Free Films Addressing Systemic Racism

Recommendations on films exploring systemic racism in America, all available for free, from Curator of Film Dean Otto:

Free Streaming of a Wide Array of Documentaries and Feature Films Addressing Systemic Racism

In response to the national concern over racial justice PBS and several media distributors have made compelling documentaries and feature films available for free. Many of these films have been presented at the Speed Cinema like I Am Not Your Negro, The Force, Tell Them We Are Rising, Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project, and Black Panthers.

Warner Brothers was one of the first distributors to step forward by offering the film Just Mercy to stream for free on various platforms throughout the month of June. The film deals with the issue of systemic racism through the story of civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) as he litigates to overturn the wrongful murder conviction of Walter McMillian.

The Criterion Channel which has always had a stellar collection of films has dropped their paywall for films by African American directors and white directors addressing African American history including Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust (the restoration was screened at the Speed in December 2016), Maya Angelou’s Down in the Delta, Shirley Clarke’s Portrait of Jason, Agnès Varda’s Black Panthers (this was screened at the Speed’s In The Spirit of ’68 program), and Kathleen Collin’s Losing Ground (one of the first films ever presented at the Speed Cinema and one of the first narrative features to be directed by an African American woman).  In addition, the Criterion Channel has announced a $25,000 initial contribution, followed by a $5,000 monthly commitment for organizations supporting Black Lives Matter. Criterion also showed their commitment to art house cinemas by launching the first contributions to a Go Fund Me campaign that raised over $830,000 in support for emergency grants to art house cinemas across the U.S.

PBS is addressing race and racism in America through a series of broadcasts and streaming content throughout the month of June. This includes the broadcast of the PBN Newshour Special Race Matters: America in Crisis that premieres on Friday, June 5 and America in Black and Blue 2020 that premieres on Monday, June 15.  Both will be available to be streamed after the broadcasts. Matt Wolf’s recent documentary Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project (presented at Speed in January) about the African American activist whose passion for truth led her to record live broadcasts of news programs ultimately amassing over 70,000 VHS videotapes of documentation is set to be broadcast on Independent Lens on June 15 followed by streaming.

Free streaming selections complimenting these broadcasts include I Am Not Your Negro, the adaption of James Baldwin’s unfinished book about race in America that was nominated for an Oscar (presented by Speed in February 2017); The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, Stanley Nelson’s documentary unpacking the often misunderstood history of the organization, Tell Them We Are Rising, Stanley Nelson and Marco Williams’ documentary on the history of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (presented at Speed in December 2018);  the documentary Always in Season about America’s legacy of lynching, Charm City focusing on three years of racial violence in Baltimore, The First Rainbow Coalition about the community groups in 1960s Chicago who crossed race and ethnicity barriers to become allies, John Lewis-Get in the Way about the leaders of the Civil Rights movement and current powerful Congressional member, and Whose Streets, a compelling film about the activist organization of the protests in Ferguson, MO. Most streaming of these titles is restricted to Passport members of KET at the moment, but should be free later in the month.

PBS Kids will have an event hosted on YouTube on Tuesday, June 9 at 3:30 pm to offer resources to discuss race, racism, civil rights, and current events with young children.

Third World Newsreel is providing free access to Hugh King and Lamar Williams documentary Black and Blue about the activist movements addressing police brutality in Philadelphia, PA.

IFC Films Unlimited and Amazon Prime have dropped the paywall for Goran Hugo Olsson’s The Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975 that contextualizes the Black Power Movement with footage from Swedish filmmakers who came to America to document the struggle and is now put in context though voiceover from a new generation of activists as well as leaders from the time like Angela Davis and Talib Kweli.

There are also two films directed by Ava DuVernay that will be streaming for free throughout June 2020. This includes Selma (shot by Louisville-born cinematographer Bradford Young) chronicling Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965. DuVernay’s documentary, 13th, takes an in-depth analysis of mass incarceration in the U.S and its relationship with racial inequality.