There has been a lot of chatter about race, racism, and racial reconciliation over the past few weeks. In our media driven and social connections, it is so easy to follow the latest trends and then forget why we were initially outraged in the first place. We forget that God is outraged too, and we forget that people lives are being impacted by racial injustices. We forget that when humans die, they often have loved ones who remain. These loved ones are not following the latest trends. They are not forgetting; they are still mourning, crying, losing sleep, and possibility waking up in cold sweats. We should not forget them. As Christians, we should not forget to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep.
We should also not forget that our god is a God of justice. He cares about corrupt and broken people and about corrupt and broken systems. He desires change. He welcomes repentance, and he will judge when there is none. He will one day make all of this right.
God has created all human beings in his own image, and therefore we all have value. Our lives matter. We cannot fix what we do not see or confront what we do not care about. In today’s post, I’m asking you to care about people.
In a recent article published by Christianity Today, I shared one tip for educating ourselves concerning race issues and how to move closer towards racial reconciliation:
Watch movies and documentaries. Having a racial focus in the books, magazines, movies, documentaries or other learning tools is not necessary. It is more important to hear the voices, share the experiences, convictions, life rhythms, and practices of people that are different than us. Seek material that is authored and produced by racial and ethnic minorities.
Therefore, I invite you to go to the movies. Well, you will actually need to rent or purchase these through your favorite movie viewing mechanism. In no particular order, here are 6 movies that I recommend (and 6 more are coming next week) to get started for understanding racial and ethnic issues and having important dialogs with your friends:
Why watch it: This is an explosive cast in an explosive movie. Centered in Los Angeles, it addresses everything from urban living, interracial marriage, immigration/human trafficking, social programs (the lives of recipients and the perceptions of those who receive“handouts”), corrupt cops (there are some), and the reality that there is often no cushion for men of color who make poor choices. We are human and this movie reveals what happens when we step outside of our own worlds and crash into the lives of others. This is a must watch!
- 12 YEARS A SLAVE
Why watch it: This is the personal life story of a free African American man, Solomon Northrup, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in upstate New York. Solomon was a husband, father, and extraordinary violinist who was targeted when a few white men thought that he was an “uppity” Negro who thought too highly of himself. He was a man. Solomon was enslaved for twelve years where his quick thinking and family inspired him to survive the harsh conditions. We are human and this movie reveals the extreme measures people will take when the fear of progress of another race or ethnic group of people challenges their own wellbeing.
- THE HELP
Why watch it (or read it): This fictional movie addresses the racial tension between the white women of Jackson, MI in the 1960s, their children, and “The Help” or black women who serve them. I wrote an article about the movie here. The following dialog can also assist in your personal conversations: An Introduction, Racial Stereotypes, Interracial Friendships, Race and the Church, Hope for the Gospel. We are human and this movies reveals what courage looks like in the face of racial injustice. Don’t be afraid to stand up and use your voice.
- SCHINDLER’S LIST
Why watch it: This classic movie is based on the true story of the Holocaust. Oskar Schindler, a German businessman, originally seeks to expand his fortune by taking advantage of free Jewish labor. After seeing the injustices against the Jews, Oskar begins bribing Nazi leaders so we can keep Jews working in his factory and out of concentration camps. As a result of his actions, he lost his fortune. It is believed that he saved approximately 1,000 people from death. We are human and sometimes standing up for others is going to cost us something.
- HOTEL RWANDA
Why Watch it: This movie is based on the true story of the 1994 Rwanda genocide between the Tutsi and Hutu tribes. It is about racism, political corruption, and violence. Hotel manager, Paul Rusesabagina, takes great risks to preserve the lives of over a thousand Tutsi refugees. The world stood by and watched as more than one million people were murdered over a period of 100 days. I also recommend reading Immaculée Ilibagiza’s book, Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust. We are human and this movie reveals what happens when we stop seeing each other in that way, when we refuse to pay attention.
Why Watch it: This movie is based on the life of Jackie Robinson and his historic singing to the Brooklyn Dodgers. In this movie we see how racism is taught to and displayed before children, and we also see how people can change their perception of others who are different than them. Jackie Robinson and Dodgers executive, Branch Rickey, not only changed the face of baseball. They changed the hearts of people. I also recommend the children’s book, “Who is Jackie Robinson?” by Gail Herman. We are human and reconciliation calls for risk taking.
I have 6 more movies to share with you next Friday. In the meantime, also check out racial reconciliation expert, Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil’s movie list today. She includes Invictus, Spanglish, Belle, Red Tails, and the Great Debaters which I also recommend. I will share about a couple of those and a few others next week.
What did you think about these movies? What other movies do you recommend?
© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2014
7 thoughts on “Race Matters: Let’s Go to the Movies”
Hi, Natasha, I want this to turn into a forum all to itself with discussions about the amazing influence film can have on our lives! I could add a list of favourites I have loved and wept over; they date me in terms of when I actually had time to sit and watch movies. Films that tackle some of the more subtle, but just as corrosive and deadly, racism are: (1) unjust laws or laws enacted unjustly — Cry, the Beloved Country, To Kill a Mockingbird, Places in the Heart, Mississippi Burning (2) biased assumptions in “polite” society that may also cross religious divides — Driving Miss Daisy, Gentleman’s Agreement, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Glory Road (3) assault on black males’ and/or females’ self-esteem, which is shown to be a human issue distinct from gender, gender orientation, or race — A Raisin in the Sun, The Color Purple. Important films about racism that do not center on blacks but cast black actors in roles that play off US racism are Good Morning Vietnam, The Shawshank Redemption, and very recently Space Jam (which I haven’t seen yet but apparently also brings comedy to serious subject matter and is not just for kids even with the Disney trademarks). Your having kicked off this topic also sent me to a fascinating resource for teachers that would be wonderful for churches looking into the human tendency to create divisiveness rather than unity. Because I tend to hear about just one racial or ethnic issue at a time, I forget how prevalent an ingrained distrust of “otherness” is in the human heart, e.g., The Milagro Beanfield War. Here’s the link: http://academic.evergreen.edu/curricular/culturallandscapes/Films%20on%20R,%20I,%20R,%20and%20J.pdf
Hi Laurna, I would love to continue the forum to discuss the amazing impact that film can have on our lives, especially for those who may not be able to read as much as they would like.
What film does is brings the humanity back to the issues, statistics, and perspectives-and addresses the “otherness” in which you mention. It gives us reference points in which we can connect.
I have seen several of the movies you have mentioned here, and have also read a few of the books. I need to add the others to my list. You are one of several people (including my social media feeds) that have included “Shawshank Redemption” to this list. I have seen the movie several times but it has indeed been awhile. Since this movie is not on the list of movies that I will be sharing this week, can you please briefly explain why you think this one in particular is one to watch when thinking about racial reconciliation?
Also, how best can we continue this conversation?
Hi, Natasha, It’s a very complex movie with a main theme and several subplots, each of which deserves exploration. It’s rated by some critics as the #1 film of all time. In The Shawshank Redemption, a black man (Ellis “Red” Redding, played by Morgan Freeman, a dealer in contraband) provides leadership, comfort, wisdom, specialized knowledge from his greater worldly experience, and the means of escaping from prison — a “screen” to cover the rock wall (a poster of Rita Hayworth) and a hammer to pound out an escape hole — to a white man (Andy Dufreyne, played by Tim Robbins, a man falsely found guilty of a double murder), who is enslaved, raped, degraded, nearly killed in assaults, humiliated, and de-humanized within their penal institution, treatment that equates with the black man’s treatment by whites in the world outside. The prison guards and administration are as wicked as the underworld from which many of the prisoners come. The failure of the entire judicial system, as a reflection of the failures of society in general, is the backdrop for the central story. The reversal of the stereotypical roles of white and black “on the outside” are played out within the prison, in a further ironical twist, when the man with the greater power — the black man, Red — uses his power to free the man below him in the social strata of the inmates — the white man, Andy. Andy’s saving grace is his hope of escaping to Mexico. Red’s vulnerability is his lack of hope and the length of his sentence; most men who serve long terms (like his 40 years) cannot survive following their release and simply commit suicide. Andy, who understands Red’s jeopardy, communicates with Red and enables Red’s survival following his release by setting up a cache of goods that will allow Red to illegally cross into Mexico to meet him. Red makes it and the two friends are reunited in the hard-won freedom to which each contributed equally to the other. The message to the viewer is that if these men can accomplish equality under appalling conditions, the rest of us had better get busy doing the same thing.
As to continuing the conversation: how about your place next Saturday night and I’ll bring the popcorn and you can choose the next film to watch! Don’t I wish! I have just come back from the 55th reunion of my high school graduating class (Niagara Falls, NY, 1959) stirred by the wonder of what people black, white, Jewish, Lutheran, Anglican, Catholic, Polish, Italian, married, single, gay, impoverished, abused, privileged, highly educated, simply graduated (I could go on) have done with the time God has given them. And how shocking the roster of all those whose race is already won.
Thanks for such a thorough summary and affirmation of “Shawshank,” Laurna. I agree there is a lot to explore there. Now I’m sure to analyze it more thoroughly the next time I watch it. Thank God for such a wonderful time you had in NY, and the opportunity to experience the beauty of his diversity and reconciliation! Have a great week. Blessings, Natasha
Perhaps this is not news to you but I thought I would share it. I just ran across a news item that startled me in reference not only to the atrocities in Ferguson, MO, and in Dayton, OH, shortly before that, but more widely in black profiling by the police, which occurs where I live as well. The common assumption (I think) is that police simply are ordinary folks — an extension of the general population — who have been trained and armed to express the will of the majority and that in some places a few of them carry archaic, “traditional” views on non-white-skinned people that cause “isolated incidents.” Here’s a perspective that makes the ground shift under my feet: http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-echochambers-29262598 cites two studies that found police families have four times the domestic violence (40%) as compared with people in the general population (10%). These are the public protectors we call on to deal with domestic and other kinds of violence, but the chances are 4:1 that these are not as peaceful people as the folks you and I know. I thought the sort of abuses we have seen around here were a reflection of the “backwoods” type of setting we live in, i.e., exceptional ignorance and poor socialization. Apparently they simply are a reflection of a dangerous personality type that frequently chooses that line of work.
Hi Laurna, Thanks for sharing this information. I do understand your concern. While I hesitate to draw glaring conclusions without having thoroughly researched the topic, I do have some awareness and understanding of the issues raised based on my military background. There is no doubt that law “enforcement” is a violent profession, and in those professions people tend to be dehumanized. For example, while in military training, we are taught to refer to any adversary as an “enemy.” A problem arises when men and women actually go to war or are placed in other tragic scenarios (ex. a police who has a gun pulled on him by a citizen) where they actually respond or act out on what they have been trained to do (even if their response is necessary and justified)-a level of trauma takes place. If that trauma is not positively addressed (through counseling or other means) then we start to see negative outbursts in the manner that you mention. The most common form of suppression I have seen is the abuse of alcohol which also leads to some of the domestic issues raised. Sin cuts us all down to our knees, and my hope and prayer is that the church is present and active in providing a powerful message of the gospel that is relevant for these troubled times.
Thanks for your frank, thoughtful sharing on a hugely important subject. I have come back to your comments again and again today as I have had to drive around the countryside doing other business. I think I need to revise my term “personality type” as completely inadequate to the behavior we are discussing. You have shown the essential connections between war and policing, of training that ensures a person responds to violence with violence (whether military or civil), of “trauma” (a general term that pleads to be analyzed) that is as inevitable in the human who fires a weapon that meets its mark as the recoil from the weapon, of psychological “suppression” and “outbursts,” and of sin that includes all of us. While I cannot begin to respond in detail, I am simply glad you raised all these elements of violence in human relations as important issues for the Christian to sort out.