It’s never easy to watch good movies about slavery or racism. They are hard to digest, but also necessary in order to move forward and create a better world. They are not “fun”, but they are full of meaning.
Slavery in the United States was abolished in 1865. However, the fight against racial discrimination lasted throughout the 20th century and continues in the country to this day, which is confirmed by the recent tragic events. We at The Dope Lists recall 10 films about how the opposition to racial oppression has evolved over the previous two centuries and into the 21st century. Let’s look at these wonderful slavery movies.
The Birth of a Nation
Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation follows the 1831 African-American slave uprising in Virginia. The movie’s title is a reference to the racist film by David Griffith, praising the activities of the Ku Klux Klan. At the center of the story is an enslaved person named Nat Turner.
Once the hero sees an eclipse, he perceives it as a sign from above. He leads the rebellion of the dark-skinned, believing in his chosenness of God. As a result, a large-scale uprising not only shakes slave-owning America but also leads to colossal casualties. It’s arguably one of the most impressive movies about slavery.
The film Amistad is based on the novel Black Riot by William Owens and follows the struggle to abolish slavery in the United States in the 1840s. According to the plot of the picture, slaves, taken out of Sierra Leone, start a riot on the Spanish ship “La Amistad”, kill a team of slave traders and try to send the vessel to their native shores. For six weeks, they swim near the Bermuda Triangle. They end up in the United States, imprisoned on murder charges.
Further, we see how a complex and resonant process unfolds, affecting the foundations of American justice and becoming a symbol of the struggle for rights and freedom.
12 Years a Slave
The historical drama is an adaptation of the autobiography of Solomon Northup. A free-born African American, Northup was tricked into being kidnapped by slave traders in 1841, who drugged him and took him to New Orleans.
Northup spent a total of twelve years in slavery, during which time he visited several plantations along the Red River. Steve McQueen’s movie focuses on the life of Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor) with several planters. Here is the benevolent William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), and here is the cruel Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), who believes he can mock enslaved people – after all, it’s written in the Bible.
We see unsuccessful escape attempts, different points of view of white characters on the problem of slavery, and hidden desires and complexes that induce cruelty. Slavery affects everyone – not only those who are beaten and humiliated but also those who have made it their daily pastime. It’s one of the most well-made movies about slavery.
A biopic based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Teams of Rivals, the film follows Abraham Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis. The events unfolded in 1865 when the sixteenth President of the United States intended to amend the Constitution prohibiting slavery and end the Civil War. Events develop up to the political assassination of the President.
We see how Lincoln is fighting the skepticism of his closest advisers, going through intra-family conflicts, trying to unite the Republicans and win over some of the Democrats. And in the end, he wins a victory over the Confederate rebels. It’s one of the best movies to understand United States’ problem with slavery.
Free State of Jones
The historical drama by Gary Ross recounts the rift in the Confederate army: southerners hold diametrically opposed opinions about war and slavery. The film is set after the Battle of Corinth when the federal army defeated the Confederates for the second time during the Yukia-Corinthian campaign. The protagonist is a poor Mississippi farmer named Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey).
He leads a group of Confederate army deserters campaigning to abolish slavery and begins a fight against former allies.
The plot is based on the real story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment of the US Army, which was the first unit to be completely black (except for officers). The regiment was formed in 1862.
It was led by a young Colonel, Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick), who trained the soldiers and led them into battle quickly. Throughout the film, we see Shaw and his dark-skinned subordinates confront racial prejudice from their allies and fight opponents.
The historical drama is based on Hillary Jordan’s Mudbound. It follows a family moving to the Mississippi countryside and facing various external challenges, including racism. Events unfolded in 1946. Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke) transports his family from Memphis to a secluded cotton farm. The film focuses on everyday life, intra-family vicissitudes, and the heroes’ attempts, accustomed to city life, to settle down on new land. However, gradually the family makes new acquaintances and learns about the customs and orders of a small southern town, where racial hatred still reigns.
The film is based on the events of the 1965 March in Selma and Montgomery. As part of the movement, the rights of black citizens of the United States were defended. Special attention was paid to their ability to vote in elections.
The film’s plot began in 1963: White terrorists kill four black children in Birmingham. At this time in Selma, there is a massive struggle for the right to vote in the elections, during which Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo) is trying to defend his point of view in front of Lyndon Johnson.
Do the Right Thing
The film Do the Right Thing, about the victims of police brutality, is one of Spike Lee’s most high-profile films, reflecting the racist sentiments of the 80s. The plot revolves around a young man, Muki (Spike Lee), who works as a peddler at a local pizzeria owned by an Italian American named Sal (Danny Aiello). The situation escalates as Sal’s son increasingly expresses his dissatisfaction with Muki’s work and insults other black citizens. We see how suppressed intolerance, aggression, and cruelty break out, after which the pizzeria turns into a battlefield.
The film tells the story of Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan), who was shot by a police officer for unclear reasons. After this event, a wave of powerful protests erupted in society, but the reasons for what happened are still unknown. Kugler shows the tragedy that happened by talking about racism and police brutality. The movie begins with documentary footage: a railroad police officer shoots Grant in the back of the head.
The film tells the story of Oscar, who left the colony intending to start a new life and take care of his family. Gradually, the picture is approaching its inevitable finale, tense expectation is growing with every minute.
These are 10 of the best movies about slavery and racism ever made. Do you agree with our list? Do you know any good slavery movies on Netflix? Tell us more in the comment section!
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