Freed Films Fight Racism

(Above photo by Katie Crampton (WMUK), London, June 3, 2020, via Creative Commons license)

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, studios, theaters and subscription services have opened their paywalls by making numerous films focusing on American racial injustice free to stream.

Here’s a rundown of what’s available from AMC Theatres, The Criterion Channel, Paramount, Showtime, Starz, Universal and Warner Bros.

AMC Theatres

Ali (2001) stars Will Smith as boxing champ Muhammad Ali. The biopic also stars Jamie Foxx and Jon Voight (as Howard Cosell).

The Criterion Channel

(Editor’s note: Criterion Channel titles below won’t play on all devices)

Dramas include

Body and Soul (Oscar Micheaux, 1925), starring Paul Robeson in his film debut

The Scar of Shame
(Lucia Lynn Moses, in The Scar of Shame’)

Cane River (Horace Jenkins, 1982)

Daughters of the Dust (Julie Dash, 1991), noted as the first feature film directed by an African-American woman to be distributed theatrically in the US

Down in the Delta (Maya Angelou, 1998), with Alfre Woodard,  Esther Rolle and Wesley Snipes

Losing Ground (Kathleen Collins, 1982), a semi-autobiographical film that would have been the first theatrical feature directed by an African-American woman if it had made out of the festival circuit. The movie would achieve critical raves three dedades later, however.

My Brother’s Wedding (Charles Burnett, 1983) 

The Scar of Shame (Frank Perugini, 1929)

The Watermelon Woman (Cheryl Dunye, 1996), noted as the first feature film directed by a black lesbian.

Documentary features include

And When I Die I Won’t Stay Dead (Billy Woodberry, 2015), profiling black poet Bob Kaufman

Black Mother (Khalik Allah, 2018)

Portrait of Jason (Shirley Clarke, 1967), profiling a gay black prostitute, Jason Holliday

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One (William Graves, 1968)

Documentary shorts include

Black Panthers (Agnes Varda,1968)

Suzanne, Suzanne (Camille Billops and James Hatch,1982)

A Well-Spent Life (Les Blank,1971)

Do the Right Thing (Universal)

Spike Lee’s 1989 film takes place over a single, very hot day on a single. smoldering block in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant — where hatred and bigotry eventually explode into violence. Lee received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay, and Danny Aiello earned one for supporting actor. The cast also includes Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, John Turturro, Samuel L. Jackson, Rosie Perez, and Lee himself as “Mookie.”

Outlets offering Do the Right Thing for free through June 29 include Apple TVFandangoNowMicrosoftRedbox and Vudu.

Just Mercy (Warner Bros.)

This 2019 film stars Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx and Brie Larson in the true story of civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson (Jordan) fighting for an innocent man (Foxx) condemned to death in Alabama. Destin Daniel Cretton directed and co-wrote.

Outlets offering Just Mercy for free include AmazonApple TVFandango NowGoogle PlayiTunesMicrosoftRedboxVudu and YouTube.

Kino Now documentaries

The Oscar-nominated King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis (1970) , directed by Sidney Lumet, follows Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from 1955 to 1968.

Let the Fire Burn (2013) tells the story of a longtime feud between the city of Philadelphia and the black liberation group MOVE as it comes to a deadly climax in 1985.

Selma (Paramount)

Ava DuVernay’s 2014 film chronicles how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) led the 54-mile 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, AL. Carmen Ejogo co-stars as Coretta Scott King.

Outlets offering Selma for free include Amazon, Apple TV, FandangoNow, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft and Vudu.

Showtime documentaries

16 Shots (Rick Rowley, 2019) examines the 2014 shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke and its ensuing cover-up.

Burn Motherf*cker, Burn! (Sacha Jenkins, 2017) explores the relationship between the Los Angeles Police Department and the city’s Black and minority communities. 

Both documentaries are streaming free at SHO.com, on YouTube, and right here:

Starz documentaries

America to Me (Steve James, 2018), a 10-episode series examining racial, economic and class issues in American education.

A Huey P. Newton Story (Spike Lee, 2001), with Roger Guenveur Smith as the co-founder of the Black Panther party in the 1960s.

Emanuel (Brian Ivie, 2019) about the 2015 mass murder of nine blacks by a white supremacist in Charleston, South Carolina’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

For Ahkeem (Jeremy S. Levine and Landon Van Soest, 2017) looks at juvenile justice, education, and race in today’s America as it follows the life of a 17-year-old black girl from North St. Louis, Missouri. (Note: this film is also streaming free on Sundance Now.)

Out of Omaha (Clay Tweel, 2018) looks at twin brothers coming of age in racially and economically-divided Omaha, Nebraska.

Scandalize My Name: Stories from the Blacklist (Alexandra Isles, 1998). Morgan Freeman narrates this look at prominent African-American film and TV performers during the 1950s McCarthy era.

Stranger Fruit (Jason Pollock, 2017) examines the 2014 Ferguson, Missouri killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer. 

The Rape of Recy Taylor  (Nancy Buirski, 2017), about a woman who, after being gang-raped by six white boys in 1944 Alabama, fought for justice with help from Rosa Parks (recreated by Cynthia Erivo) and others.

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