La Chinoise on theater and by extension, film.
To start this off, I wish to clarify the title. No I am not suggesting that the Black Liberation Struggle can be understood just by watching a bunch of films. Obviously only constant study and investigation can bring one to really understand what is like for my people, after all, as Mao said, (and I am of course paraphrasing here) correct ideas do not fall from the sky, but instead come from social practice. That said, if one wishes to deepen their understanding about various aspects of the Black Liberation Struggle in their free time, (and have fun doing it too because these are not by any means boring films), then this Study Guide is a good list of movies to both enjoy and learn from.
An additional fact of importance is that this list is composed only of movies I, myself have seen. Because of this, there are sure to be fantastic films out there that are relevant to the subject that I have not seen, and therefore have not made it onto this list. It is important for readers of this list to also do their own search for other movies that may be of interest and can be learned from.
With all that out of the way, on with the list.
Part 1: Slavery, The Middle Passage, and Slave Rebellion.
Preface: Slavery is a phenomena that, (obviously) occurred in the United States a long time ago. This fact is the reason behind the ability of the Settler-Colonial mainstream social discourse to ignore and attempt to forget the pure barbarity and horrors of the genocidal crimes committed against black people by our oppressors. These movies help both to illustrate the severity of these crimes, but also depict some of the creative ways that black people resisted slavery, this resistance being an embryonic form of a black liberation struggle that continues to this day.
Why is it important?: Amistad is a movie that features the horrors of the trip of slaves across the Atlantic. Not only is the genocidal nature of the African Diaspora depicted in this film, but the struggle against such injustice through both legal (the court case), and illegal means (the initial revolt), was depicted as well.
2. 12 Years a Slave
Why is it important?: This film also depicts the brutality of slavery very well, but the most important aspect of the film is its focus on the unfairness of the Fugitive Slave Laws, which ultimately served only as a method by which more black people could be roped into the hardships of slavery.
3. Roots (2016)
Why is it important?: Roots is a very important miniseries to watch if one wants to understand slavery in full. Roots may just be the most important of these three films. The film also depicts the horrors of the middle passage, resistance to slavery, and the brutality of slavery itself, but it also manages to add certain elements that make it unique. Because Roots depicts the life of Kunta Kente up until his capture by white slavers, it illustrate the complex culture of the Africans prior to their transfer to the United States. This proves the fallacious nature of claims that Africa is a barbarian continent with no history that are prevalent in the minds of many Americans today. Roots also depicts aspects of reconstruction, and shows how white terrorism paved the way for the restoration of legally sanctioned white supremacy after the end of the Civil War.
Part 2: Civil Rights, Socialism, Black Power, and the rise of Black Nationalism.
Preface: The rise of black nationalist leaders and the black power movement was a significant advance in the movement for black liberation. One of the most important aspects of this new revolutionary sentiment, was its devotion to socialism as a necessity for the black nation upon attaining national liberation. This fact is usually glossed over as the bourgeoisie’s attempts to rehabilitate these leaders and make them toothless. In this way, Lenin’s quote about such revolutionary heroes rings true:
“During the lifetime of great revolutionaries, the oppressing classes constantly hounded them, received their theories with the most savage malice, the most furious hatred and the most unscrupulous campaigns of lies and slander. After their death, attempts are made to convert them into harmless icons, to canonize them, so to say…”
1. Malcolm X
Why is it important?: This biopic depicts the life of one of the greatest influences on the black nationalist movement there ever was. Malcolm X. The white supremacist mainstream discourse often tries to paint Malcolm as a “reverse-racist” who called for “senseless violence”, but this movie allows the viewers to understand his ideology in a more realistic light, and shows the legitimacy of his calls for self-defense and black separatism. This movie also implies that the United States may have been involved in Malcolm’s assassination, something that evidence suggests may very well be true.
2. The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975
Why is it important?: In this collection of footage from the period written in the movie’s title, the views and aims of various black revolutionaries are depicted clearly and in their own words. This collection is a fantastic representation of the entirety of that period, featuring all sorts of black revolutionaries including Stokely Carmichael, George Jackson and Angela Davis.
3. The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
Why is it important?: The Black Panthers, like Malcolm X are also often slandered as “the Black Ku Klux Klan” or “violent terrorists” by those supporting the white supremacist bourgeois narrative. This movie shows the real Black Panther party, and honestly depicts their Serve the People programs and ties to overseas anti-imperialist nations and movements, ultimately proving that the Black Panther Party was actually a radical movement for Black Liberation that was destroyed and discredit by the white supremacist American state with their COINTELPRO program.
Part 3: Black poverty, crime, and life in “The Ghetto”.
Preface: It is easy for racism to persist when people outside of impoverished, predominantly black areas look inside. All such people see is violence and death, which to them, confirms the white supremacist narrative that blacks are barbarians, just as they thought we were when they stole us from Africa. The reality of the situation is very different from this narrative of course. The need for basic resources for survival forces black people into a vicious cycle of crime, imprisonment and poverty. Gangs keep people alive in the hellhole that is the “ghettos”. All such areas represent are the inefficiencies of capitalism, not the so called “barbarity of black people”.
1. Boyz N The Hood
Why is it important?: This movie has several very important points. One of them is the comments on gentrification and the necessity of consciousness of black youth by the black nationalist father of the main character, “Furious” Styles. The second important aspect of the film is the emphasis on the ignorance of the rest of the American populace of the tragedies of the hood.
2. Snow on Tha Bluff
Why is it important?: This movie is a very realistic depiction of modern life in the ghetto. The realism of the film created by its style adds great emphasis to the tragedy of poverty and violence in the hood, making it into a must see for those who want to understand what life is like there.
3. Crips and Bloods: Made in America
Why is it important?: This movie draws a direct connection between the decline of the black revolutionary movement due to destructive tactics of the American state and the rise of gang culture and violence in predominantly black areas. It also, like the other films on this list, explains the nature of gang conflict, showing both its horrors and the reasons why many have no choice but to participate in it.
4. Straight Outta Compton
Why is it important?: A common belief among reactionaries who support white supremacist ideas is that the “violent rap music” that black people often listen to is a degenerate aspect of our culture that causes crime and violence. This film shows that in reality the opposite is true. The crime and violence present in the hood is actually due to poverty, and NWA the rap group that this film is about, were the first to start the trend of depicting the reality of hood life in music. That is certainly a positive thing.
Part 4: Mass incarceration and police violence.
Preface: Mass incarceration and police violence are the two largest manifestations of the oppression of black people in the United States today. Because of this, these to phenomena are the most discussed in mainstream political discourse, and the films below help illustrate just why that is. The most important take away from these films is that neither the police or the prison system exist to help black people. Instead they exist to oppress injure, and re-enslave black people and to prevent them from ever achieving true liberation.
Why is it important?: The main point of this documentary is the assertion that the prison system has replaced the enslavement of black people because the titular 13th amendment allows it. This movie does a fantastic job depicting capitalism’s role in keeping things the way they are by explaining various corporations’ roles in making sure mass incarceration persists.
2. Fruitvale Station
Why is it important?: Fruitvale Station is simply the story of a black man who, while going about his normal life and doing normal things, has his life ended quickly and unexpectedly by the police. It shows that police shootings can happen to any black person at anytime, which is really scary to think about.
3. 15 to Life: Kenneth’s Story
Why is it important?: This documentary explains the cruelty of the United States when dealing with black youth who commit crime. There is no sympathy for black youth in the prison system, and this film shows that through the perfect of a 15 year old sentenced to life in prison simply for a robbery.
And that’s the end of this cinema study guide! Feel free to comment and tell me what you’ve learned!