A review of little-seen films that chronicle the African-American struggle for equality.
There is no shortage of social and political content for viewers to stream online. Here are some of the best new films released so far this year addressing social and political themes, in time for late-summer viewing.
Crown Heights isn’t the tidiest film but that untidiness (so very much like real life) is a lot of its strength.
If you’re interested in cultivating mindfulness, equanimity and loving-kindness, see Jim Jarmusch’s new film, Paterson. The movie is about a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey.
Since the invention of the movie camera in the late 19th century, filmmaking has seen only a smattering of seminal technical developments. Only the advent of sound and color spawned sea changes in the medium. But in this century, the digital revolution has made it exponentially easier for filmmakers to tell stories. It was only a matter of time, then, before people started filming features using arguably the most ubiquitous technological device of our time.
It would be easy to prematurely dismiss Tangerine as a gimmick. After all, with all the tools of the trade available to film a movie, picking a 4.87-by-2.3-inch iPhone 5s seems not only ambitious but possibly a filmmaker’s folly. Luckily, for writer-director Sean Baker, the phone is a smart choice indeed.
It is the afternoon of Christmas Eve.
Every year for Black History Month, the TV networks and premium movie channels roll out the same programming: Malcolm X, Mississippi Burning, The Color Purple…. It’s not that these films aren’t great; they are. It’s just that every year for as long as they have been around, they’re all that come on during February. I can quote The Color Purple line for line. The history of black folks is larger and more diverse than the civil rights movement and slavery. Let’s give some other films a shot, shall we?
Let the Fire Burn
In the spring of 1985 a bomb was dropped on a row house in Philadelphia. A fire spread quickly and burned down 61 houses, eventually killing 11 people, including five children, and injuring numerous others. The fire and police departments stood by and did nothing to stop the blaze.
This post originally appeared on Dog Park Media.
The East, just out this weekend, is a movie ostensibly about radical anarcho-environmentalists that has little to say about radicalism, anarchism, or environmentalism. It’s not a bad movie; as a suspenseful drama it’s entertaining. But that’s part of the problem. The entertainment comes first, and second, and third, and the politics last. This is one of those “I want to entertain my audience, but also make them think” movies in which politics ends up providing little more than a cardboard backdrop to what is finally a conventional thriller.
Fair warning: this will include every imaginable spoiler.
The first strategy The East uses to push politics to the background is to make the radicals’ targets as uncomplicated as imaginable. “The East” (the name of the radicals’ semi-revolutionary cell) first goes after a drug company marketing a product that is not only dangerous but reliably so;
It’s hard to present the history of a social movement without giving the impression that all the exciting fights have already been won and that taking action now is irrelevant. Sometimes the activists of the past suggest they knew more than they did at the time, and were unique in their ability to organize and take risks. All of this can make for boring documentaries and a pomposity that’s off-putting to anyone born after the action being described.
Somehow Feminist: Stories from Women’s Liberation 1963-1970, a new film by Jennifer Lee, avoids these fatal flaws. By including her own personal awakening to 1960s feminism through the making of the film, Lee opens a window onto a movement that feels almost as new and exuberant as that early movement did.
Conditions for women in 1963 were unimaginably strict and confining (Lee refers to sex-segregated want ads as emblematic of the period),
(Note: The following catalog of cultural resources comes from World Wide Work and is published by the American Labor Education Center. Its authors say: “Please share this bulletin with others and encourage them to subscribe for free to World Wide Work, which they can do by going to TheWorkSite.org, [which] provides free, downloadable and adaptable materials for grassroots organizing and education. There is no cost for subscribing to the bulletin, and we never share our email list with anyone.”)
New and worth noting…
The Evening Hour by Carter Sickels (Bloomsbury). This exceptional novel focuses on a young nursing home worker whose Appalachian homeland is being ravaged by coal companies. The characters are intriguing and complex, and the story is fresh and generally free of clichés.
Do You Dream in Color?