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'Get Out' to 'Just Mercy': 10 films that shine a light on racism and social injustice

These are the movies and documentaries to watch if you want to learn more about the divisive issue of race relations

The Black Lives Matter movement has continued to pick up momentum in recent weeks as protests around the US and beyond continue. Fuelled by the murder of George Floyd, people around the world are speaking out against prejudice and injustice.

However, racial politics are complex and deeply rooted in history. One way to educate yourself on this highly charged topic is by reading books or watching films and television series that shine a spotlight on racial discrimination and injustice.

The National picks some of the best films and documentaries about systematic racism.

1. '13th' (2016)

This award-winning documentary by Ava DuVernay explores the history of racial inequality in America. It is named after the 13th Amendment in the US Constitution which abolished slavery throughout the country. The thought-provoking film takes a look at the American system of incarceration and how it specifically affects the black community. 13th was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 89th Academy Awards and won the Emmy for Outstanding Documentary in 2017.

2. 'Do The Right Thing' (1989)

Spike Lee's cult classic remains just as relevant today as it did when it came out in 1989. The comedy-drama takes place in a Brooklyn neighbourhood one hot summer's day. The film follows pizza owner Sal, who has been in business for 25 years and has seen the community shift to an African-American and Hispanic majority. What begins as a simple complaint by a customer turns into violence as frustration seems to bring the worst out in everyone.

3. 'When They See Us' (2019)

The four-part limited series is based on the real-life events of the 1989 Central Park jogger case, in which five black teens were falsely imprisoned for a brutal attack they did not commit. The Netflix original series explores their lives during and after the event and tells the journey from their point of view. Directed by DuVernay, When They See Us earned critical acclaim and won the Critics' Choice award for Best Limited Series this year.

4. 'Just Mercy' (2019)

Starring Michael B Jordan and Jamie Foxx, the film tells the real-life story of Walter McMillian, a black man wrongfully convicted of the murder of a white woman, and a young Alabama attorney named Bryan Stevenson who works to help him appeal his conviction. It won Outstanding Motion Picture at the NAACP Image Awards and was named one of the 10 films of the year by the African-American Film Critics' Association.

5. 'The Hate U Give' (2018)

Based on the 2017 young adult novel of the same name, the film is centred around a young African-American teenager who faces mounting pressure as she tries to do the right thing after witnessing the death of her best friend by a white police officer. The book debuted at number one on The New York Times' young adult bestseller list.

6. 'I Am Not Your Negro' (2016)

Narrated by Samuel L Jackson, this award-winning documentary is based on an unfinished memoir from writer and activist James Baldwin titled Remember This House. Using his writings, the film tries to finish the novel, which charts the history of racism in the US, and connect it to today's events such as the #BlackLivesMatter movement. I Am Not Your Negro was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars and won the Bafta for Best Documentary in 2017.

7. 'Selma' (2014)

DuVernay's historical drama tells the story of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery Marches led by Martin Luther King Jr. The film chronicles the historic Alabama march that led to equal voting rights, as well as the period of unrest that surrounded it. The film was nominated for Best Picture and won Best Original Song at the Oscars in 2015.

8. 'If Beale Street Could Talk' (2018)

Based on the novel of the same name by James Baldwin, the film follows an African-American couple, Fonny and Tish, in New York City in the 1970s. After Fonny is wrongfully arrested for a crime he didn't commit, a pregnant Tish sets out to try and prove his innocence. Directed by Barry Jenkins, the film received critical acclaim and Regina King (who plays Tish's mother) won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2019.

9. 'Fruitvale Station' (2013)

The film tells the true story of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old black man who was killed by a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police officer in Oakland in 2009. The movie focuses on his experiences and the events leading up to the last day of his life. Fruitvale Station was Ryan Coogler's feature directorial debut and paired him with Michael B Jordan prior to them working together on Black Panther.

10. 'Get Out' (2017)

Jordan Peele's directorial debut follows Chris, a black man who goes to meet his white girlfriend's parents in an upstate weekend getaway. While initially thinking her family's overly accommodating behaviour is just a nervous attempt to acknowledge their interracial relationship, as the weekend progresses, he makes some increasingly disturbing discoveries. We won't spoil it for you, but the themes in the film offer an interesting take on racial politics. The film was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards and Peele won for Best Original Screenplay in 2018,

Updated: June 15, 2020 12:18 PM

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