Books, movies and other media to educate yourself on racial inequality

A step toward understanding systemic racism in America

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Collegian File Photo

Over the past few weeks following George Floyd’s death, America has erupted with peaceful protests and demonstrations that have brought renewed attention to police brutality and racial inequities.

The Arts and Living staff came together to compile a list of films, literature, music and other resources to aid in understanding the Black experience and provide context to the longstanding history of these issues. 

We acknowledge that these films, books and music are just that — films, books and music. And that the fight for racial equity requires far more than just reading and watching.

We hope that you check out these resources and remember that information is power.

 

Film and Television

 ‘13th’ written by Ava DuVernay

 “13th” is a documentary by Ava DuVernay exploring the disproportionate number of African-Americans in United States prisons. The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, established in 1865, abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for conviction of a crime. “From slave to criminal with one amendment,” the film’s tagline reads.

 The documentary examines the economic, judicial and political disparities between black and white people from slavery to current day, how corporations benefit from full prisons and how crime rates are inflated to incite fear. Although 12.6 percent of Americans are black, 38 percent of American prisoners are black, due to long-time systemic oppression, an imbalance in power, and greed.

 Available on Netflix

 

‘Atlanta’ written by Donald Glover

 Written and produced by Donald Glover, the show depicts a young Black male struggling to make ends meet in streets of Atlanta. Earn, played by Glover, is in his early 30s and running out of money when he takes up the role of managing his cousin’s budding rap career. “Atlanta” depicts the struggles poor and oppressed Black people face and the various ways they must make a living in these low-income communities. Glover and the Black writing staff behind the show balance comedy and drama that make the show quirky and captivating. There are moments when Earn delivers a monologue expressing the struggles of living paycheck to paycheck and when Zazie Beetz’s character squeezes urine out of her baby’s diapers to use to pass a drug test. The social commentary and depictions of a Black person in the U.S. are weaved through groundbreaking story-telling tactics and surrealism. 

 Available on Hulu

 

‘Black Panther’ written by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole

 Black Panther” is the first Black superhero in an American mainstream comic book, predating others such as Luke Cage and DC’s John Stewart. He is also the first Black comic book character with superpowers. The film of the same name revolves around the current Black Panther, King T’Challa of Wakanda. Each king of Wakanda becomes the Black Panther by ingesting an herb which gives them superhuman abilities. While Wakanda is a high-tech utopia, it is strictly isolationist and very well-hidden, a fact which Erik “Killmonger” Stevens resents. Killmonger feels that Wakanda should come out of the shadows and aid Black people all over the world, most notably in America, where he grew up and witnessed the systemic racism that affects Black people’s lives every single day. Stan Lee, one of the writers who created the character, claims the name Black Panther predates its political use by the Black Panther Party. 

Available on Hulu

 

‘Do the Right Thing’ a Spike Lee Joint

 Spike Lee’s film puts a diverse Brooklyn neighborhood under a microscope of a brutally hot day during the summer. The film follows many characters aside from its protagonist, Mookie, played by Spike Lee, such as an Italian pizzeria owner and his two sons, who find themselves at the center of the racial tensions that later explode in the film. Pino, an Italian American son of the pizzeria owner, vehemently dislikes Black people and consistently makes racist remarks regarding the predominantly Black neighborhood and its customers. As tensions begin to boil over as the day winds down, the ending of the film explodes as the pent-up rage, anger, ignorance and prejudice grabs the viewer and refuses to let go. 

 It’s a powerful depiction of how racism influences how individuals interact with each other. The film ends with a far too familiar sight that leaves a pit in the viewers stomach. Now more than ever, “Do the Right Thing’s” powerful statement on racism in America is important to witness through memorable characters and the particular style that is signature to Spike Lee films. The final scenes provoke the audience to ask if Mookie did the right thing throughout the film. For some it’s an easy answer, for others it may take some thinking. The film gets the audience to think about these issues, and that’s what matters. Consistently, the themes of love and hate, violence and nonviolence, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X, are brought forth to the audience to consider throughout the film.

 Available on Amazon Prime Video

 

‘Fruitvale Station’ written by Ryan Coogler

 At Fruitvale station in Oakland, California, Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old Black man was shot in the back by a police officer while he was already detained on the ground, hands behind his back in the prone position, fully restrained. “Fruitvale Station,” with a run time of only 85 minutes, depicts the final day of Oscar Grant’s life before he was murdered by a police officer on Jan. 1, 2009. The audience follows Oscar Grant, who is played by Michael B. Jordan, throughout the day. While Grant’s life is not perfect, he does his best with what he’s given, as all his flaws and misfortunes are fully laid out for the audience. The shooting took place after Grant and his friends decided to go into the city by train to see the New Year’s Eve fireworks, a trip similarly made by hundreds of people that night.

 The final scenes of the film are a powerful account of the last moments of Oscar Grant’s life. As he’s restrained by BART police officers after a minor altercation at the station, Grant is shot in the back. The power and lasting impact “Fruitvale Station” does not lie solely in the horrific event millions of people are now witness to, but in the entire movie that leads up to the infamous moment. It lays bare a man’s life with the flaws and characteristics that make him human. Then, we watch as a Black man is innocently shot and killed while the officer who committed the crime is only minimally punished.

 Available on Amazon Prime Video

 

‘LA 92’ directed by Daniel Lindsay and T. J. Martin

 On March 3, 1991, Rodney King, an African-American man, was pulled over and brutally attacked by four police officers. The attack was filmed by a bystander and spread across the nation, subsequently placing the officers on trial. Occurring around the same time as the King case was that of Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old African-American girl who was shot in the back of the head by a store clerk in Koreatown. “LA 92”, directed by T.J. Martin and Daniel Lindsay, is a documentary that chronicles the events leading up to the Los Angeles Riots of 1992, spurred by the lenient conviction of the store clerk and the “not guilty” verdict returned to the four cops. The system said Black rights and Black lives did not matter as it failed to serve justice. Violence on the streets ensued. The protests and riots happening today strongly parallel those that occurred in 1992. Over two decades later, the system is still watching Black people be brutalized and failing to convict their perpetrators.

 Available on Netflix

 

‘Moonlight’ written by Barry Jenkins

 “Moonlight” follows the coming-of-age of someone we’ve never seen center stage on the silver screen, never mind at the Oscars — a Black, gay, poor boy. Director Barry Jenkins carries us through the tough streets of 1980s Miami with eloquence as main character Chiron is uplifted and torn down, screamed at by his mother, fed and taught to swim by the same man selling his mother her crack, runs from bullies, finds love with a man on the beach. The film is split into three parts, “Little,” “Chiron,” and “Black,” which denote child, teen, and adult Chiron. We see his mother’s descent into addiction and later recovery. We see the effects of drugs on communities, we see Black men find love and use violence to repress it due to shame and fear, we see a big-time dope dealer defending the underdog. Every character, every scene, every word is purposeful and poignant. “Moonlight” allows us a look into the life of someone ignored for a long time, someone we are fighting for today.

 Available on Netflix

 

‘Sorry to Bother You’ written by Boots Riley

 “Sorry to Bother You” follows a Black telemarketer named Cassius Green who rises through the ranks of his company, RegalView, after he is advised to adopt a “white” voice on the phone. As Cassius continues to receive pay raises and perks, he has to decide whether to organize and participate in the union organized by his friends or keep benefiting from the system. This question becomes even more complicated when Cassius realizes that RegalView is essentially selling slave labor to another corporation, WorryFree. 

 Available on Hulu

 

‘When They See Us’ written by Ava DuVernay, Julian Breece, Robin Swicord, Attica Locke and Michael Starrbury

 “When They See Us” is a miniseries directed by Ava DuVernay and is based off of the 1989 Central Park jogger case where five teenage boys of color were wrongfully convicted for the assault and rape of Trisha Meili. Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise were aged 14 to 16 years old at the time, and despite them saying the police had coerced them into giving false confessions, their stories of the night not matching up, and the lack of physical evidence connecting them to the crime, they were all convicted and given sentences varying from five to 15 years. It wasn’t until serial rapist Matias Reyes confessed to the crime in 2002 and the physical evidence backed it up that the five men were exonerated.

Available on Netflix

 

Literature 

 

Poetry, books, plays and other forms of literature have always been an important outlet for people’s voices to be heard and read. The Arts/Living section has gathered a handful of poems, including one of our own staff writers, Konah Brownell as well as a few important books that discuss identity, racism and oppression.

 

‘The Colored Museum’ by George C. Wolfe

 “The Colored Museum”, written in 1986 by George C. Wolfe, depicts 11 sketches, or “exhibits”, as they’re referred to in the play, that detail themes, identities and characteristics of African-American culture. The play is a satire that uses the guise of a museum which holds exhibits that satirically examine aspects of Black culture and its history in the United States. Such sketches make the reader look at how Black people have been oppressed and grossly mistreated throughout America’s history. A sketch like “Symbiosis” shows an older Black man attempting to shed his past identity in order to survive in the world and become successful. This includes throwing various material objects in a dumpster that are symbols of Black culture and identity.

 

‘The Color of Law’ by Richard Rothstein

 Written in 2017, “The Color of Law” highlights the often discrete — and sometimes blatant — housing discrimination policies the federal government has used to segregate communities and create poverty, the effects of which are still widely felt. Despite the book being a dense read, Richard Rothstein, a historian and academic, lays out everything people need to know about how communities were formed using redlining and other policies in the past century.

 

‘A Small Needful Fact’ by Ross Gay

 

‘We Real Cool’ by Gwendolyn Brooks

 

‘Let America Be America Again’ by Langston Hughes

 

‘Dear Me’ by Konah Brownell, Collegian Correspondent

 

‘I Wasn’t Brought Here, I Was Born: Surviving Punk Rock Long Enough To Find Afropunk’ by Hanif Abdurraqib

 

This link will direct you to a list of Black-owned independent bookstores where some of these books, along with countless others, can be ordered.

 

Music

Music is a large part of culture. Artists express themselves through various different avenues, but music has always been an open place for expression that continuously has the potential to reach millions of listeners.

 As a companion to the listed resources, we have compiled a playlist of songs by Black artists across various genres and eras of music, along with some important speeches from the Civil Rights Movement and beyond. Black artists have been in popular music for generations. Oftentimes, they discuss perspectives that are unfamiliar to non-Black people, and it’s important to showcase these perspectives now and always.

Click here to be directed to the Arts/Living playlist on Spotify, “We Stand With You: BLM.”     

 

Below are a few links to other resources that are open for donations and need support, as well as on-campus resources and organizations.

 Where to donate:

 UMass resources:

 Petitions:

 

 

To close, we leave you with another poem written by Collegian writer Konah Brownell.

 

While Black

 

When I was three

I wanted a baby brother

I was four when he came

And I promised to always protect him

 

But how can I?

 

I want him to have a full life

I want him to be happy

When I tell him he can do anything

he puts his mind to

I want him to believe me

 

But why would he?

 

When he can’t go for a run

In our white suburban town

Without looking over his shoulder

Afraid of being shot down

 

Ahmaud Arbery

 

When he finally learns to drive

And decides to get gas

He can’t play loud music at the station

Without fearing for his life

 

Jordan Davis

 

How do I tell him

To unapologetically be himself

And wear whatever he likes

When he can’t wear his hoodies

Without fearing for his life

 

Trayvon Martin

 

I want him to shoot for the stars

 

 

The Arts and Living section strives to be a space where writers’ and artists’ voices can and should be heard, treasured and respected no matter their race, ethnicity or gender, as well as the Collegian as a whole.  

Our section recognizes we have lots of room to grow and are actively working to challenge ourselves and writers. We pledge to do better and actively accept feedback. 

We as both people and members of the UMass community, recognize the importance of not letting the Black Lives Matter movement fall out of the spotlight waiting for another brutal injustice to get us off our couches again. Enough is enough.

We stand with you.

 

Sophie Allen, Madison Cushing, Molly Hamilton, Quinn He, and Ashley Tsang

 The Arts and Living Staff can be reached at [email protected] or followed on twitter @Collegian_arts.