By Ava Marshall
Black cinema stays blessing us with many classics — we’re talking thousands of cultural references, sis. Many of these gems also center around fighting the powers that be both socially and politically. Grab your popcorn and clear your planner ’cause our roundup of resistance-themed films is gonna leave you inspired to change the world.
Inspired by the real-life Soweto uprising, Sarafina! follows a young, Black South African girl who is coming of age during apartheid. After the influence of her teacher (played by Whoopi Goldberg, y’all!), she finds her voice to resist the white, racist power structure. As tensions rise, Sarafina takes on the fight for freedom with her classmates. Not only does this movie give us a serious dose of powerful Black girl realness, but it’s also a musical, filled with hit after hit that will have you singing for Black liberation.
Cornbread Earl and Me
A real OG of Black films, this one stars a young Laurence Fishburne in a story that centers around the life of high school basketball star, Nathaniel “Cornbread” Hamilton. A local star in his neighborhood, he’s seeking a way out. The film phenomenally paints the picture of his promise — he’s a role model to his peers and is closing in on a scholarship to attend college. But, in events that terrifyingly mirror our realities of today, unarmed Cornbread is killed by police. This tragedy leads the neighborhood to rally around securing justice, showing the mobilization of an oppressed Black community dedicated to resistance.
Daughters of the Dust
The Gullah community off the coast of South Carolina, where descendants of enslaved West Africans maintain the traditions of their ancestors, is free of the chains of Euro-centric standards and remains a sanctuary for the Black folks who occupy it. But when some start thinking of making a move to the mainland, the tensions among the generations arise. This film, which inspired Beyoncé’s Lemonade, examines conflicts between resistance to tradition and resistance to Westernization.
This Spike Lee Joint remains a timeless ode to the power of resistance and one of its founding fathers, Malcolm X. Starring Denzel Washington as X, this 1992 film is based on The Autobiography of Malcolm X and tackles the incredible story of his life, from his father’s murder to his hustlin’ days to his incarceration to his rise and fall in the Nation of Islam and so much more.
The very first theatrical film all about the real life of Harriet Tubman and her daring rescue missions to free about 70 of her enslaved family and friends, Harriet covers the 10-year period of those 13 trips she made back and forth from Philadelphia to Maryland. It’s a powerful story of enslaved Black people risking everything to free themselves. Today, the struggle for full freedom in this country still persists, and when you need a re-up of motivation and strength to keep pushing and fighting, press play on this.
When the Hutu military begins a mass genocide against the Tusti people, Paul Rusesabagina arises as a hero, allowing people to take shelter in his hotel. A Hutu hotel manager who was previously living a peaceful life with his Tutsi wife and three children, Paul (played by Don Cheadle) struggles to protect the refugees as the hope of aid becomes more and more distant. As compelling as it is emotional, this film tells the true story of when everyday people step up to resist violence. You will definitely need a box of tissues for this one, but will undoubtedly be left knowing the power of even the smallest ripples.
Named for the 13th Amendment — particularly the passage that says, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime … shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction” — this Ava Duvernay documentary illustrates just how our current system of mass incarceration is used to this day to keep Black people enslaved in some form. Through interviews, music, historical footage, and more, Ava ignites a fire inside viewers to take action and work toward making a change to the current injustice system.
Another Spike Lee Joint, Crooklyn showcases life in 1970s Brooklyn, New York, seen through the eyes of the only girl in the family, Troy. As her father, a struggling jazz musician, and her mother, a high school teacher, try to stay afloat in a world of overdue bills and inconsistent paychecks, Troy comes of age, navigating the love-hate relationships with her four brothers and resisting social expectations of how she is to behave as a girl.
The Birth of a Nation
Not to be confused with the racist 1915 movie of the same name, this Nate Parker film tells the story of Nat Turner — a man born into enslavement in Virginia who became a preacher, hired out to different plantations to keep other enslaved people “in line.” But he couldn’t continue to preach the word of God and act like the inhumanity he witnessed on all those plantations didn’t make him feel some type of way. It’s said that Nate received messages from God to lead a rebellion to free himself and other enslaved people. His rebellion lasted two days, and while he may have been caught in the end, his revolutionary spirit is still a big mood today.
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