Educate with film

The poster for Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13th” (Netflix, 2016), which examines how the Thirteenth Amendment led to mass incarceration of African Americans in the United States. (Courtesy image)

"We are talking about race in this country more clearly and openly than we have almost ever in the history of this country," said actor Will Smith. "Racism is not getting worse, it's getting filmed."

"The revolution is not being televised, but it's being tweeted," added Stephen Colbert.

That was from an interview on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” in August 2016.

America hit pause to deal with a pandemic. Now we need to hit pause to work together to undo the years of systemic racism in America. It’s not possible to go forward with business as usual as we try to grasp the enormity of an economic depression, a pandemic and an international protest to end police brutality. Jimmy Fallon has had some very thoughtful things to say on his talk show lately. On the eighth night of unrest, he was musing on white privilege and trying to educate himself on his own privilege and what it means. He said, “I’ve been doing some reading online, trying to be quiet and listen. Here’s something that I thought was a great way to understand white privilege. White privilege doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been hard. It just means that the color of your skin isn’t one of the things that makes it harder.”

In the spirit of educating one’s self and pausing to listen to others, here’s a list of movies I can recommend. Trying to understand racism in regards to police brutality, let’s look at how black men are treated in our society. “I Am Not Your Negro” (Raoul Peck, 2016) is one of the most important civil rights documentaries of this century. This Oscar-nominated film is a stirring personal account from author and activist James Baldwin. Pairing his narrative about the lives and deaths of Malcolm X, Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King Jr. with contemporary videos of the sad state of affairs in race relations in America today creates such a resonance that at the screening of the film, I heard members of the audience actually gasp out loud. Drinks With Films Rating: 5 glasses of French wine out of 5, which is to denote Baldwin’s time in France.

Mass incarceration is a harsh reality for the black and brown communities. Many white people may not know a single person who’s ever been to jail. That’s not true for someone of color. Incarceration rates for black men are about twice as high as those of Hispanic men, five times higher than those of white men, and at least 25 times higher than those of black women, Hispanic women or white women, according to a New York Times article published this week. Last year’s “Clemency” (Chinoye Chikwu, 2019) stars Alfre Woodard as a prison warden who’s career and personal life are fracturing under the strain of having to oversee executions of black men. Woodard was nominated for an Oscar for her galvanizing performance. “Just Mercy” (Destin Daniel Cretton, 2019) stars Michael B. Jordan as a crusading young lawyer (based on the real civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson), but the soul of the films belongs to Jamie Foxx. He’s the innocent man on death row who’s been beaten down by a life lived under Alabama’s unrelenting injustice. Drinks With Films ratings: “Clemency:” 4 shots of whiskey to drink away the pain out of 5. “Just Mercy:” 3 tall glasses of sweet tea out of 5.

Black Americans are killed by police at more than twice the rate of white Americans (“Fatal Force” database, Washington Post, 2019). Demands to end police brutality are nothing new. But this time, protesters have compelled the country to hear them. Even the TV Guide has recommended films to help educate Americans about systemic racism. From the Netflix series “When They See Us” (Ava DuVernay, 2019) to “Rest in Power: The Trevor Martin Story” (a six-part Paramount documentary, 2018) to a crash course on race, “America to Me” (a Starz documentary, 2018).

Years before she took on one specific case of injustice with “When They See Us,” Ava DuVernay delved into a more sweeping, wide-ranging story in the phenomenal documentary “13th (Netflix, 2016). Using plain, easy-to-understand language, logic and facts, DuVernay lays out how the Thirteenth Amendment led to mass incarceration in the United States. Breaking down the racist origins of "the war on drugs," and coded language like "tough on crime" and "law and order," this fierce documentary is an eye-opening and unsettling examination of how the amendment created a pipeline to put black boys and men in for-profit prisons. It's a must-see for every American, and will challenge the beliefs of people who've never questioned the notion of liberty and justice for all. It was nominated for many prestigious awards, including an Oscar for Best Documentary, and won a Best Documentary BAFTA, three Critics Choice awards, an NAACP Image Award and a Peabody, among other accolades. Drinks With Films Rating: 5 bracing shots of whiskey out of 5.

During this troubling time, let’s pause and try to listen without judgment. Let’s try to become more enlightened and put our energy and dollars to work. Let’s not make this another lesson that this country can’t seem to ever learn. We need to make some real changes and try to repair our democracy so it serves us all — the rainbow of people that is America.