Sandra Evers-Manly is a longtime advocate of diversity and inclusion. She currently serves as president and founder of Black Hollywood and Education Resource Center (BHERC), a nonprofit dedicated to advocating, educating, researching, developing, and preserving the history and future of Black images in film and TV. As an executive producer, her credits include Last Breeze of Summer, nominated for an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short.
I am humbled and honored to be asked to suggest films for viewing during the week dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
As a true lover of movies, especially those with impact and purpose, narrowing down my favorites to a list of just five feels seemingly impossible and extremely unbearable. When I considered the movies, I didn’t include such films as Four Little Girls, Get On The Bus, A Time To Kill, Amistad, When They See Us, Brother John and No Way Out. These movies are also powerful and compelling; each one left a lasting, meaningful impression on me, and surely would be great choices as well.
This world we live in has seen such challenging times this past year. Between the pandemic and the many social justice issues, 2020 tested our strength and resilience as a people. Heading into 2021, I know we can rise from the ashes of COVID-19 and find ways to unite and work to put an end to social injustice. That being said, here is a list of five films that are deeply evocative, which I feel will stir the soul and mind to higher levels of emotions and thinking.
A landmark Civil Rights documentary, Eyes on the Prize tells the story of one of the greatest and hardest-fought political movements in American history. Featuring the extraordinary men, women, and children whose everyday actions altered the very foundations of the American experience, this powerful documentary series chronicles the struggles and the courage, the unfinished work and the sacrifices -- as well as the important victories -- of the people who made it all happen.
Directed by the amazing Ava DuVernay, a film of this magnitude could not have had a more groundbreaking director. DuVernay not only captured the reality of the dominant themes of passion, sacrifice and brutality, resilience, and ultimately victory, she also honed in on the smallest of the surrounding details and finessed them masterfully to create a subtle and intimate picture of the events. Selma follows Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his march from the titular city to Montgomery, Alabama. The victory of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 meant very little to Black people without the right to vote, and Dr. King made it his mission to further this effort in the face of tremendous violence. His courage, along with the many who joined him, would ultimately lead to the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This film is not only a history lesson but also a strategic view of how to engage in the struggle for change without violence.
A film I absolutely love! Featuring a truly talented cast, Just Mercy was a “must watch” film in 2019, portraying how the lack of social justice in our country is manifested in the many pitfalls of our broken justice system. The fight to identify wrongful convictions, end mass incarceration and excessive punishment, challenge racial and economic injustice, and protect basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society is a fight that continues to this day. Just Mercy shows the struggle one man faces in trying to get his life back after a wrongful conviction, along with the heroic work of his lawyer and the team of like-minded colleagues who refuse to give up the fight.
James Baldwin is one of the most influential writers in the entire American canon. He consistently challenged the status quo for Black people in his efforts to fight for equality and bring Black intellectualism to the forefront of the American imagination. Before he died, Baldwin was unable to finish Remember This House -- a work that chronicled the lives and assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. That memoir of Baldwin's personal recollections is the basis for this film. Having familial ties to civil rights advocate and icon Medgar Evers only adds to the personal significance of this film for me.
Another genius masterpiece from the great filmmaker Spike Lee. An iconic film, Do The Right Thing tackles issues of race, identity, community, relationships, police brutality, and tragedy. Perhaps one of Lee’s very best, this film encompasses the Black experience in more ways than one -- from trying to find unity with each other, to uniting to stand up and fight against brutality and racial prejudice.