Oscar Nominated Documentaries

screen-shot-2017-02-21-at-8-30-31-pmThe story of the Negro in America is the story of America. It is not a pretty story.
– James Baldwin

Note: While the main focus of these posts will always be movies, I want to make sure that the idea of tangible, active participation in any ongoing struggle is at the forefront of our efforts. Watching a movie is not enough.

Our nation’s power and prosperity was built on the backs of slaves, and that power has been used to suppress Black lives from the moment the first slave ship hit our shores up to today. Great men, women, and queer folks have fought back against these oppressive forces over the years and have achieved civil rights in the eyes of the law, but the fight for truly equal rights in the eyes of our law enforcement and our society as a whole continues.

To stand with those fighting, consider joining or showing your support for one of these organizations below:

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP): the oldest Grassroots civil rights organization in the country, the NAACP was at the forefront of the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 60s, and continues the fight today, focusing on voter empowerment, economic disparity, and legal support for civil rights issues. You can join the fight or donate here.

Black Lives Matter: a hashtag created after the acquittal of the murderer of Trayvon Martin, #BlackLivesMatter has grown into a nationwide movement with local chapters working to highlight and resist the systemic oppression of Black people by the state and criminal justice system. You can learn more about the overall movement and ways to contact your local chapter here. For Boston residents, additional information on the Boston chapter can be found here.


After two straight years of overwhelmingly white nominees for the Academy Awards, this year’s group shows a much more diverse selection with Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, and Mahershala Ali all leading the pack in their respective categories. While most of the focus on diversity in the past has been in the Acting categories, the Documentary (Feature) category this year saw three of the five nominations go to films highlighting the history and ongoing struggle that comes with being Black in America. While they share many themes, each work has a unique voice and perspective on these struggles, making each of them necessary viewing.

13th, referring to the 13th Amendment to the constitution which outlawed slavery except as a punishment for crime, draws the line between abolition and the mass incarceration of Americans as a legal perpetuation of slavery. Ava DuVernay, the master behind 2014’s Selma, shows the history of what Jelani Cobb of The New Yorker refers to as the “mythology of black criminality” as an organized attempt to take power away from the newly freed and continually oppressed. 13th is currently streaming on Netflix.

OJ: Made in America is an 8 hour epic detailing the glamorous rise and dramatic fall of Orenthal James “OJ” Simpson, and how his life in the Los Angeles area juxtaposed that of the Black community struggling with the violent and oppressive LAPD. It is both an intimate look at OJ’s relationship with his own race and culture, and a wider critique of what America wants in a Black celebrity. While the 8 hour runtime may seem daunting, Ezra Edelman paints an absolutely mesmerizing picture of the man behind the “Trial of the Century.” All 5 parts of OJ: Made in America can be seen on Hulu.

I Am Not Your Negro, An experimental documentary from Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck, I Am Not Your Negro visualizes an unfinished book proposal from American novelist James Baldwin. To be titled Remember This House, Baldwin wanted to tell the history of America through the lives of three Black men killed in the 1960s: Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X. Peck combines archival and present-day footage of white oppression and brutality to make it clear that the words of Baldwin from 30 years ago are just as necessary to embrace today. I Am Not Your Negro is in theaters now.

These documentaries are not easy to watch, but they each need to be viewed and understood by the masses for both their individual stories and the collective struggle they show. The stories contained paint a harsh reality still felt by millions of Black lives on a daily basis. Hear their stories – it’s quite literally the least you can do.

The question is really a kind of apathy and ignorance, which is a price we pay for segregation. That’s what segregation means, that you don’t know what’s happening on the other side of the world because you don’t want to know.
– James Baldwin

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