Being an ally to BLM through the arts, Part II

Educational resources and actions to take to be an ally to the Black community

By and

In the wake of the horrific killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, the Black Lives Matter movement has gained national support and protests have taken place across the country in unprecedented sizes. These calls for structural change and racial equality have all come amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately affected the Black community. As two Asian American high school students, we want to help our community better understand the Black Lives Matter movement, and how to be allies to it. This article is the second part in a series about books and articles, TV shows and movies and music related to the Black Lives Matter movement. 

TV Shows and Movies

Netflix has created a section for shows and movies on Black Lives Matter, and even outside of Netflix, there are many things to watch to stay educated about struggles the Black community faces. Below are five recommendations available on streaming platforms.

(Photo: Netflix)

“When They See Us,” directed by Ava DuVernay, is a four-episode series depicting the real-life story of the Central Park Five, a group of Black and Latino teenagers who were wrongfully convicted of sexually assaulting and injuring a white jogger in 1989. The five were finally proven innocent in 2002, but the show realistically encapsulates the American justice and criminal system for BIPOC communities. Institutionalized racism is almost everywhere around us, and “When They See Us” helps open our eyes and realize injustices such as mass incarceration, the corrupt prison system and the lack of attention towards mental health among inmates. The time that the actors spent with Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise — the real life Central Park Five — while filming is reflected by the gut-wrenching performances from all the actors who portray the five men. The melancholic colors of the film set the mood as the internalized conflicts and hardships that the men experienced in real life were well-translated on screen, from their time as youths to adults. Additionally, the four-part series is structured to be easily followed (thank goodness), taking the viewers step-by-step through each man’s experience, yet at each revelation, viewers are also forced to pause and think about the deeper repercussions inflicted on Black people every single day due to corrupt systems. 

(Photo: Netflix)

“Da 5 Bloods,” directed by Spike Lee, follows four African-American war veterans who return to Vietnam to retrieve the remains of their leader and gold that they had previously buried. Though the movie has its humorous, light-hearted moments, “Da 5 Bloods” is more than just a typical war movie. While the film seems overwhelmingly packed with action and twists, Lee does not shy away from discussing topics that lack attention in the film industry. The camaraderie that is formed between the four veterans, as well as with their late leader Stormin’ Norman, played by Chadwick Boseman, is especially touching when the soldiers come together after the announcement of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death and agree to take a stand against how the war and U.S. government have demoralized Black soldiers. Boseman’s chilling and powerful performance conveys the anger that Norman holds as he stands under the ethereal sunlight surrounded by beautiful shots of the battleground and vents about the fact that Black soldiers have fought and died for a country whose government has worked against them for centuries. However, from the present-day quartet, Paul, portrayed by Delroy Lindo, emerges as an extremely complex character as he struggles with PTSD and internalizes his losses by supporting Trump. Lee recognizes that Black soldiers who fought in Vietnam returned home as enemies instead of heroes, and were continued to be treated as outcasts because of their skin color. All of these components were seen as a loss after another loss, not only for Paul, but for many Black soldiers, and Lindo helps put his character’s experience in perspective for those unaware of this part of history. Amid the chaotic plot that Lee presents, “Da 5 Bloods” is a movie that explores a side of history that is still very relevant today and leaves a heavy impression on viewers.

(Photo: Netflix)

“13th,” directed by DuVernay, provides an in-depth examination of racial inequality in America and how it affects rates of mass incarceration. The film is named after the 13th amendment, which abolished slavery in 1865 but allowed for loopholes as individuals could still be enslaved as a punishment for crime, thus increasing the risk of being arrested as a Black man. DuVernay shines light on how the current prison and prison labor systems are heavily linked to slavery, and involuntary servitude after the 13th amendment was passed. “13th” features various civil rights activists and Black voices, and includes statistics regarding brutality against Black people in America that are both shocking and valuable to learn about. The documentary covers an immense number of topics and information that can be hard but also necessary to swallow, no doubt. The editing used is extremely effective when getting points across, and the contrasting views that the interviewees held were incredibly insightful. One of the most notable aspects of the documentary is how DuVernay incorporates hip-hop music not only to reiterate how rap music has been pioneered and popularized by the Black community, but also to tie the lyrics back to the arguments and themes discussed throughout the documentary. 

(Photo: TWC)

“Fruitvale Station,” directed by Ryan Coogler, tells the story of 22-year-old Oscar Grant, who was shot by police in Oakland, California, after encountering BART officers at the station following a fight. This film was director Ryan Coogler’s debut in the industry, and he did not fail to illustrate the emotional shooting of Grant, whose death from police brutality was widely shared across social media platforms in 2009. In fact, the movie opens with shaky, pixelated cell phone footage from the actual moment of Grant and his friends’ encounter with the officers, and rewinds back to the last day Grant spent as a living man. Michael B. Jordan, who portrays Grant, did an excellent job at humanizing him. The film allows viewers to relate to Grant — not only his character, but the actual person. Coogler reminds us of the heartbreaking and enraging truth that justice has not been served for Grant and many others victimized by police brutality. Immediately after being shot, Grant says, “I have a daughter,” which is a huge, repeating punch in the stomach. The way that the movie centers around the day of Grant’s death prompts the reflection of how fragile life can be.

(Photo: Magnolia Pictures/Amazon Studios)

“I Am Not Your Negro,” directed by Raoul Peck, is a documentary that helps viewers weave through the history of the Civil Rights Movement and its key leaders. Following the work of deceased author, activist and poet James Baldwin, and reciting his writings and unfinished manuscript “Remember This House,” this documentary details America’s racist past and how it has failed to face its core issues. The narration by Samuel L. Jackson and Baldwin’s words and writing carried the documentary. One of the most unique aspects was the combination of historical clips, like encounters between police officers and Black people, with modern visuals that made the documentary immersive and powerful. The structure of the clips was deliberate and meaningful as parallels were made from Baldwin’s time to modern day, such as a clip from the Civil Rights movement immediately followed by one of the Black Lives Matter movement. “I Am Not Your Negro” moves through each act with concise explanations of issues such as the climate of the Civil Rights Movement era, the usage and meaning of the n-word, white heroism and more.  

Though there are many ways you can support the movement, there is no one right way. This is not an exhaustive list, and you do not need to do everything. These artworks resonated with us, but there are definitely more ways to be educated. 

Feel free to also check out an additional article from The Stanford Daily’s Vol. 257 Editorial Board where they focus on more reads, contacts to reach out to, classes to take, petitions to sign and places to donate. 

Contact Leanna Sun at leannaxsel ‘at’ gmail.com and Karen Mai at kmai4 ‘at’ bostonk12.org.

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Karen Mai is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily's Summer Journalism Workshop.
Leanna Sun is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop.