Here's an idea for a meaningful evening on this Martin Luther King Jr Day: watch a movie or documentary that focuses on the life and legacy of MLK, the Civil Rights Movement, or the history of black Americans. If you don't have time this evening (I realize I'm late with this post!), plan a night this week. For those of us who are white, watching a quality documentary or movie is one way we can increase awareness and empathy for the current experience of our black brothers and sisters. In fact, I dare say, it's the very least we can do to grow in understanding and empathy.
Below are some suggestions from a list I've been compiling over the last several months. I have asked my black friends for their recommendations on movies that are thought-provoking or educational--something that will help us to better understand the history and experience of people of color in our nation.
Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise is a documentary produced by PBS. I'm about to sit down and watch Part 1 of 4 with my kids right after I post this. According to PBS, "Henry Louis Gates, Jr. ... travels from the victories of the civil rights movement up to today, asking profound questions about the state of black America—and our nation as a whole." I be watching by using the PBS app on my Apple TV. You can also watch it on pbs.org by logging in or perhaps you can check it out at the library.
Selma "chronicles the tumultuous three-month period in 1965, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a dangerous campaign to secure equal voting rights in the face of violent opposition. The epic march from Selma to Montgomery culminated in President Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965." I watched this moving film a couple years ago while on an airplane. I sobbed. You can rent it on iTunes.
13th is a documentary named for the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery in the United States. The film is available on Netflix. My friend says it is "about the 13th Amendment, and how it led to the mass incarceration of black people. A great film if you want to understand the history of policing and why many people of color struggle with trusting, and many remain at odds with law enforcement officials."
Roots is a new TV mini series produced last year, which is "an adaptation of Alex Haley's 'Roots,' chronicling the history of an African slave sold to America and his descendants." I grew up watching the original Roots in elementary school. Sitting under the teaching of black teachers and in a classroom full of children of color, it was heart-wrenching to learn what had happened to my friends' ancestors. The new mini series can now be watched on The History Channel website.
Twelve Years a Slave came out in 2013. I see about one movie in the theater every three years and this was it. It moved both me and my husband to weeping. It takes place in "the antebellum United States [and] Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery." At the time, my pastor's wife who is a black woman shared on Facebook that when she saw the movie in the theater a white woman approached her after the movie. The white woman was sobbing, embraced by pastor's wife, and said over and over, "I'm so sorry." She said it was a deeply moving moment in the theater lobby and I think it captures an appropriate response from us. Am I personally a slave owner? No. But do I still benefit from the racial inequality in our nation? Yes, everyday. It is good for me to acknowledge this imbalance and to express heartfelt sadness and remorse to my black friends for the mistreatment they endure even today. Twelve Years a Slave can be watched now on iTunes.
An American Girl Story - Melody 1963: Love Has to Win is a good movie to watch with young children. I watched it with my daughters last night. It does an excellent job of helping children empathize with racial minorities and I would recommend it as an introduction to the topic for very young elementary-aged children. It can be watched on Amazon Prime.