No Justice, No Peace
Movies for the movement
Wednesday, June 10, 2020
After the death of George Floyd at the hands of—or the knee, rather—of a Minneapolis police officer, the entire country, and now the world, has exploded, seemingly overnight.
Of course, it wasn’t overnight at all and the racial tensions that always simmer just below the surface of the melting pot that is America simply boiled over once again.
I don’t know if this signals a turning point for the United States. I’ll let history be the judge of that. What I do see is people of all ages, from senior citizens on down to seniors in high school, trying to gain a greater understanding of the forces at play and their role in perpetuating 400 years of wrongs with the goal of being change-makers in their homes, communities and beyond. People are seeking out news sources, firsthand experiences, books and, of course, movies in their effort to educate themselves. It’s one of the more hopeful circumstances of this turmoil. It’s much harder to hide from things once you’ve gained knowledge of their existence.
As part of their virtual cinema and in keeping with their “more than movies” mission, the Pickford Film Center has made films available that will help folks along their journey to better understanding. And in their effort to do what they can to help, the Pickford will give permanent access to the trio of films (instead of the standard rental period that typically comes with virtual cinema movies) and are donating all of the proceeds from them to Black Lives Matter and Northwest Community Bail Fund.
In terms of the three virtual cinema movies, an excellent starting point is the Oscar-nominated I Am Not Your Negro. If you wanting to get fired up about inequality and racial justice, there’s no better person to turn to than James Baldwin. Before he died in 1987, Baldwin, incendiary author and civil rights leader, was working on a book with the working title Remember This House about his personal friendships and the assassinations of Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. The documentary uses some of the text from the 30-something completed page of the book, as well as Baldwin’s television appearances and lectures to craft a portrait not just of the author, but also of the state of race in America from the Civil Rights era to the uprising in Ferguson, Missouri following the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown. ““The story of the Negro in America is the story of America,” he says at one point. “It is not a pretty story.” Watch I Am Not Your Negro and then get your hands on a copy of Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time.
From there, the next logical stop is the documentary Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am. Few modern authors have made the kind of mark on American culture that Toni Morrison has so indelibly left. From her debut novel The Bluest Eye to her final book God Help the Child, no writer has been able to bring the experiences of black people to a mass audience with the kind of humanity and raw emotion that she did. Over the span of a life very well lived, she won a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Award, a Nobel Prize, a Presidential Medal of Freedom and hung out with people such as Oprah and Barack Obama, but never lost sight of who she wrote for or what she was driven to write about. The documentary, completed just before her death in 2019, explores Morrison’s life in her own words and from her own experiences.
When it came to the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Walter Scott, Morrison did not mince words, saying, “People keep saying, ‘We need to have a conversation about race.’ This is the conversation. I want to see a cop shoot a white unarmed teenager in the back. And I want to see a white man convicted for raping a black woman. Then when you ask me, ‘Is it over?’, I will say yes.” Which brings us to Whose Streets?, an on-the-ground look at the uprising in Ferguson, Missouri following the shooting of Michael Brown. Told by the people who lived it, who are still living it, it’s an instructive look at what happens when a police killing of an unarmed black man catalyzes the anger of the citizenry they’re supposed to protect and serve, everyday people become vocal, unafraid activists, and their protests are met with a police force equipped with military-grade weapons. Whose Streets? illustrates that what many of us view as the continuation of the struggle for civil rights is really a fight for black lives.
For more information about the Pickford’s virtual cinema as well as a watchlist containing more titles, head to http://www.pickfordfilmcenter.org.
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