What can white people do?
As a white person, what can I do to contribute to the conversation on racism? I’m already passionate about human rights, civil rights, equal rights and justice for all. Protesters march the streets condemning police brutality, calling for better treatment of black men and women. Just as people of different colors, races and religions marched with raised fists supporting our black brothers and sisters, white people need to continue the conversation on racism.
It’s not enough for black people to discuss racism with other black people. The beauty blossoming from the Black Lives Matter protests is the unity, and not just in America, but around the entire world. The entire world is shouting, “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!”
Racism is a global sickness. Protesters, wearing protective masks, have often mentioned their concern about COVID-19, but racism has been around for over 400 years. Their fight for racial justice is more important. They would die for this cause as many have for many years. Hate is a virus.
Black men in particular have been treated unfairly. It has been difficult at times in some cases to witness any justice whatsoever. A lot needs to improve. I may not be able talk specifically about racial justice or police reform, but my experience and passion is the movies.
Having discussions about racism in movies is a great way to talk about the issues. Just as there is a lot of racial history in America, there’s a lot of movies about the topic.
"Broken On All Sides"
In 2012, I ran the Social Media Film Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada. The festival was about social media taking on social issues. One documentary film in particular, “Broken On All Sides: Race, Mass Incarceration & New Visions for Criminal Justice in the U.S.” focuses on a book by Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow. Michelle Alexander’s book focuses on how the war on drugs and tough on crime policies targeted people of race, specifically black men. If these same black men completed their time, they had very little chances of employment or improving their lives once released back into society. Prisons became a place of overcrowded cells. Many simply could not afford to bail themselves out and ended up doing more time. “Broken On All Sides” can be viewed on Vimeo. The director, Matthew Pillischer, shared this link and password (broken) to let anyone watch this important documentary.
"I Am Not Your Negro"
In 1979, James Baldwin turned in an unfinished manuscript entitled, “Remember This House.” The book was to be a first hand personal account of three very outspoken black activists; Medgar Evers, Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Filmmaker Raoul Peck took the unfinished manuscript and turned it into this very intelligent and insightful documentary narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. “I Am Not Your Negro” was nominated for an Oscar at the 2017 Academy Awards. James Baldwin: “The story of the Negro in America is the story of America, and it is not a pretty story.”
“13th,” an Oscar nominated documentary by Ava DuVernay, discusses mass incarceration and racial inequality. The title, ‘13th’ refers to the thirteenth amendment of the United States Constitution to abolish slavery unless it is punishment for a crime. The amendment was passed on January 31, 1865 and made official on December 6, 1865. Michelle Alexander (“Broken On All Sides”) is a subject in this film too.
Another Oscar nominated film by Ava DaVernay is “Selma.” “Selma” (2014) is the narrative story of Martin Luther King, Jr. pursuing a campaign to achieve equal voting rights for black people. King, played wonderfully by David Oyelowo, lead a large march of mostly black people from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law. It is an extraordinary and powerful portrayal of a man looking to make peaceful change in the world.
Another movie taking place in the 1960s is "Green Book." Director Peter Farrelly is a story that tackles both issues of racism and homophobia. Tony Vallelonga, (Viggo Mortensen) a nightclub bouncer, reluctantly takes a job driving a classical pianist, Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) on a tour of the deep southern states. Their main resource for their journey is The Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guide for black people looking to be safe in the segregated south. By the end of the film these two strangers become very close. They may have not changed the world, but they changed each other's world for the better.
"It takes courage to change peoples' hearts."
It's an excellent film! Don Shirley is masterfully portrayed by Mahershala Ali who won an Oscar for an Actor in a Supporting Role. Viggo Mortensen was also nominated for the Leading Role.
Spike Lee - "Do the Right Thing"
As far as I know, whenever Spike Lee is mentioned “Do the Right Thing” in 1989 is the movie that always comes to mind. It is so powerful and important. It takes place on a very hot Summer’s day in a Brooklyn, NY neighborhood where tempers often rise due to racial conflict. Sal, Italian, played by Danny Aiello, owns a pizza parlor where it’s patrons are mostly black and Hispanic. His son, Pino, (JohnTurturo) would love nothing more than to move their pizza place to their Italian neighborhood.
When one of the black customers, Buggin Out (Giancarlo Esposito) looks up at the famous people in pictures on the wall he points out there’s no black people. Sal reminds him there’s only Italians because it’s an Italian establishment. Things get heated throughout the day. Mookie (Spike Lee), Sal’s delivery driver, is friendly with Buggin Out, putting him in a tough spot.
The rest of this amazing cast includes; Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Bill Nunn, Samuel L. Jackson, Rosie Perez, Martin Lawrence and John Savage. ‘Fight the Power,” a strong political song by Public Enemy is still very relevant.
Spike Lee has gone on to make numerous films about racism including “Malcolm X,” but my second favorite film of his is his more recent “BlackkKlansman” in 2018. As incredible as it sounds, this movie is based on true events. It’s about, Ron Stallworth, the first black officer hired in the early 1970s at the Colorado Springs, Colorado police department. Stallworth, played by John David Washington, working in the records room, is sick of hearing racial insults from his co-workers. He decides to switch to undercover work in a big way. He simply calls up the grand master of the KKK, David Duke, and state how much he hates blacks, Jews, Mexicans, etc. He forms an instant bond with Duke, but he can’t meet with Duke in person for obvious reasons. So his white, Jewish partner, played by Adam Driver, uses his name to go undercover to infiltrate and expose the KKK.
Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave”
Solomon Northrop, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, is a black man born free in upstate New York. Northrop, a professional violin player, thought he was meeting with some men about a job opportunity, but was mislead, abducted and sold back into slavery. It is an unbelievably true story showing one man’s struggle and survival for a right to win back the freedom he already had. The amazing cast includes Michael Fassbender, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Brad Pitt, Sarah Paulson, Alfre Woodard, and Lupita Nyong’o. A fellow slave in captivity advises Northop, “If you want to survive, do and say as little as possible.” Northrop answers, “I don’t want to survive. I want to live.”
Jordan Peele’s “Get Out”
This is a horror story about a white girl named Rose Armitage who brings her black boyfriend, Chris Washington, home to meet her parents. Chris, played by Daniel Kaluuya, is concerned about meeting Rose’s white parents and family. Her parents make him feel comfortable. Too comfortable. A party with guests has some strange aspects to it and even stranger characters. Black male and female servants act like they only speak when spoken to. Rose’s mother, played by Catherine Keener, is some sort of psychologist. When Chris mentions to her parents he’s trying to quit smoking Mrs. Armitage offers Chris tea to take him to his ‘sunken place.’ Chris learns the hard way that Rose’s family have bad intentions for him. There are levels of deceit, manipulation and blatant racism throughout this story.
Movies That Matter
In the spirit of my Social Media Film Festival, I started Movies That Matter LA Meetup in 2015 through 2016. It was a movie group with screenings about social issues. The idea of the group was to see a movie and discuss it afterwards. Movies touched on climate change, prescription drugs, anti-semitism and racism. Three films regarding racism during that time were “Loving,” “Hidden Figures” and “3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets.”
“Loving” is based on the true story of Richard Loving, portrayed by Joel Edgerton, who falls in love with a black woman named Mildred (Ruth Negga) in the 1960s. They decide to drive up to Washington DC to get officially married. The couple was arrested for being an interracial marriage in Virginia. Loving began a legal battle that would end with the Supreme Court's historic 1967 decision to make interracial marriage legal.
“Hidden Figures” is the unbelievable story about three black female mathematicians highly responsible for the success of astronaut John Glenn into orbit. The space race in the 60s between the Soviet Union and the United States was fierce. The times were intense, but even more so for these women as they had to not only prove themselves under duress, they had to battle many racial biases. Simple things like going to the restroom weren’t so simple for black women. They had to walk great distances to relieve themselves. These extremely intelligent women, Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary W. Jackson, were performed beautifully by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae. It’s a very inspiring story.
On Wednesday, June 24th, 2020, NASA Administrator, Jim Bridenstine announced the agency’s headquarters building in Washington, D.C. to be named after Mary W. Jackson, honoring her as the first African American female engineer at NASA. Additionally, Jackson was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2019.
Bridenstine stated, “Mary W. Jackson was part of a group of very important women who helped NASA succeed in getting American astronauts into space. Mary never accepted the status quo, she helped break barriers and open opportunities for African Americans and women in the field of engineering and technology. Today, we proudly announce the Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters building. It appropriately sits on ‘Hidden Figures Way,’ a reminder that Mary is one of many incredible and talented professionals in NASA’s history who contributed to this agency’s success. Hidden no more, we will continue to recognize the contributions of women, African Americans, and people of all backgrounds who have made NASA’s successful history of exploration possible.”
Ryan Coogler’s “Fruitvale Station”
Sundance winner "Fruitvale Station,” written and directed by a Ryan Coogler (“Black Panther,” “Creed”), is a true story about 22-year old, Oscar Grant, played beautifully by Michael B. Jordan. Grant wakes up on the last day of the year, December 31, 2008, thinking about his future and improving his life. Recently unemployed, he wants to be there more for his four year old daughter, Tatiana, and be a better boyfriend to his live-in girlfriend, Sophina. Grant spends much of the day preparing for his mother’s birthday party. After the party, his mother, Wanda, (Octavia Spencer) talks Grant into to taking the BART train over driving because of all the NYE drivers drunk drinking. The unfortunate incident shows how the police officers shot an unarmed Grant and used excessive force.
Michael B. Jordan is also the lead in “Just Mercy” about a young lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, who, after graduating from Harvard, decides to defend the wrongly accused in Alabama instead of taking potentially more lucrative financial job opportunities. One of his notorious cases involved Walter McMillian, on death row for murdering an eighteen year old girl. The only testimony against McMillian played by Jaime Foxx, is of a criminal with a motive to lie. There are a lot of things hindering Stevenson’s progress in this and other cases. One thing you learn about Stevenson is that he never quits. “It’s never too late for justice.”
“3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets”
The last movie I’ll share is another documentary film, “3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets” directed by Marc Silver. In November 2012, four young black teenagers pulled up to a gas station in a red SUV. Their music was blaring. Another vehicle pulled up with a white couple inside. The woman entered the store. The middle-aged male driver, Michael Dunn, started a shouting match with the boys about their music. Three and a half minutes and ten bullets later, seventeen-year old Jordan Davis was dead.
It’s just one event in an endless string of endless of similar occurrences where both black men and women should have no reason to lose their lives over the smallest things or nothing at all.
Police officers are now wearing body cams. Those cams need to be recording all incidents out of protection for both the officer and the person they’re arresting, displaying exactly what goes down. It’s not that black people haven’t been victimized the last several decades. Arrests are now being recorded by the police themselves, but more importantly THE PEOPLE. The people are recording everything even before anything happens, using their cell phones. They anticipate something happening because their trust of the police has diminished.
After seeing the body cams of the police officers before and during the George Floyd arrest, people stood up. Eight minutes and forty-six seconds was a long time to watch a Minneapolis police officer place a chokehold on Mr. Floyd. Not only did black people stand up, but they started marching. They were not the only people that stood up and started marching. Brown people stood up. Asian people stood up. And white people stood up. By and large, Americans, Europeans, and human beings all over the world felt and shouted “Enough is enough!”
In Summary, here is a list of films in the order presented in this blog about racism people of all ethnic backgrounds can view to discuss the issues further.
“Broken On All Sides”
“I Am Not Your Negro”
“Do the Right Thing”
“12 Years a Slave”
“3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets”
What else can white people do?
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NASA Resource for "Hidden Figures"