Films about racism
The murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, 2020, was arguably a pivotal event in the history of race and policing in the United States. Police on Trial shows, Chauvin’s encounter with Floyd was not the first time the Minneapolis police officer used excessive force on a Black citizen. Nor was it the first time that questions were raised around the culture of the Minneapolis Police Department itself. The film draws on reporting from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and features never-before-published police cam video of Derek Chauvin using excessive force years before George Floyd’s death, to document the trial and murder-conviction of Chauvin, and the various responses for police accountability and reform in Minneapolis.
MLK/FBI documents the extent of the FBI’s surveillance and harassment of Martin Luther King based on newly declassified files and documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and unsealed by the National Archives. Using these, as well as restored historical video footage, the film explores the United States government’s history of targeting Black activists through surveillance programs specifically aimed the Civil Rights Movement. The film covers the attempts by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI to personally discredit King by collecting recordings and images of his private sexual life with women other than his wife. This was used to denigrate his status within the civil rights movement in the United States. Not all FBI documents have been declassified, but the whole record will be made available public in 2027.
In 2015, Sandra Bland, a politically-active 28-year-old black woman from Chicago was stopped by police for a minor traffic offence in a small Texas town. Three days later, she was found dead in a police cell. Though the state claimed it was a suicide, her death enraged the public amid allegations of racially-motivated police murder. This film begins in the days after Sandra’s death, tracking the ensuing two-year battle between Sandra’s aggrieved family and the State of Texas. Following the details about the case, Say Her Name is punctuated by Sandra’s own passionate and moving commentary in 30-second “Sandy Speaks” video blogs. We see an empowered, enlightened woman, whose sharp, humorous, charismatic remarks address subjects from educating kids about black history to police brutality to the importance of natural hair. Say Her Name takes viewers inside this story that galvanised activists across the United States and the world.
In the United States, during the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, the rise of a white supremacist movement has returned, as political energy is injected into neo-confederate, neo-fascist, neo-Nazi, Klansmen, and various right-wing militia groups. More broadly, civil rights organisations such as Antifa (Anti-Fascist) and social justice groups are fighting back. Alt-Right: Age of Rage follows the development the Alt-Right, by following social justice activist Daryle Lamont Jenkins, and renowned Alt-Right leader Richard Spencer. Each movement is juxtaposed, as tensions boil over to the horrific events in Charlottesville where a young woman is killed, and 30 others injured by a self-identified neo-Nazi. Through these narratives and events, the film surveys the workings of Free Speech, deplatforming by the Left, the role of the Internet, and the consequences of fractured politics playing out in the real physical world.
In 2015, peaceful protests and destructive riots erupted when Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African American, died in police custody in Baltimore, United States. While the city waited to see the fate of the six police officers involved in the incident, who were all ultimately not punished, Baltimore Rising shows activists, police officers, community leaders, and gang affiliates, who struggled to hold the city together, as the homicide rate hit record levels. The death of Gray by police catalysed the longstanding fault lines in a distraught community, damaged by corruption and inequality. Baltimore Rising chronicles the determined efforts of people on all sides who are working to make their community better, sometimes coming together in unexpected ways.
The Great White Hoax contextualises the current day politicking in the United States, with a primary focus on Donald Trump’s race-baiting 2016 campaign for president. The film also widens scope however to show how Trump’s charged rhetoric fits into a long-standing historical pattern in politics in the United States, offering a stunning survey of how racism and racial scapegoating have shaped American politics for centuries. The film becomes a solid resource for a basis on race relations, white privilege, the intersectionality of race, class, and gender identities, presidential politics, and political propaganda in the age of “social media.”
Consisting entirely of archival footage, LA ’92 chronicles the 1992 Los Angeles riots, 25 years after they have passed. It includes film and video from the 1965 Watts Riots, the 1973 election of Tom Bradley, the 1978 promotion of Daryl Gates to Chief of LA Police, the shooting of Latasha Harlins, the Rodney King videotape, and the subsequent riots and violence that erupted after the acquittal of the officers involved in King’s beating.
Told by the activists and leaders who live and breathe for justice, Whose Streets? is an unflinching look at the uprising in Ferguson in the United States after unarmed teenager Michael Brown is killed by police and left lying in the street. Grief, long-standing racial tensions, and renewed anger bring residents together to hold vigil, and protest the latest tragedy in a long history of police brutality. Empowered parents, artists, and teachers from around the country come together to act and support. As the national guard descends on Ferguson with military grade weaponry, young community members become the torch-bearers of a new generation of resistance. Whose Streets? is a powerful battle cry from a generation fighting, not only for their civil rights, but for the right to live.
Copwatch depicts WeCopWatch, an organisation dedicated to video recording the police in the United States. For example, Cop Watch members capture original video of the deaths of Eric Garner in Staten Island and Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Its members legally record and document police arrests as part of a movement for police accountability and transparency, but often find themselves to be the victims of chaos and police brutality as a result of the culture of extreme police misconduct and violence. The stories are told through Ramsey Orta, Kevin Moore, who filmed the police abuse of Freddie Gray, and David Whitt who lived in the apartment complex where Michael Brown was killed, as well as Jacob Crawford, who co-founded Copwatch groups inspired by the Berkeley Copwatch group. The film shows how Cop Watchers are dedicated to bringing awareness to their community, by exposing police brutality and harassment.
The setting is in the current and ongoing troubling police culture of violence, profiling and racism. Even a former NYPD officer now breaks ranks to say that the force aggressively targets poor and minority communities in order to meet secret and illegal arrest quotas. The result is a level of systemic harassment and brutality that could be hard to demonstrate, if not for growing groups of Cop Watchers—everyday citizens wielding cameras, that routinely record and publish troves of evidence documenting all kinds of patterns of police brutality and misconduct. This film follows some of the people who are doing this work, and clearly the police don’t like it. They push back hard. Cop Watchers hence face long prison sentences and trumped up charges for simply recording the police—something that is not itself a crime. In an age of intense corruption of public institutions, this film lays out abuses of power on a frightening scale, showing just how urgent serious action is required if a free society is said to continue to exist.
Over the past several years, a seemingly relentless string of killings by police of unarmed black men—Michael Brown in Ferguson, Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Eric Garner in New York—has reignited issues around race, policing and civil rights in the United States that have been languishing unresolved for decades. Recently the issues are critical enough that the Department of Justice has stepped in to mandate reform of several police forces renowned for brutality and institutional abuses of power. In Policing the Police, journalist Jelani Cobb gets up close and personal with police departments and officers alike, to show from the inside the difficulties these institutions now face of fixing a broken relationship with the community after decades of mistrust. Is it even possible with the current police culture? Policing the Police is a powerful case study of these questions, and a light on just how much has to change.
Daryl Davis is an accomplished musician, a piano player who has played all over the world with legends like Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry. He is also an activist, meeting and befriending members of the Ku Klux Klan, many of whom have never met a black person. And when some of these same people decide to leave the Klan, Daryl keeps their robes and hoods—building his collection piece by piece, story by story, person by person. In Accidental Courtesy, Daryl takes the viewer on a journey from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to Memphis, from Alabama to Ferguson, Missouri, as he recounts the entwined history of black America and popular music. Along the way, he questions several current and former Ku Klux Klan leaders as well as young Black Lives Matter activists who vehemently disagree with his tactics of tacking racism in society.
13th explores the intersection of race, justice, and mass incarceration in the United States, as titled after the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted in 1865, which purported to abolish slavery throughout the United States and end involuntary servitude except as a punishment for conviction of a crime. The film contends that slavery has been perpetuated since the end of the American Civil War through criminalising behaviour and enabling police to arrest poor enslaved people and force them to work for the state under convict leasing; suppression of African Americans by disenfranchisement, lynchings and Jim Crow; politicians declaring a war on drugs that weighs more heavily on minority communities and, by the late 20th century, mass incarceration of people of colour in the United States. 13th examines the prison-industrial complex and the emerging detention-industrial complex, discussing how much money is being made by corporations from mass incarcerations.
Utopia is both an epic portrayal of the oldest continuous human culture on the planet—indigenous Australia—and an investigation into a suppressed colonial past and rapacious present. One of the world’s best kept secrets is revealed against the great Australian ‘mining boom,’ showing how the country’s racially divided past and current-day media collusion play their parts in a system that is apartheid in all but name. The film examines the exploitation of the Aboriginal population, both as a people and of the land they have lived on for centuries, and how so many institutions have profited while people continue to suffer. The injustice stretches across countless generations and stories. Utopia reveals this universal story of power and resistance, driven by old imperatives, in a media age of saturation which is profoundly silent and complicit; a call to continue resistance.
White Like Me, based on the work of acclaimed anti-racist educator and author Tim Wise, explores race and racism in the United States through the lens of whiteness and white privilege. In a stunning reassessment of the American ideal of meritocracy and claims that we’ve entered a post-racial society, Wise offers a fascinating look back at the race-based white entitlement programs that built the American middle class, and argues that our failure as a society to come to terms with this legacy of white privilege continues to perpetuate racial inequality and race-driven political resentments today.
Let the Fire Burn documents the conflict of the City of Philadelphia and the Black Liberation organisation MOVE, that led to a disastrously violent confrontation in 1985. MOVE was originally established as a “back to nature” movement that practised green methods, and in May 1985, the Philadelphia Police Department decided to take action to evict the group from their row house at 6221 Osage Avenue. When gunfire broke out and tear gas was not enough to pull the MOVE members out of the house, the police decided to drop explosives on the house. A fire soon began to blaze, endangering the several children now trapped inside the house. In a controversial decision, the police opted to let the fire burn, resulting in the destruction of over 60 homes and the death of five children and six adults. Eleven people died in the resulting fire, and more than 250 people in the neighbourhood were left homeless. Ramona Africa, one of the two survivors, said that police fired at those trying to escape. The investigation commission that followed found that city leaders and law enforcement had acted negligently, but no criminal charges were filed.
Using government documents, archive footage and direct interviews with activists and former FBI/CIA officers, All Power to the People documents the history of race relations and the Civil Rights Movement in the United States during the 1960s and 70s. Covering the history of slavery, civil-rights activists, political assassinations and exploring the methods used to divide and destroy key figures of movements by government forces, the film then contrasts into Reagan-Era events, privacy threats from new technologies and the failure of the “War on Drugs”, forming a comprehensive view of the goals, aspirations and ultimate demise of the Civil Rights Movement…
Freedom Riders follows the story of hundreds of civil rights activists who rode interstate buses into the segregated southern United States during the 1960s to challenge local laws enforcing segregation in seating. The Freedom Rides, and the violent reactions they provoked, bolstered the credibility of the American Civil Rights Movement. They called national attention to the disregard for the federal law and the local violence used to enforce segregation in the southern United States. This is the story of the numerous waves of people who challenged the mores of a racially segregated society by performing a disarmingly simple act.
In the name of “protecting children,” the Australian Government’s so-called “emergency intervention” into Aboriginal communities in the remote Northern Territory, has taken away all existing Aboriginal land rights, suspended racial discrimination laws and placed over 70 communities under compulsory government control with subsequent measures of course having very little to do with “protecting children.” Instead, the outcome has been the disempowerment of traditional land owners, the further theft of Aboriginal land, the theft of resources, with the intent being to forcibly assimilate Aboriginal culture.
Have You Heard From Johannesburg? is series chronicling a history of the global anti-apartheid movement that opposed South Africa’s entrenched apartheid regime. The movement encompassed many methods, including mass action, underground organising, armed struggle, and international mobilisation. This series focuses on the last category: the movement to mobilise worldwide citizen action to isolate the apartheid regime. Inspired by the courage and suffering of South Africa’s people as they fought back against the violence and oppression of racism, foreign solidarity groups, in cooperation with exiled South Africans, took up the anti-apartheid cause. Working against the odds, in a climate of apathy or even support for the governments of Verwoerd, Vorster and Botha, campaigners challenged their governments and powerful corporations in the West to face up to the immorality of their collaboration with apartheid, revealing that the battle was more than just political. It was economic, cultural, moral, and spiritual. The combined stories have a scope that is epic in both space and time, spanning most of the globe over half a century. Beginning with the very first session of the United Nations, and ending in 1990—when, after 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, the best known leader of the African National Congress, toured the world, a free man.
The shocking story of a well respected Indigenous community leader in outback Western Australia who was locked in a metal cell in the back of a prison van and driven through the desert in the searing heat. Four hours later he was dead. Reporter Liz Jackson reveals the tragic train of events that led to this death, despite repeated warnings that Western Australia’s prisoner transport system was unsafe and inhumane…
Renowned independent journalist John Pilger speaks about complicity and compliance, censorship and citizen journalism as well as issues such as the holocaust in Iraq and Kevin Rudd’s shrewd political apology to the Indigenous peoples of Australia as Prime Minister. “These days, a one-dimensional political culture ensures that few writers write, or speak out, as they did in the last century. They are talented, yet safe. In the media, the more people watch, the less people know. Beneath the smokescreen of objectivity and impartiality, media establishments too often ventriloquise the official line, falling silent at the sight of unpleasant truths.”
The Secret Policeman exposes first hand evidence of racism in the British police forces, revealing how much it has been driven underground since 2002 when a government inquiry branded the police as institutionally racist. Undercover journalist Mark Daly joins the Greater Manchester Police as a trainee, and infiltrates Bruche Police Training Centre in Warrington, Cheshire for several months using hidden cameras to capture direct instances of racism throughout the police force.
Race: The Power of an Illusion is a three-part series that investigates the idea of race in society, science and history. It navigates through myths and misconceptions, and scrutinises some of the assumptions that are taken for granted. The division of people into distinct categories—”white,” “black,” “yellow,” “red,” and so on—has become so widely espoused and so deeply rooted, that most people do not think to question its veracity. This series challenges the myth of race as biology, and traces its notions to the 19th century, demonstrating how race has a continuing negative impact through institutions and social policies.
The 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney were universally recognised as an overwhelming success. The Australian heroine from start, when she carried the Olympic torch into the stadium, to finish, as she crossed the line to take 400m gold, was the indigenous athlete Cathy Freeman. Against the will of many of her still oppressed people, she came to represent the symbol, albeit shallow, of reconciliation between White Australia and Indigenous Australia. But the frenzy of flames and fireworks surrounding the Games blinded the rest of the world to the real history behind it all…
Apartheid based on race is ‘outlawed now’, but the system always went far deeper than that. The cruelty and injustice were underwritten by an economic apartheid, which regarded people as no more than cheap expendable labour. It was backed by great business corporations in South Africa, Britain, the rest of Europe, and the United States and it was this apartheid based on money and profit that allowed a small minority to control most of the land, most of the industrial wealth, and most of the economic power. Today, the same system is called—without a trace of irony—the free market.
Spring of 1968 in Memphis Tennessee marked the peak of the Civil Rights movement in the United States. At the River I Stand sets out to reconstruct the eventful months leading up to this period by looking at what started as a strike by sanitation workers which quickly soared into a national conflagration. The film disentangles the complex historical forces that came together for the struggle as well the inevitability of tragedy at the death of many, including Martin Luther King. At the River I Stand brings into sharp relief issues that have only become more urgent in the intervening years: the connection between economic and civil rights; debates over strategies for change, and the questions of effectiveness of pacifist tactics for social change; the demand for full inclusion of African Americans in life; as well as the pressing fight for dignity for all working people…
In these three films, John Pilger and Alan Lowery return to Australia to celebrate the country’s bicentenary, interviewing an extraordinary range of Australians from diverse backgrounds, each of whose views are a long way from those of the treasured Aussie stereotypes…
The secret history of Australia is a historical conspiracy of silence. Written history has long applied selectivity to what it records, largely ignoring the shameful way that the Indigenous people were, and continue to be, treated…
In 1981, the New Zealand government invited the South African rugby team to tour New Zealand. This effectively split the country in half as the rugby tour was seen by some as endorsement of South Africa’s apartheid regime. Patu! recounts the mass civil disobedience that took place throughout New Zealand during the winter of 1981, in protest against the South African rugby tour. Sports grounds and suburban streets became battlefields as the film recounts visceral images of massive protest actions met with police brutality. Patu! is a record of heroism, and for many young people taking to the streets, it was their 1968. Māori and Pākehā, children and grandparents, gang members and clergymen—all in a moment of rare consensus, stood together to affirm shared values.
One British Family portrays the racial minefield of British society through the eyes of a black family. The film is set in Newcastle during 1974, revealing the multifaceted aspects of internalised racism that still exists today…