On Wednesday afternoon, I watched online, as former President Barack Obama addressed the US public — a public in need of a leader for these troubled times. It may not be his place anymore to guide and comfort and fire up and protect, but his words and his presence have been deeply missed since he left office. He thanked the protestors, spoke about how he was encouraged by the young people taking part in them, and called for police reform. It was a speech centered on practical actions, in which he urged people to “remember that this country was founded on protest — it is called the American Revolution.”
Later, Bruce Springsteen, on his radio show, offered a little more stark poignancy. After playing his police brutality-themed American Skin (41 Shots), Springsteen noted the song’s 8-minute length is almost the same amount of time it took for George Floyd to die at the hand of a Minnesota police officer. Speaking to the violence that has been at some of the protests, Springsteen said this is “the cost that we’re paying for another half of a century of unresolved fundamental issues of race. We have not cared for our house very well. There can be no standing peace without the justice owed to every American regardless of their race, color or creed. The events of this week have once again proven that out.”
A memorial for George Floyd took place in Minnesota yesterday, but we gathered in New York, in Los Angeles, in SF, too. “No justice, no peace” has long been a refrain at protests. A lack of justice is the very thing that makes peace elusive. But we can continue to vote — or, if you’re like me and not a US citizen, encourage others to vote, and call for accountability, for what’s right, for what’s just.
And, as an arts and entertainment journalist, I can share the things I know that create more understanding of the world around us and the people within it. There are plenty of lists going around, with film and book titles mentioning excellent movies and documentaries, like Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro and John Ridley’s multi-layered Let it Fall: Los Angeles 1982–1992.
Here are more options I’d like to suggest:
1. Just Mercy, the film that reunited Short Term 12 co-stars Michael B Jordan and Brie Larson, which also stars Jamie Foxx, in a story about the work of civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson. It sadly didn’t get enough attention when it was released last year, which is a pity because, as understated as it is, it’s a deeply moving film. Warner Bros is making it available to rent for free across digital platforms for the month of June.
2. About The People is a short film with a cast that includes Michael K Williams, Diggy Simmons and Coffey, one of the many friends I’ve been lucky enough to make in the running world here in New York. Coffey’s also the co-writer, co-producer and casting director of the film, which brings together 9 characters, all black men who embody a different approach to dealing with white supremacy and the killing of black men by police. It’s a tense dialogue that goes back and forth, until its punctured by a voice from outside the room — one that’s been listening in, waiting to be recognised and ready to be at the forefront of the fight. It’s a film I’d like to see be turned into a stage production, as I think it would work powerfully there, too, but for now, you can watch it here.
3. Together with pledging an ongoing $5000 monthly commitment to support organizations fighting racism in America, The Criterion Channel is making some of its films available for viewing without a subscription. As per their email, the selection includes works by early pioneers of African American cinema such as Oscar Micheaux, classics by Maya Angelou, Julie Dash, William Greaves, Kathleen Collins, Cheryl Dunye and Charles Burnett, contemporary work by Khalik Allah and Leilah Weinraub, and documentary portraits of black experience by white filmmakers Les Blank and Shirley Clarke.
4. Ava DuVernay’sThe 13th is on Netflix, but they’ve made it available on YouTube for free. The 2016 doc is a damning analysis of the criminalization of African Americans within the US prison system, and has plenty to return to on multiple views. Paramount Pictures has also made another film by DuVernay, who truly is one of the most important filmmakers of our time, available too — Selma. So add it to your list, if you haven’t seen it yet either. If you’d like to find out more about the film, here’s a snippet of my interview with DuVernay and the cast from 2015, when the film was released. Selma won for Best Original Song for Glory and also received a nomination for Best Picture — the first film directed by a black female director to achieve this feat.
5. The Black Power Mixtape 1967–1975 is a 2011 documentary film, directed by Swedish filmmaker Göran Olsson, that examines the evolution of the Black Power movement in American society from 1967 to 1975 as viewed through Swedish journalists and filmmakers that came to cover it. It’s currently streaming on Amazon now.
Also, don’t forget to sign the petitions and make your voice heard!