"...there must be an active effort to promote television which portrays minority characters positively.'"
By John Latson
Many Americans are finding themselves watching the news recently; there’s plenty to watch. George Floyd and Black Lives Matter (“BLM”) protests, a roller-coaster economy, fiery foreign affairs, and a pandemic on top of it all. It can be hard to decide what to watch, but this article will make that decision easier for you by focusing on movies, shows, and documentaries that speak to and portray the Black experience. Next to sleeping or working, Americans are most likely to watch television than anything other activity. Research shows television can have a profound effect on individuals. Given the influence research shows television has on individuals, there must be an active effort to promote television which portrays minority characters positively.
Entertainment companies are already getting on board. Streaming giant Netflix was among the first of media and entertainment companies to announce support for the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of George Floyd’s death. In a tweet, Netflix said, “[w]e have a platform, and we have a duty to our Black members, employees, creators and talent to speak up.” In the weeks following George Floyd’s death, Netflix noticed an uptick in searches for the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” In response, Netflix created a collection featuring forty-five titles about racial injustice and the experience of Black Americans.
This collection includes Spike Lee’s upcoming “Da 5 Bloods” (2020); “13th” (2016); “When They See Us” (2019); “Mudbound” (2017); “Dear White People” (2017); and “Moonlight” (2016). Still, Netflix isn’t the only entity to promote Black-experience television.
Lifestyle technology site Women Love Tech released a list of ten movies and shows an individual can watch to support Black Lives Matter. Watching a movie or show is a way to support BLM because of the education that can be taken out of it. By watching movies like “Do The Right Thing” (1989); “13th” (2016); or “Malcolm X” (1992), a viewer becomes more informed, develops a stronger voice, and empowers a person to write a more informed statement to their local representative or lawyer. Women Love Tech also suggests watching “Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement” (2016); “Freedom Riders” (2010); “Fruitvale Station” (2013); “Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story” (2018); “Seven Seconds” (2018); “I Am Not Your Negro” (2016); and “Get Out” (2018).
In addition, Birmingham Updates suggests a few documentaries and films to educate oneself. Bolded on their homepage is the phrase, “When Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter!” For educational purposes and to promote the BLM cause, Birmingham Updates suggests “Just Mercy” (2019); “King In The Wilderness” (2018); “Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise” (2016); “Slavery By Another Name” (2008); “American Son” (2019); “Dark Girls” (2011); “Sorry to Bother You” (2018); “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” (2015); “Teach Us All” (2017); and “Strong Island” (2017). However, just as there are movies that support the BLM cause, there are also ones to avoid because they do not support the cause.
There is not much written about what movies or shows work against the Black Lives Movement, and for good reason. “There is no such thing as bad publicity” is a phrase many people have heard. The phrase carries some merit because even when publicity is negative it still stimulates awareness. As a result, it is something of a paradox to promote Black Lives Matter and the media that supports that cause, but then turn around and “promote” media that doesn’t. Instead, make it a goal to watch television actively, rather than passively. To actively view a program requires audience members to do some type of action, such as reflect on what they see and hear, as they take in the content. Watching television is also active consumption because everything we see or hear is interpreted and the viewer chooses to consume and place the content into his or her personal ideologies and intellect. Moreover, everything a viewer encounters in the media is carried under his or her understanding of it and influences that viewer’s attitude.
In conclusion, there are a lot of great movies, shows, and documentaries available to watch on the Black experience. For those who are able to access Netflix, their new collection of media is a great resource to educate and learn about the Black experience. For those who cannot access Netflix, there are still other ways to potentially watch some of these productions. Lastly, not all television portrays the Black experience in a positive light; it’s important to remain an active viewer when consuming television. Think about what is being shown, said, and decide for yourself how the Black experience is presented to the audience. Black Lives Matter.
John Latson is a second-year law student at Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law, Treasurer for the Student Body Association, and Treasurer for Pepperdine's Sports and Entertainment Law Society.