25 films to understand race relations in America

Kevin Sampson suggests films to understand race in America

Black Lives Matter protests have erupted nationwide after the death of George Floyd.

Local, state and national leaders are racing to respond to the daily demonstrations.

Are you like many Americans wondering what you can do during this tragic time?

Cinema history may provide the answer.

Kevin Sampson, founder of the D.C. Black Film Fest, ranked his top 25 films on the issue.

Lists, he says, are traditionally crafted by mostly white scholars, critics and Academy members.

Instead, let’s use this opportunity to get a fresh black perspective by someone who has lived it.

Virgil Tibbs and Atticus Finch are notably absent from his list — and that’s precisely his point.

Even the most beloved “classics” contain inherent biases, often by well-meaning filmmakers.

So what can we viewers do to become better people in spite of our roots or privilege?

Maybe take a deep breath and realize that we are all imperfect human beings.

Allow ourselves to listen more than we speak.

Take the time to be open to new ideas.

Try something different.

Everyone has a stake in this because we are all Americans.

Regardless of your politics, try starting with these 25 movies:

Dishonorable Mention: “The Birth of a Nation” (1915)

Director: D.W. Griffith


25. “The Learning Tree” (1969)

Director: Gordon Parks

24. “Get Out” (2017)

Director: Jordan Peele

23. “American History X” (1998)

Director: Tony Kaye

22. “If Beale Street Could Talk” (2018)

Director: Barry Jenkins

21. “Hollywood Shuffle” (1987)

Director: Robert Townsend

20. “Detroit” (2017)

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

19. “Sorry to Bother You” (2018)

Director: Boots Riley

18. “Dear White People” (2014)

Director: Justin Simien

17. “Queen & Slim” (2019)

Director: Melina Matsoukas

16. “Twelve Years a Slave” (2013)

Director: Steve McQueen

15. “Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992” (2017)

Director: John Ridley

14. “Mudbound” (2017)

Director: Dee Rees

13. “Higher Learning” (1995)

Director: John Singleton

12. “Luce” (2019) 

Director: Julius Onah

11. “A Time to Kill” (1996)

Director: Joel Schumacher

10. “I Am Not Your Negro” (2016)

Director: Raoul Peck

9. “Rosewood” (1997)

Director: John Singleton

8. “Fruitvale Station” (2013)

Director: Ryan Coogler

7. “Selma” (2014)

Director: Ava DuVernay

6. “Malcolm X” (1992)

Director: Spike Lee

5. “Roots” (1977)

Directors: Marvin J. Chomsky, John Erman, David Greene, Gilbert Moses

4. “Eyes On The Prize” (1987-1990)

Directors: James A. DeVinney, Orlando Bagwell, Callie Crossley, Judith Vecchione, Sheila Curran Bernard, Madison D. Lacy, Louis J. Massiah, Sam Pollard, Terry Kay Rockefeller, Jacqueline Shearer, Paul Stekler, Thomas Ott, Henry Hampton

3. “When They See Us” (2019)

Director: Ava DuVernay

2. “13th” (2016)

Director: Ava DuVernay

1. “Do the Right Thing” (1989)

Director: Spike Lee

Join us for a special live watch-along on Tuesday starting at 8 p.m. on Twitter presented by @WTOP and @dcblackfilmfest. Follow along with co-hosts @kevinsampson and @JFrayWTOP.

“Do the Right Thing” is free on the Peacock app if you simply speak the title into your Xfinity voice remote. You can also rent it for $3.99 on Amazon, Vudu, YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.

This is a social media event meant to heal, learn and understand, so please consider this a safe space for questions, dialogue and constructive conversation.

Until then, check out our full 90-minute conversation below:

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Kevin Sampson (Full Interview)

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