Black voic­es mat­ter: A list of free to access films on the Black experience

3 minute read
Nikki Giovanni's conversation with James Baldwin resonates decades later. (Photo retrieved via Wikimedia Commons.)
Nikki Giovanni's conversation with James Baldwin resonates decades later. (Photo retrieved via Wikimedia Commons.)

Last week I found a handful of documentaries that I wanted to share with my roundup on supporting Black women. Unfortunately, those documentaries weren’t readily available for viewing and were put behind some sort of gate—a paywall, an application for screening, or a login for a premium account I had no idea how to obtain. Living in the information age, and recognizing the importance of knowledge of history far less told, it’s vital that we have access to these narratives.

The best way to chart out the future is to look to the past, so I thought it’d be integral to compose a list of documentaries that are free to watch as we march forward in solidarity for Black lives.

James Baldwin & Nikki Giovanni, A Conversation

This made the rounds last year trending on social media, but the conversation never stopped being acute and relevant. Giovanni is a poet, writer, educator, and activist who became a prominent author in the Black Arts Movement in the 1960s. Baldwin was a novelist and social critic famous for works like The Fire Next Time and No Name in the Street. Their conversation is mesmerizing and eye-opening, even as their opinions diverge.

Felicia

Felicia Bragg grew up in Watts, a segregated community in suburban Los Angeles, in the 1960s. This documentary follows her and her pursuit of education and awareness while coping and understanding segregation in the high school she attended. It’s a short one, and there isn’t much on the internet about Bragg after the time of the film, but seeing the stories of ‘ordinary’ folks is vital and significant when considering history and how it relates to the present.

What It’s Like to Survive Being Shot by the Police

In 2012 Leon Ford was shot five times by Pittsburgh police officers during a traffic stop. He survived, and he has a story to tell in this short but devastating documentary.

The Murder of Fred Hampton

Fred Hampton was a revolutionary activist who was gone way too soon. The charismatic chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party and the founder of the Rainbow Coalition, Hampton was instrumental in dissolving gang violence in Chicago and implementing social change through socialist ideals. He was killed when he was only 21 years old by the Chicago Police Department and the FBI during a raid of his home. His homicide was ruled justifiable.

4 Little Girls

This 1997 Spike Lee joint chronicles the story of Addie May Collins, Carol Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, and Carole Rosamond Robertson, four Black girls who were killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, on September 15, 1963. After, watch an interview Spike Lee did with journalist Howell Raines about the film.

Betty: They Say I’m Different

Surviving the music industry is a tumultuous ride, especially for Black women, and this documentary explores that with the story of Betty Davis, the North Carolina funk musician who skyrocketed to success only to mysteriously vanish for 30 years. This doc goes in-depth and gets personal with her experience, capturing conversations and interviews with Davis over a four-year period.

Eyes on the Prize

This all-encapsulating documentary on the Civil Rights Movement, spanning 1954 to 1985, takes the “point of view of the ordinary men and women” who embodied the movement. The film debuted in 1990 and was the winner of Emmy Awards, a Peabody, and many more accolades.

The Legacy of Civil Rights Leader Medgar Evers

Medgar Evers was a civil rights activist in Mississippi and was the state’s first field secretary for the NAACP. He contributed to the fight to overturn segregation at the University of Mississippi and other public facilities, for voting rights, and more for the Black community. He was assassinated in June 1963. His work was immense though his life was short, and this panel discusses his impact during the 50s and 60s.

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