With protests and uprisings going on across the nation, several films have been made available for free to watch during this pivotal time in history.

Here are six of the films that are essential viewing:

1. Just Mercy

Here’s the official description: A powerful and thought-provoking true story, Just Mercy follows young lawyer Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) and his history-making battle for justice. After graduating from Harvard, Bryan had his pick of lucrative jobs. Instead, he heads to Alabama to defend those wrongly condemned or who were not afforded proper representation, with the support of local advocate Eva Ansley (Brie Larson).  One of his first, and most incendiary, cases is that of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), who, in 1987, was sentenced to die for the notorious murder of an 18-year-old girl, despite a preponderance of evidence proving his innocence and the fact that the only testimony against him came from a criminal with a motive to lie.  In the years that follow, Bryan becomes embroiled in a labyrinth of legal and political maneuverings and overt and unabashed racism as he fights for Walter, and others like him, with the odds—and the system—stacked against them.  

In a review for Shadow And Act, managing editor Brooke Obie wroteTo depict the true story of Stevenson using his privilege to put his body between the condemned and the unjust legal system that wishes to harm them is a revolutionary act. And while Stevenson is literally a hero—the end credits share that he and his non-profit law firm Equal Justice Initiative have freed more than 150 people from death row—this is not a superhero story and it is not just the story of Bryan Stevenson or McMillian or Richardson. This is the story of us, who we are and who we could be.”

Just Mercy can be rented for free on any major video-on-demand platform.

2. Selma

In this film, director Ava DuVernay gives viewers an up-close seat to the events that led up to the historic“Bloody Sunday” march in Selma, AL at the height of the 1960s civil rights movement. DuVernay, whose father grew up near Selma, was able to reconnect to her father’s childhood memories of the civil rights movement, including the marches from Selma to the capital in Montgomery.

‘The film stars David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Common, Cuba Gooding Jr., Tessa Thompson, Lakeith Stanfield, Stephan James, Wendell Pierce and Alabama native André Holland.

Selma can be rented for free on any major video-on-demand platform.

3. The Hate U Give

The official synopsis: Starr Carter is constantly switching between two worlds: the poor, mostly black, neighborhood where she lives and the rich, mostly white, prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Now, facing pressures from all sides of the community, Starr must find her voice and stand up for what’s right. The Hate U Give is based on the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller by Angie Thomas and stars Amandla Stenberg as Starr, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, K.J. Apa, Lamar Johnson, Issa Rae, Algee Smith and Sabrina Carpenter, with Common and Anthony Mackie.

In a review for Shadow And Act, Aramide Tinubu wrote,“Much more than a simple commentary on race, class and police brutality, The Hate U Give is a standout film because it focuses on Black female empowerment. Emboldened by her father’s strength and words, her parent’s love story, her childhood friends and the injustices she witnesses, Starr learns that she doesn’t need anyone’s permission to speak her truth; she’s had the words all along.”

The Hate U Give can be rented for free on any major video-on-demand platform.

4. I Am Not Your Negro

The official description: Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck has taken the 30 completed pages of James Baldwin’s final, unfinished manuscript, ‘Remember This House,’ in which the author went about the painful task of remembering his three fallen friends Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, and crafted an elegantly precise and bracing film essay. Peck’s film, about the unholy agglomeration of myths, institutionalized practices both legal and illegal, and displaced white terror that have long perpetuated the tragic state of race in America, is anchored by the presence of Baldwin himself in images and words, read beautifully by Samuel L. Jackson in hushed, burning tones.

In a review for Shadow And Act, Aramide Tinubu wrote, “An intricate and fascinating narrative, I Am Not Your Negro, gives us a view of both Baldwin and Peck’s journeys as Black men in America, encountering racism and violence. Using Baldwin’s words and thoughts (voiced impeccably by Samuel L. Jackson), Peck connects the lives of Medgar, Malcolm and Martin to the landscape of American history, reflecting on how the devastating assassinations of these towering men and so many other Black people, are still traumatizing us today.”

I Am Not Your Negro can be streamed for free at PBS.org. It is also available for free at Hoopla and Kanopy.

5. 13th

13th chronicles the history of racial inequality in the United States, examining how the country has produced the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with the majority of those imprisoned being African American. The title of the film, of course, refers to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States…”

In a review for Shadow And Act, Aramide Tinbu wrote, “..what the film does beautifully, is connect of a thread that runs through the past one hundred and fifty years; we did not come to this place in history by accident. In 1972, there were just over three-hundred thousand souls incarcerated in the United States, and today, that number has risen astronomically to well over two million.”

The full movie is available on YouTube via Netflix below:

6. Whose Streets?

Directed by Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis, the film is an account of the Ferguson, Missouri uprising told through the eyes and by the people who lived it. It’s described as an unflinching look at how the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown inspired a community to fight back – and sparked a global movement.

In a review for Shadow And Act, Austin Williams wrote, “Whose Streets? soars where other films may fail. It’s an image of black folks painted by black folks. It depicts the whole of their experience—from suffering to healing, from sinking through a void to retrieving one’s agency. If riots are truly the language of the unheard, Whose Streets? provides a booming megaphone from which to reply ‘our streets.’”

It is available for free at Hoopla and Kanopy.



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Photo: Warner Bros. / Paramount 

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