now don’t understand: Dr. King was arrested with countless others even when he was being peaceful.
Enough is enough; I am not promoting violence or rioting or looting, but to understand the full scope of Dr. King’s life and the police’s effect on it is to know that the police did whatever they want, and continue to do so.
For a firm historical perspective of the Civil Rights Movement in the ’60s and how it translates today, one should watch “Selma.” Only by stripping away the funds that go towards the police force, and creating a new system that is equal and righteous for all, will we see a positive change in this country.
“The Black Power Mixtape,” directed by Göran Olsson, examines the black power movement in America from 1967-1975. A documentary featuring found footage from Swedish journalists 30+ years before, this 2011 documentary explores each successive year from 1967 to 1975 and features commentaries and interviews from leading contemporary black artists, activists and scholars.
This doc is incredible in large part because it comes from outsiders’ perspectives, and it includes found footage never-before-seen during the civil rights movement. The original footage was shot by Swedish journalists for Swedish Television in the 1960s and 1970s, but it wasn’t until Göran Olsson found the footage that it was released. Interviews include Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Richard Nixon, Angela Davis, and Eldridge Cleaver, as well as many more.
Touching on violence and the police’s use of it, this decade-old movie featuring clips from over four decades ago is eerily similar to discussions we have today. To discuss violence without acknowledging the plight of black people and violence they have been exposed to is not just ignorant, but morally corrupt.
“BlacKkKlansman” is another Spike Lee masterpiece, detailing Ron Stallworth’s infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan in 1970’s Colorado Springs.
This film is important because, much like “13th,” it draws upon recent examples of how little progress has been made with concern to social justice in this country. Ties are made to Donald Trump and David Duke, and the ending even shows how hate and racism have stayed within the foundations of this country ever since its inception.
To watch this movie is to understand that victories can be had, and the larger problem can still remain. America was birthed upon hypocrisy, racism, hatred, and the powers in place do not want to see their power dwindled.
Lee puts the American flag upside down in the last image we see, and the red and blue slowly turn to black as the film closes.
Educating oneself is the first step toward taking action. Especially for white people, to learn the history of racial injustice in this country is to stand in solidarity with black people who have been persecuted for centuries.
These films explain, they teach, they explore, and they paint poignant, realistic pictures of everyday battles black people go, and have gone through for years.