BLM on screen: recommendations for your anti-racist education

We are living in a momentous point in history; the Black Lives Matter movement has piqued more attention than ever before, and non-black individuals are being called upon to show up as true allies, in part by educating themselves through the consumption of black media and literature. To do our part in keeping up the momentum, Film & TV have reached out to the Durham student community to compile a list of recommendations; a starting point for an anti-racist education. This list is by no means exhaustive, and we encourage readers to keep engaging in this conversation; these films and television shows will make you uncomfortable, but they may make you think differently about race, systemic oppression and kindle an awakening that has been long overdue.

13th, directed by Ava DuVernay

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Directed by Ava DuVernay, documentary film 13th engages with racism and the incarceration of minority groups to present an American history that is often mispresented in schooling. The title comes from the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution which abolished slavery except as a punishment for a crime. DuVernay contends that slavery has continued beyond this moment, and is tied closely to ideas of white supremacy and the Jim Crow laws. 

Collating the voices of academics and activists and a series of startling facts and statistics, DuVernay identifies the vulnerabilities of black Americans to policing and court systems, tying this to racism rooted within American politics. Identifying disproportions between the number of black and white Americans currently incarcerated when observing national demographics, DuVernay suggests an unjustified prejudice towards perceptions of black criminality, giving a lasting impression of the injustices faced by America’s minority groups on a daily basis. DuVernay’s film is a necessary context in such a cultural moment as this.

’13th […] presents an American history that is often misrepresented in schooling’

American Son, directed by Kenny Leon

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Kenny Leon’s American Son explores interracial relationships and being mixed race in America, offering deep insight to those of us who remain unexposed to such a reality. The Netflix film is based on a Broadway play and tells the story of an estranged interracial couple waiting in a police station to hear of what has happened to their missing son. The conversations between the White father and Black mother explore the internalised and unconscious racism of the father and how this affects his relationship with his son. 

Leon’s film also brings to light the difficulties of growing up mixed race; illustrating the feelings of confusion and lack of true belonging that come with that identity. Kerry Washington’s powerful performance as the mother really stuck a chord with me, she conveys the tragic understanding that every Black mother must come to terms with; her son is in danger through his very existence as a Black man in America. It is an intensely powerful and emotional film, that is definitely worth a watch.  

If Beale Street Could Talk, directed by Barry Jenkins

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If Beale Street Could Talk is so much more than a simple love story. Based on ’s classic novel, the film follows Tish and Fonny, a young couple whose lives have been derailed following a false rape charge fabricated by a grudge-bearing White cop. The film triumphs in its portrayal of quiet passion and transcendence in the face of pervasive and deeply rooted institutional injustice toward African-Americans. 

Director Barry Jenkins’ storytelling is lyrical and melancholy: scenes of almost poetic love are starkly placed against a backdrop of prejudice and inequality that represents a tragic reality. To quote Tish: “The game has been rigged and the courts see it through”. Despite being set in early 1970s Harlem, Jenkins’ message is universal and bears haunting parallels to the present day. Tish and Fonny’s deeply personal story highlights how attitudes to race have enduring consequences – this is an arresting, sensuous film and is truly pertinent. 

‘Despite being set in early 1970s Harlem, Jenkins’ message […] bears haunting parallels to present day’

Dear White People, created by Justin Simien

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Dear White People refuses to settle for the token black character; instead, through its immersive storytelling, Justin Simien and Njeri Brown’s Netflix series explores and untangles the very idea of homogenous ‘blackness’, delving into a student body brought together by Black Caucus yet divided by gulfs in socio-economic, sexual and ethnic background. Like nothing else I have experienced, entertainment and educational value are flawlessly combined. 

It’s an innovative television cocktail, reminiscent of House of Cards mixed with Gossip Girl, but featuring the black visibility and diversity that our screens have long been missing. The show explores critical themes of colourism, police brutality and interracial relationships while maintaining a thrilling absurdist thrust and gripping visuals. A word of advice? Try your best not to binge the entire first season in one night.

Get Out, directed by Jordan Peele

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Jordan Peele’s Get Out illustrates the physical and psychological exploitation of black individuals, oscillating between the profound tragedy that the horror genre permits it to explore, as well as offering not-so-veiled criticism on the microagressions that remain present in today’s performative liberalism. The interactions between Rose’s White family and Chris, and the manner in which they discuss moments of cultural significance such as Obama’s presidency and the success of Tiger Woods hide their sinister intentions and the family’s fixation with black physicality. 

Jordan Peele effectively reveals the true danger of such microaggressions: when Rose’s family boast that they would have voted for Obama a third time, the effect serves to further ostracise Chris as a black individual: as an ‘Other’. The party scene with Rose’s family imitates the disjunction between the intentions and the effects that these conversations have; instead of creating closeness they reveal the systemic racism that pervades society. In this way, Peele explores the relationship between performative allyship and racist exploitation, a message that holds special relevance in the overdue conversations we are having today.

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