These five films are going to be listed in no particular order because they are very different and they all handle the topic differently, therefore an individual review will follow and hopefully will explain why they’re in my top five.
COACH CARTER (dir. Thomas Carter, 2005)
Set in 1999, a store owner named Ken Carter decides to accept the job of basketball coach for his old school in Richmond, California. The area in particular is classified as poor and the academic performance is very low, so Carter will keep most of the students away from the basketball games until they improve.
Ken Carter is played by Samuel L. Jackson, one of the best actors of our time, and his role is iconic. Even though racism here seems to be a mere subtopic, it turns out to be a very important theme. Most of the students who play for the team are black, and Ken Carter himself is black. The film displays a very severe case of racism in the streets and society in many, many scenes. I’d like to highlight this dialogue:
WORM (to Junior Battle): That’s my nigga right there. If you were any bigga, you’d be my bigga nigga.
COACH KEN CARTER: Sit down. SIT DOWN! Nigger is a derogatory term used to insult our ancestors. See, if a white man used it, you’d be ready to fight. Your using it teaches him to use it. You’re saying it’s cool. Well, it’s not cool, and when you’re around me, I don’t want to hear that shit! Are we clear?
Incredibly beautiful and moving, I couldn’t recommend it enough. Even if you don’t like films that may be sport-themed – this one will blow your mind. The cast includes renowned actors such as Octavia Spencer and Channing Tatum.
REMEMBER THE TITANS (dir. Boaz Yakin, 2000)
The schools in Suburban Virginia have been segregated for generations. There are one Black and one White high school and both are closed so the students are sent to a different high school. This film is based on real events that occurred in 1971 as the team becomes a unifying symbol for the community.
Another sport-themed film, but this one is different. It was produced by Jerry Buckheimer for Walt Disney Productions – yes, this is a Disney film. In this case, Denzel Washington plays the role of the inspirational coach. It amazes me to think this film is technically a Disney film and it’s filled with many life lessons that leave me speechless all the time. I’d like to share, again, an important dialogue from the film:
Gerry (white guy) is in hospital and Julius (black guy, his best friend) walks into the room to visit him. It’s 1971.
ALICE THE NURSE: Only kin’s allowed in here.
GERRY: Alice, are you blind? Don’t you see the family resemblance? That’s my brother.
The relationship between Gerry and Julius is turbulent at the beginning, but turns out beautiful and unexpected for that generation. We’re talking about a movie that is set in 1971 and a few years after the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement! But this is not the only relationship worth highlighting, of course – and that’s why you should watch this film, with a pack of Kleenex next to you.
THE BUTLER (dir. Lee Daniels, 2013)
Cecil was a sharecropper’s son who grew up in the 1920s as a domestic servant for the white family who destroyed his. On his own, he becomes a hotel valet in the 1950s and then a butler in the White House. The film narrates the life of Cecil as he serves numerous Presidents over the years, as a passive witness of history.
I watched this film randomly when my brother brought it home on DVD and told us we should watch it. I remember crying the entire ocean watching this film and I remember my mother doing the same thing while my father was probably trying to keep it together. Cecil is played by Forest Whitaker, an astounding actor. His role is touching and feels extremely real – his acting is something extraordinary. Cecil faces many familiar problems – such as trying to help his wife with her addiction and his son who is trying to make this world a better place.
CECIL GAINES: America has always turned a blind eye to what we done to our own. We look out to the world and judge. We hear about the concentration camps but these camps went on for two hundred years right here in America.
I’m highlighting that quote from the film for obvious reasons. I think it’s something not only America does but also many other countries in Europe – as I have personally witnessed here in Spain with the refugees, taking into account Spanish people were refugees during the Spanish Civil War in the middle of the Second World War. We judge, but we don’t acknowledge the bad things our ancestors have done and that won’t help us learn from our mistakes but make us more judgmental and mean to teach other. This film is incredible and it’s very interesting from a historical point of view.
HAIRSPRAY (dir. Adam Shankman, 2007)
This musical set in the sixties focuses on Tracy Turnblad, a teenager who is obsessed with the Corny Collins Show as well as her best friend Penny. They always watch it after school and make heart eyes to the hot Link Larkin. As one of the stars from the show leaves and Corny Collins holds auditions, Tracy will make it on the show thanks to her friend Seaweed.
I haven’t watched other versions of this musical, but I remember watching it when it came out eight years ago with my best friends just because Zac Efron was in it and it turned out one of my favourite films. This is another film that is set in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement, when segregation was a big important topic. Tracy meets the “bad guys” of her school during detention and becomes friends with Seaweed, a black student who enjoys dancing and will show her new moves.
There’s a huge controversy in the film as black people can’t be on the Corny Collins show – unless is during their special day – but Tracy wants to defend her black friends and their rights to be in the show and not discriminated.
SEAWEED: Livin’ in the ghetto, black is everywhere you go. Who’d have thought I’d love a girl whose skin was white as winter snow?
PENNY: In my ivory tower, life was just a Hostess snack, but now I’ve tasted chocolate, and I’m never goin’ back.
Of course, love is a big theme in this musical and I highlighted a dialogue between Seaweed and Penny who share an interracial relationship. Even though Seaweed’s family was okay with that, Penny’s catholic mother never approved it.
THE HELP (dir. Tate Taylor, 2011)
Mississippi, 1960s. Skeeter is a southern society girl who returns home from college to become a writer, and will turn the Mississippi town where she lives upside down when she decides to interview the black women that work as maids for the southern families.
This film is based on a book and even though I can’t tell you if the adaptation is faithful, I can assure you this film is worth your time. Even though Skeeter (Emma Stone) is one of the main characters, the story revolves around the black women working for the southern families in Mississippi and their stories.
AIBILEEN: I was born in 1911, Chicksaw County, Piedmont Plantation.
WOMAN: And did you know as a girl growing up that one day you’d be a maid?
AIBILEEN: Yes ma’am, I did.
WOMAN: And you knew that because…
AIBILEEN: My mama was a maid. My grandmamma was a house slave.
WOMAN: (whispering as she writes down) “house slave…” Did you ever dream of being something else?
AIBILEEN: (nods yes)
WOMAN: What does it feel like to raise a white child when your own child’s at home being looked after by somebody else?
The film has been continuously praised since its release. The dialogues are funny yet crude and it’s a real rollercoaster of emotion to watch it because it can make you laugh and cry in less than five minutes. The dialogue that I decided to include is the open dialogue for the film and I like the contrast it shows and the inferred sacrifice the black women who worked as maids in houses had to make in order to maintain their families.
I could talk about these five films extensively but I’d love for you to watch them and let me know what you think. Perhaps you were surprised by my choices or perhaps you weren’t, this is just my personal selection and as a European, they have taught me a lot. Though I will never be able to understand the pain black people suffer with racism, its films like these which portrayals are so realistic that allow me to understand them better.