Juneteenth is this Saturday – and now it’s also our newest federal holiday! Falling on June 19th each year, it originally marked the abolition of slavery in Texas. It’s since expanded to commemorate and celebrate the end of slavery across the nation. More information can be found in this New York Times article. For this week’s blog post, I wanted to go a little wider than just historical/documentary movies and, instead, pick out and highlight some movies exploring the Black experience in America. Descriptions are from our catalog or the publisher:
Do the Right Thing, dir. Spike Lee
It’s the hottest day of the year in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Tensions are growing, with the only local businesses being a Korean grocery and Sal’s Pizzeria. Mookie is Sal’s delivery boy. Radio Raheem has the letters of love and hate written on his hands. He is defiant and together with a motivated Buggin Out, push Sal and his sons to their breaking point.
The cops intervene, using force and brutality to apprehend the large Radio Raheem. He is unwilling to succumb to the over-excessive brutality of the police and the racist views of Sal and his family. The overzealous police officers don’t understand the repercussions of the violence they just unleashed. The neighbors band together to protest this extreme form of pure, toxic bigotry. Mob mentality takes over and the other local non-African American store owners become threatened. Tempers flare and rage is in the air.
In the Heat of the Night, dir. Norman Jewison
African-American Philadelphia police detective Virgil Tibbs is arrested on suspicion of murder by Bill Gillespie, the racist police chief of tiny Sparta, Mississippi. After Tibbs proves not only his own innocence but that of another man, he joins forces with Gillespie to track down the real killer. Their investigation takes them through every social level of the town, with Tibbs making enemies as well as unlikely friends as he hunts for the truth.
Queen & Slim, dir. Melina Matsoukis
The cops intervene, using force and brutality to apprehend the large Radio Raheem. He is unwilling to succumb to the over-excessive brutality of the police and the racist views of Sal and While on a forgettable first date together in Ohio, a black man and a black woman, are pulled over for a minor traffic infraction. The situation escalates, with sudden and tragic results, when the man kills the police officer in self-defense. Terrified and in fear for their lives, the man, a retail employee, and the woman, a criminal defense lawyer, are forced to go on the run. But the incident is captured on video and goes viral, and the couple unwittingly becomes a symbol of trauma.
Paris Is Burning, dir. Jennie Livingston
My note: I had to include this on my list even though it recently appeared in Molly’s excellent blog post for Pride Month. I encourage you to check out her whole post here: Celebrate Pride with LGBTQI+ Excellence!
Where does voguing come from, and what, exactly, is throwing shade? This landmark documentary provides a vibrant snapshot of the 1980s through the eyes of New York City’s African American and Latinx Harlem drag-ball scene. Made over seven years, it offers an intimate portrait of rival fashion ‘houses,’ from fierce contests for trophies to house mothers offering sustenance in a world rampant with homophobia, transphobia, racism, AIDS, and poverty.