How to experience Black History Month on Netflix

Following the killing of George Floyd and the wave of worldwide protests who called for an end to police brutality and discrimination, people all over the world have turned to booksanti-racist films, TV series and podcasts as a way to learn and find comfort. Precisely for this reason, Netflix added a section at the end of last spring Black Lives Matter to its website, containing a curated selection of films, documentaries, miniseries and comic sketches made by black creatives, which expose systemic racism and injustice.

In the section we have chosen 5 proposals to watch now: from Spike Lee’s new explosive drama about the Vietnam War – From 5 Bloods – Like Brothers – to the Oscar-nominated documentary, the XIII amendment by Ava DuVernay.

1. Self Made (2020)

Some black women… would run naked on the street rather than be seen in public with their hair natural. Says Ifemelu, the protagonist of one of the most beautiful novels on black identity, Americanah by Chimamanda Gozi Adichie. Managing afro hair doesn’t have to be easy if CJ Walker became the first billionaire woman in the United States of America thanks to her straightening products. Self Made is the Netflix mini series that tells its (true) story, starting from the biographical book On Her Own Ground by A.Leila Bundles. Madam Walker is played by the Oscar winner Octavia Spencer and becomes the protagonist of a story of social and cultural emancipation still very little known.

2. XIII amendment (2016)

Ava DuVernay’s fierce examination of black-and-white relations and mass incarceration in modern America will make your blood boil. The title refers to the 13th Amendment to the American Constitution, which abolished slavery but left a ‘loophole’ that preserved involuntary servitude for criminals. The director draws a line from the end of the civil war to today, with the United States hosting 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prisoners, of which blacks are present in disproportionate numbers. A painful history lesson that embraces the civil rights movement, the war on drugs and the industrial prison complexes through which states are incentivized to keep cells full.

3. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2017)

Chicago, 1920s: Ma Rainey’s band (Viola Davis) awaits the arrival of the diva in a music studio to record a new album. The four musicians wait for the singer, now a diva always late, to enter the studio: they joke, argue, exchange anecdotes and stories of the racism they have suffered in their lives. The tensions of the group, however, are evident and end up exploding in a crescendo that culminates in tragedy.

4. Strong Island (2017)

Strong Island

© Courtesy Netflix

Elegant and extraordinary, Yance Ford’s touching documentary demanded 10 years of work to be completed. The subject is painfully personal – the 1992 death of Ford’s brother William, a black man, unarmed, shot dead by a white mechanic during a fight in a garage. The latter declared self-defense and an all-white jury refused to charge him, leaving Ford’s family completely upset. Mourning and suffering can still be seen on their faces as they tell the story that wiped out their trust in the justice system and forever disrupted their lives. The interviews are mixed with heartbreaking memories of Ford himself, who speaks candidly of regrets and the anguish that still marks him.

5. When They See Us (2019)

The true story of the Central Park Five – a group of African-American and Hispanic teenagers falsely accused and tried for the rape and assault of a white jogger in New York’s Central Park in 1989 – is the story behind this incredible four-part miniseries for the directed by DuVernay. Jharrel Jerome, Ethan Herisse, Asante Blackk, Caleel Harris and Marquis Rodriguez play the suspects, five kids like many others who are out and about in the park when the police arrive to investigate the crime. They are rounded up, threatened, beaten and forced to make false confessions that lead to jail. Over ten years later, the real culprit confesses to the crime and the five are released but the prison scars are slow to heal.

6. See You Yesterday (2019)

Science fiction and social justice are intertwined in this major debut film by Stefon Bristol, which centers on the story of two best friends, CJ (Eden Duncan-Smith) and Sebastian (Danté Crichlow), teenage prodigies with a talent for science, who manage to invent portable time machines for a school occasion. But the stakes get higher and higher when CJ’s brother (Brian Vaughn Bradley, Jr) is mistaken for a thief and killed by a cop. Determined to save him, they decide to go back in time and try to rewrite history without tampering with the space-time continuum. An energetic comedy about friendship that winks at Back to the Future, and then morphs into an intense thriller about racially motivated shootings and the gritty reality of living in a fragmented community.

7. From 5 Bloods – Like Brothers (2020)

“When you take 20 million blacks, you send them to fight all your wars and collect all your cotton without ever giving them a real reward, sooner or later their loyalty will run out.” It’s a speech from Malcolm X, woven into the opening cut of this furious action film directed by Spike Lee. It tells the story of four African-American veterans of the Vietnam War who return to Southeast Asia to recover the remains of their platoon leader (Chadwick Boseman). Reflecting on their years of military service, they wonder why they fought for a government that would never support them. A shocking drama that speaks powerfully of the present moment

7. Malcolm & Marie (2021, on Netflix February 5)

MALCOLM & MARIE (LR): ZENDAYA as MARIE, JOHN DAVID WASHINGTON as MALCOLM. DOMINIC MILLER / NETFLIX © 2021

© DOMINIC MILLER / NETFLIX © 2021

Zendaya and John David Washington are the protagonists of this complex love story, written and directed by Sam Levinson of Euphoria. The trailer tells of an evening… It should have been a happy evening, with him, the director, just acclaimed by his audience for the release of his new film. And instead … unspoken words, forgetfulness, habits all emerge together, that very evening. And we don’t know how it will end. But there are those who say that the film could be one of those that for the second time after Rome “gives” an Oscar to the streaming platform.

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