On June 17, 2021 the U.S. government finally anointed Juneteenth as a nationally-recognized Federal holiday. The annual June 19 commemoration celebrates the effective end of slavery in the United States. As a nation, America has of course long wrestled with its legacy of slavery, in the public sphere, in politics and in art.
As the frequent subject of new works of fiction and nonfiction cinema, Film Independent has frequently had the occasion to discuss the experiences of Black Americans across a wide range of panels, filmmaker roundtables and post-screening Q&A’s.
Here are some of our favorites:
MISS JUNETEENTH (2020)
Written & directed by: Channing Godfrey Peoples
Producers: Toby Halbrooks, Tim Headington, Jeanie Igoe, James M. Johnston, Theresa Steele Page, Neil Creque Williams
Starring: Nicole Beharie, Kendrick Sampson, Alexis Chikaeze
About: A former beauty queen and single mom prepares her rebellious teenage daughter for the “Miss Juneteenth” pageant.
What Critics Say: “Miss Juneteenth is full of hauntingly affectionate images: a street scene brimming with life; lived-in houses glimpsed through the window of a car; an indomitable woman dancing on her own by a jukebox at the end of a hot summer evening. There are struggles still to be faced, but the message of Peoples’s film is one of love, hope and change.” Mark Kermode, The Guardian.
Where to Watch the Film: Theatrical re-release June 18-24, Kanopy, Amazon
SELMA (2014) & 13TH (2016)
Directed by: Ava DuVernay
Written by: Paul Webb (Selma); Ava DuVernay, Spencer Averick (13th)
Featuring: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Stephen James, André Holland (Selma); Angela Davis, Newt Gingrich, Michelle Alexander (13th)
About Selma: A chronicle of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965.
About 13th: An in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation’s history of racial inequality.
What Critics Say: “Selma carries viewers along on a tide of breathtaking events so assuredly that they never drown in the details or the despair, but instead are left buoyed: The civil rights movement and its heroes aren’t artifacts from the distant past, but messengers sent on an urgent mission for today.” Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post
What Critics Say: “When you watch 13th, you feel that you’re seeing an essential dimension of America with new vision. That’s what a cathartically clear-eyed work of documentary art can do.” Owen Gleiberman, Variety
Where to Watch the Film: SVOD rental (Selma); Netflix, YouTube (13th)
HIGH ON THE HOG (2021)
Directed by: Roger Ross Williams
Producers: Karis Jagger, Fabienne Toback
Featuring: Stephen Satterfield, Dr. Jessica B. Harris, BJ Dennis
About: Black food is American food. Chef and writer Stephen Satterfield traces the delicious, moving through-lines from Africa to Texas in this docuseries.
What Critics Say: “Netflix’s new food travelogue series will make you ravenous in every way. For the culinary delights with which it is stuffed to bursting, for its nuanced intelligence, its joy, its pace; for the expertise of its presenter, the chef, food writer and former sommelier Stephen Satterfield, for his extraordinarily ego-free warmth; and, most of all, for its profound difference in spirit and content from almost everything that has gone before.” Lucy Mangan, The Guardian
Where to Watch the Series: Netflix
JOHN LEWIS: GOOD TROUBLE (2020)
Directed by: Dawn Porter
Written by: Julie Zann (story consultant)
Producers: Erika Alexander, Ben Arnon, Jazeel Gayle, Laura Michalchyshyn, Dawn Porter
Featuring: John Lewis, Elijah Cummings, Hillary Clinton, Beto O’Rourke, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Stacey Abrams
About: The film explores Georgia representative’s 60-plus years of social activism and legislative action on civil rights, voting rights, gun control, health care reform and immigration.
What Critics Say: “The film allows us to consider how we will show up to the front-lines in whatever jobs or roles we occupy. There’s a lot to glean from the battleground Lewis has stood on for six decades while demanding fairness, a hope, and dream, of every American. Good Trouble is of importance now more than ever.” Priscilla Ward, Salon.com
Where to Watch the Film: HBO Max, SVOD rental
JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH (2021)
Director: Shaka King
Written by: Will Berson, Shaka King
Producers: Ryan Coogler, Charles D. King, Shaka King
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield, Dominique Fishback, Jesse Plemons
About: Offered a plea deal by the FBI, William O’Neal infiltrates the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party to gather intelligence on Chairman Fred Hampton.
What Critics Say: “King also makes good on his promise of telling Hampton’s story and the ideology of the BPP through an electrifying, beautifully-shot, lovingly-scored tale.” Mini Anthikad Chhibber, The Hindu
Where to Watch the Film: SVOD rental
THE UNITED STATES VS. BILLIE HOLIDAY (2021)
Director: Lee Daniels
Writer: Suzan-Lori Parks
Producer: Jordan Fudge, Jeff Kirschenbaum, Joe Roth, Tucker Tooley, Pamela Oas Williams
Starring: Andra Day, Trevante Rhodes
About: The film follows Holiday during her career as she is targeted by the Federal Department of Narcotics with an undercover sting operation led by black Federal Agent Jimmy Fletcher, with whom she had a tumultuous affair.
What Critics Say: “Day’s performance, on the other hand, attains a searing force in the final hospital sequence, when Billie has been stripped of everything but her pride, which unlike her will not die.” Owen Gleiberman, Variety
Where to Watch the Film: Hulu
ALL IN: THE FIGHT FOR DEMOCRACY (2020)
Directors: Lisa Cortés, Liz Garbus
Written by: Jack Youngelson
Featuring: Stacy Abrams, Marcia Fudge, Andrew Young
About: The documentary takes a look at the history, and current activism against voter suppression; barriers to voting that most people don’t even know is a threat to their basic rights as citizens of the United States.
What Critics Say: “All In: The Fight For Democracy is a valuable public service wrapped in an educational, informative and engaging documentary.” Odie Henderson, RogerEbert.com
Where to Watch the Film: Amazon
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(Header: Angela Davis in Ava DuVernay’s 13th)