Hollywood films on racism
From Spike Lee to Barry Jenkins, many directors have released films dealing with the issue of racism against African Americans in recent years. Here are some of the most significant.
Spike Lee's critical statement: 'Da 5 Bloods'
Spike Lee has long made films critical of racist structures in the US. Pictured here is a still from his upcoming new film, "Da 5 Bloods." Lee had his directorial debut in the mid-1980s. Through films like his 1989 comedy-drama "Do the Right Thing," he became known for taking up serious topics, like inequality, with a touch of levity. "Da 5 Bloods" tells the story of four black Vietnam vets.
A history lesson on racism in the US: 'Selma'
In 2014, African-American director Ava DuVernay depicted a high-point in the civil rights movement in 1965, when she traced the march of civil rights activists and others across Alabama between the cities Selma and Montgomery. The film was the subject of controversy in Hollywood; some speculated it had been passed over at the Oscars because actors had stood up for the rights of black Americans.
Controversy over Oscar-winning 'Green Book'
Peter Farrelly's "Green Book" won many awards, including the Oscar for Best Picture in 2019. But the story of a white chauffeur (Viggo Mortensen, l.) and a black pianist (Mahershala Ali), based on true events, was considered by critics to fit too easily into the "white savior" narrative and did not delve into the pain of racism against African Americans in the US deeply enough.
Best film in 2017: 'Moonlight'
"Moonlight," directed by Barry Jenkins, tells the story of an Afro-American homosexual man in three chapters. Convincing in its aesthetics, "Moonlight" is an example of a cinematic work that differentiates and subtly translates its theme without melodrama or sentimentality.
Original and surprising 'Get Out'
One of the most idiosyncratic contributions to the subject of racism in cinema is "Get Out" of 2017. Unlike many well-intentioned but sentimental Hollywood films, African-American director Jordan Peele focused on genres, depicting racism with elements of horror and comedy — an extremely original and convincing genre mix.
Expressive cinema: '12 Years a Slave'
"12 Years a Slave," which opened in cinemas in 2013 and won the Oscar for best film the following year, takes a deep look back into the origins of slavery in the US. British director Steve McQueen staged the racist drama with prominent actors — thus winning over the Oscars' Academy.
An audience magnet: 'Black Panther'
Finally, another film that garnered an Oscar can be linked with the subject of racism, in a broad sense. The 2018 Marvel film "Black Panther" focused for the first time on a black superhero. Marvel Comics creaters Stan Lee and Jack Kirby invented the story characters in the 1960s at the height of the civil rights movement.
Sensitive approach: 'Loving'
In 2016, US director Jeff Nichols surprised audiences with the sensitive drama "Loving," another film that deals with a historical chapter of North American racism. It depicts the struggle of a couple who rebel against the law of forbidden mixed marriages — and succeed in court.
A loaded romance: 'Queen & Slim'
In 2019 Greek-American director Melina Matsoukas debuted with "Queen & Slim," a variation on "Bonnie & Clyde." Set in today's United States, a young black couple seeks refuge after the main character kills a cop in self-defense on their first date. Melina rose to fame for directing music videos for Rihanna and Beyoncé, among others.
Authentic cinema by John Cassavetes: 'Shadows'
Like Melina Matsoukas, John Cassavetes was also a white US director with Greek ancestry. His debut film, "Shadows" (1959), tells with great sensitivity the story of three African-American siblings in the New York music scene. At the time, few other directors in the US had come close to authentically portraying life in this artistic circle.
A look back: '12 Angry Men'
The 1957 film "12 Angry Men" was one of the first works of US cinema to deal with racism. Primarily a legal thriller, the film debut by director Sidney Lumet was about the prejudices of 12 white jurors in court, who are supposed to issue a verdict on a young Puerto Rican.
Sidney Poitier in 'In the Heat of the Night'
In the 1960s the subject of racism gained a foothold in mainstream cinema. In the drama "In the Heat of the Night," Poitier plays a policeman from the North who has to solve a case down South. There, he is confronted with unfathomable racism. The film was awarded five Oscars — and Poitier became the first African-American superstar of US cinema.
Taboo-breaker: 'Mississippi Burning'
"Mississippi Burning," the 1988 film by Briton Alan Parker, tells of the disappearance of three civil rights activists and the ensuing FBI investigation. One critic wrote: "Parker's gimmicky directing (does) pretty much everything to turn 'Mississippi Burning' into a gangster movie rip-off. Yet the film breaks a taboo: it places a whole group of the white American middle-class in the wrong."
A new generation: 'Boyz n the Hood'
African-American director John Singleton made headlines with his first film in 1991, which he directed at age 24. "Boyz n the Hood" is considered groundbreaking for its authentic portrayal of the lives of the black population in an impoverished district of a major US city. He was the first black person, as well as the youngest person ever to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director.
Racism outside of the US: 'Invictus'
White Hollywood stars often portray racism as something that happens outside of the USA. In the sports drama "Invictus," Clint Eastwood tells the sensational story of the South African national rugby team in the years after apartheid was abolished. Morgan Freeman played the role of freedom-fighter Nelson Mandela.
Documentary inspiration: 'I Am Not Your Negro'
Apart from the many feature films that American cinema has contributed to the subject of racism in recent decades, there are also documentaries. "I Am Not Your Negro" by Haitian director Raoul Peck of 2016 was very convincing. Peck relied heavily on texts by African-American writer James Baldwin.