As humans, our social behavior is intrinsically rooted in our understanding of our pasts. Meaning, our brains process images, people, words and events within the framework they already have.
For example, when you meet someone new and your first thought is - oh they look so much like (insert person you already know here), that is your brain fitting new information into a context it already understands.
Consequentially, the ways in which cultures, groups, nations, and even countries, interact within themselves, and with one another, are also, in many ways, a direct result of each of their collective histories.
Ultimately, this concept is at the core of the purpose of Black History Month. Black History Month essentially asks Americans to reconsider their existing framework of history, and operates under the general assumption that in order to understand our broader collective history as Americans (all Americans), we need to understand black history within the context of our existing understanding of "American History," and how the two impact our society today.
These 8 powerful documentaries take a raw, introspective, and powerful look at the past and pose necessary questions about our present.
8) Breaking The Huddle: The Integration Of College Football
"There is a school of thought in the South that says that Sam "Bam" Cunningham, a black running back for the University of Southern California, did more for integration in Dixie than did Martin Luther King Jr." - Neely Tucker for The Washington Post
This film describes the evolution of understandings of race in the Southern American psyche, through the lens of it's favorite spectator sport: football. Through it's telling of the 1970 championship game (University of Southern California Trojans versus The University of Alabama Crimson Tide) Breaking the Huddle illustrates the difficulty southern sports franchises had straddling the line between staying competitive and staying southern in the aftermath of the Civil Rights Act.
Available on HBO
7) The African Americans: Many Rivers To Cross
“[this documentary] looks at more than just Black history, it explores Black identity and what it means to be an African American in the U.S. today.” - PBS
This 6 episode series is a comprehensive narrative collection of what it meant to be black throughout American history. It weaves together the tales of 11 people per episode to create lively snapshots into the past. Throughout the series Dr Gates highlights the tragedies, triumphs, and contradictions which exist within black history, revealing how complex an entity the black community, and its role in society, is, and has been.
Available on Amazon.
6) Soundtrack For The Revolution
"A policeman can't stop you from singing" - Rev. Samuel 'Billy' Kyles
Taking a fresh perspective, Soundtrack For The Revolution explores the power and message of black music as relates to the Civil Rights Movement. "Focusing on the freedom songs sung by protesters on picket lines in mass meetings, in paddy wagons and in jail cells, this film celebrates the vitality of the music and the infections energy it provided."
Available on Amazon
5) Freedom Riders
"The lesson of the Freedom Rides is that great change can come from a few small steps taken by courageous people. And that sometimes to do ny great thing, it's important that we step out alone." - Stanley Nelson
The Freedom Ride was a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement and revealed just how dangerous rigid division can be. In this open and raw documentary the Riders themselves, along with former government officials, and journalists who covered the ride, recount their feelings, emotions and perceptions of that momentous journey.
Available at PBS.
4) Slavery By Another Name
"The story is important no matter how painful the reality is." - Christina Comer
Focused predominantly on the 80 year period following the Civil War this film explores the manner in which loop holes and language games allowed the Southern government (in particular, but not exclusively) to reincarnate systems of forced-servitude in the immediate aftermath of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, making a poignant case for the necessity of cultural healing beyond law-making.
Available at PBS.
3) More Than A Month
"More Than A Month is not just about a yearly tradition, or history, or being black in America, It is about what it means to be an american, to fight for one's rightful place in the American landscape." -iTVS
This film follows filmmaker Shukree Hassan Tilghman as he sets off on a cross-country journey to ask Americans of all demographics one simple question: "Should Black History Month be ended?" The answers he receives along the way are honest, raw and at points shocking. Eventually these narratives weave together to illustrate why American society needs to be aware of and understand black history, beyond month of February.
Available at MoreThanAMonth.Org.
2) Dark Girls
"Beauty is just a small piece of a much bigger animal. And until we understand that much bigger animal, we'll never understand the issue of colourism." - Dr. Cheryl Grills President of the National Association of Black Psychologists
Dark girls is a narrow introspective piece on colourism in the beauty and fashion worlds as is imposed on the real world. Colourism as a term is defined as "discrimination based on skin color." While this concept is the premise for all of the listed documentaries, Dark Girls further expands the preconception of black versus white colourism into a full scale gradient. Its eventual thesis being to reveal the manner in which colourism plays a role within the black community.
Available on Amazon.
1) 13th (and the Opera special)
“When you watch ‘13th,’ you feel that you’re seeing an essential dimension of America with new vision.” - Owen Gleiberman for Variety
13th is a full curious exploration of the evolutionary history of systemic racism in America. It follows a loosely chronological trajectory to illustrate the manner in which disbanded or criminalized systems of oppression have been consistently reincarnated throughout American history. It highlights a portion of our history that seems obvious once it is spoken, yet is revolutionary in the simple fact that it is being spoken.
Access it on Netflix.
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