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11 movies that confront American racism
Kiki Layne and Stephan James in If Beale Street Could Talk. | Tatum Mangus/Annapurna Pictures Films that challenge and rewire the imagination. “The opposite of racist isn’t ‘not racist,” Ibram X. Kendi writes in How to Be an Antiracist. “It is ‘antiracist.’” Kendi goes on to argue that being antiracist involves, in part, understanding the problems in power and policies that prop up racial inequalities. Understanding that power and those policies, though, can be a long process, especially for those who haven’t suffered directly, or even have benefited, as a result of them. One way to begin is by watching great films. Images and the stories they tell shape our imaginations in powerful ways, and cinema can be a force for rewiring how viewers see the world off-screen, too. These documentaries and fictional movies challenge the ways films depict black life. They confront white Americans who like to think of themselves as “not racist.” They question notions about whose stories are worth telling. And they remind us about what parts of our history we might feel more comfortable sweeping under the rug. For those who want to understand where we are as a country, how we got here, and where we need to go next, these 11 films are a good a place to start. Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? (2017) Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? began as a “live documentary” about one white filmmaker’s reckoning with his family’s racist past. Travis Wilkerson’s great-grandfather murdered a black man in 1946, and decades later, Wilkerson set out for Alabama to try and figure out what happened. Through interviews, photos, music, and searing personal confession, Wilkerson told the story while sitting on stage as clips and photos are projected onto the screen. (I saw a performance of it at the True/False Film Festival in 2017, and it’s among the most gutting filmgoing experiences I’ve ever had.) Wilkerson’s anger and brokenness are palpable as he reckons with a history of white supremacy that belongs to his family and to him, too — and that translates clearly to the recorded version that you can watch at home. How to watch it: Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? is available to digitally rent or purchase on Amazon. Do the Right Thing (1989) Spike Lee’s 1989 classic is a comedy with an angry edge, one that demands a viewingmore than three decades later. On the hottest day of the summer in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, tensions start to rise, leading to an altercation. When the police arrive to break up the fight, they choke one of the participants — a black man named Raheem — and kill him, then flee the scene, leading to more violence. Lee dedicated the film to Eleanor Bumpurs, Michael Griffith, Arthur Miller Jr., Edmund Perry, Yvonne Smallwood, and Michael Stewart, six victims of racial violence and police brutality. When it came out, Do the Right Thing was criticized not for its depiction of police violence but because critics like New York magazine’s Joe Klein and the New Yorker’s David Denby said it could incite racial violence. Now, it’s brutally clear how perfectly it diagnosed and depicted how black Americans are treated. How to watch it: Do the Right Thing is available to digitally rent or purchase on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, and Vudu. Get Out (2017) Racism is sinister, frightening, and deadly. But Get Out isn’t about the blatantly, obviously scary kinds of racism — burning crosses and lynchings and snarling hate. Instead, it’s interested in skewering white liberal racism, the prejudice of those who fancy themselves enlightened. Racism that masks itself as aggressively harmless is just as horrifying as blatant prejudice, and in Get Out, director Jordan Peele works to make us feel that horror in a visceral, bodily way. In the tradition of the best classic social thrillers, Get Out takes a topic that is often approached cerebrally — casual racism — and turns it into something you feel in your gut. And it does it with a wicked sense of humor. How to watch it: Get Out is available to digitally rent on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, and Vudu. Hale County This Morning, This Evening (2018) As much a tonepoem as a documentary, RaMell Ross’s Hale County This Morning, This Evening is best described as “lyrical.” Ross carefully assembles hours of footage he shot while living in Hale County, Alabama — of water droplets on a baby’s skin, of kids goofing off in a parking lot, of churchgoers singing during mass, of old houses, of insects, and more. Together, they act as brushstrokes to create a portrait of a community, capturing a way of life in a place burdened by history. Ross’s goal was to redefine the cinematic “vocabulary” that’s often used when black Americans are shown on screen, so he purposely chose to shoot and edit the film in ways that suspend judgment and resist the narratives that we as viewers often bring to films. And in the few instances where Ross uses text on screen, the sentences are as carefully, elegantly structured as the images, carrying narrative and emotional weight that’s deeply affecting. Hale County This Morning, This Evening is a major work and a richly rewarding one. How to watch it: Hale County This Morning, This Evening is streaming on Amazon Prime and available to rent or purchase on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play, and YouTube. The Hate U Give (2018) Amandla Stenberg leads a truly outstanding cast in The Hate U Give, an adaptation of Angie Thomas’s bestselling novel. Stenberg plays Starr, one of the few black students in her private high school, who witnesses the police shoot her friend in an incident that becomes a national flashpoint. The film has a great deal to say and no apologies to make about its outspoken message, even as it presents itself as a straightforward family drama. But The Hate U Give strikes a perfect balance between coming-of-age story and social drama. And in never sacrificing either of those two interests, it becomes a strong example of both. How to watch it: The Hate U Give is available to digitally purchase on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, and Vudu. It’s also available to stream on Hulu with the Cinemax add-on. I Am Not Your Negro (2017) The stunning documentary I Am Not Your Negro was directed by Raoul Peck. But it was written by writer and social critic James Baldwin — who died 30 years prior, in 1987. This isn’t a documentary about James Baldwin, though it certainly is about him. Instead, it gives new life and voice to Baldwin. All of the film’s narration (by Samuel L. Jackson) was written by Baldwin, mostly drawn from letters and notes he made toward a novel called Remember This House that was never published as well as other of his books and essays. By pulling together Baldwin’s own words with footage — both images of news clips and civil unrest that Baldwin would have known well and clips of the writer himself, talking with interviewers, politely tearing them to shreds — I Am Not Your Negro becomes a document of a country by way of a keen observer and unsparing thinker. It is a cinematic essay-memoir taking white America to task, and it’s a vital, uncomfortable one. How to watch it: I Am Not Your Negro is available to digitally rent or purchase on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, and Vudu. It’s also streaming on Kanopy. If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) For his follow-up to his 2017 Best Picture winner Moonlight, director Barry Jenkins chose to adapt James Baldwin’s 1974 novel If Beale Street Could Talk. Set in Harlem, the story centers on a young black couple (played by Stephan James and newcomer Kiki Layne) who grew up together and fell in love. But then conflict takes over — not originating from inside their relationship, but pressing in from the outside world. If Beale Street Could Talk is set in the 1970s, but thanks to the way it confronts how sexual assault allegations, policing, and racism can interlock for communities of color, it feels incredibly contemporary, too. It’s hard not to fall under its beautiful, somber, lustrous spell, and as a story about black American life framed as a love story, its images are indelible. How to watch it: If Beale Street Could Talk is streaming on Hulu. It’s also available to digitally rent or purchase on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, and Vudu. Loving (2016) Loving, about the couple at the center of the landmark 1967 Supreme Court case that invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage, is not really a triumphant legal drama,it’s more like a romance that happens to have a Supreme Court case in the mix. In making the political personal, the movie infuses an easily politicized story with complexity and quiet passion. Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga star as Richard Loving, a white bricklayer, and his wife Mildred Jeter, a woman of African American and Native American descent, who drew the wrath of the law when they married. It’s a quiet, slow film; the Lovings are reticent to seek the spotlight, and the movie is fully aware that while much in the law has changed, the sentiments haven’t shifted as easily. Real freedom, Loving suggests, is still out there on the horizon. How to watch it: Loving is available to digitally rent or purchase on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, and Vudu. It’s also available to stream on Hulu or Amazon with the HBO add-on. Quest (2017) Jonathan Olshefski’s Quest, a portrait of a North Philadelphia family, was shot over a decade and finally released in 2017. The film is a cinéma vérité look at the Rainey family, who operate a recording studio. But life doesn’t always go as planned, and when tragedy hits the family, the documentary takes an unexpected turn. It’s essential viewing that somehow captures the hope and pain of the 2010s — including life in the city as well as the broader political and social situation in America — better than either the Raineys or Olshefski could have ever imagined. How to watch it: Quest is available to digitally rent on iTunes. Rat Film (2016) Rat Film is about rats, yes — and rat poison experts and rat hunters and people who keep rats as pets. But it’s also about the history of eugenics, dubious science, “redlining,” and segregated housing in Baltimore. All these pieces come together to form one big essay about the ways that racism embeds itself in the fabric of a city and thus perpetuates itself. Rat Film accomplishes this by coming at it sideways, layering vignette on top of vignette so that the meaning of each only becomes clearer in light of the whole. It’s a fast-paced, no-holds-barred exploration of a damning history, and it accrues meaning as the images, sounds, and text pile up. How to watch it: Rat Film is available to digitally rent or purchase on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, and Vudu. Selma (2014) David Oyelowo plays Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, which follows King at the height of his influence, beginning with his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize win and ending with his famous march from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery the following year. Directed by Ava DuVernay, it’s a stirring illumination of the difficulties that King and his associates faced in gaining the support even of those who publicly praised their work, as well as arguments about tactics and goals within the movement. The film also dramatizes the personal pressure on King from political leaders at the state and federal levels, and the myriad ways that pressure threatened his fight. Selma is inspiring, yes, but it’s also rousing and confrontational. King’s words are often trotted out in support of various people’s agendas, particularly in times of racial strife. But his life demonstrates a steely, radical determination and an unwillingness to bend to anyone who might stand in the way of justice. How to watch it: Selma is available to digitally rent or purchase on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, and Vudu. Support Vox’s explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.
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1918 + 1929 + 1968 = 2020
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Why tigers get coronavirus but your dog will be fine
Vox’s new daily show, Answered, explains the mystery. Meet Nadia the Tiger. She’s one of several big cats at the Bronx Zoo recently diagnosed with Covid-19. Nadia and her peers are recovering well, but a small number of household cats and dogs across the US have also tested positive for the disease. Their cases highlight an important fact about the coronavirus: It’s zoonotic, meaning it can transmit between humans and animals. Alamy Stock Photo Zoonotic diseases are common. On average, a new infectious disease emerges in humans every four months, and roughly 75 percent of them come from animals. The common cold originated in camels. Many strains of flu come from pigs and birds. HIV transferred to humans from chimpanzees. And we, too, can transmit diseases to the animals we interact with at home and in the wild. Which begs the question: Which animals are vulnerable to Covid-19? And how safe are our pets? The answer lies with a special receptor on animals’ cells called ACE-2. In this video, we explore which animals can contract and transmit the coronavirus, and whether or not we should be worried about our pets. This episode is part of our new daily show, Answered by Vox, which is published every weekday on Quibi. In each episode, we explore a question about this confusing and often scary moment we’re in, and get an answer from an expert that we hope will make living through it just a little bit easier. You can find more episodes here, or download the Quibi app on your phone and search for “Answered.” We’ll be there every day. Support Vox’s explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.
How to Watch 'Xena: Warrior Princess' for Syfy's Pride Month Marathons
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Jimmy Fallon apologizes on-air for blackface: ‘I’m not a racist’
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Apple is tracking iPhones stolen by looters
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China reportedly delayed releasing critical coronavirus data to WHO
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Report: Retired St. Louis Police Captain Killed Trying to Stop Looters
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Bishop blasts Trump for church visit and holding up Bible
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The political implications of the Minneapolis protests for Minnesota, explained
Terrence Floyd (center) attends a vigil where his brother George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis on June 1. | Stephen Maturen/Getty Images Minnesota barely stayed blue in 2016. If there’s a backlash to protests, could it turn red? The same day that Minneapolis police killed George Floyd on May 25, a poll was released showing a tight race between Joe Biden and President Donald Trump in Minnesota. While thought to be a reliably blue state in presidential elections, Minnesota is emerging as a sleeper battleground in 2020. It is far too early to tell if, or how, Floyd’s death or the explosive Minneapolis protests that followed it could impact the November elections. But some political experts are wondering if peaceful protests mixed with violence and destruction could scare the state’s swing voters — particularly white suburban women — that Democrats need to win in the state. “I think in the suburbs, people are saying you can’t have police officers asphyxiating somebody,” said David Schultz, a political science professor at Hamline University in St. Paul. On the other hand, he added, “I can see a lot of these suburban voters who voted Democrat in 2018 saying, ‘well gosh, maybe Trump can bring law and order here or bring some peace.’” The Star Tribune/MPR/KARE 11 poll published on May 25 found the former vice president leading Trump by just 5 points, 49-44 percent, with 7 percent undecided. The poll had a margin of error of 3.5 points. Minnesota has a Democratic governor and two Democratic US senators, but also a split state legislature, with the state Senate controlled by Republicans and state House controlled by Democrats. The 2016 election results showed the state pretty evenly split. That year, Hillary Clinton carried Minnesota by just 1.5 percentage points, winning just nine of its 87 counties. Trump’s showing in the state was surprising. “Minnesota is one of those states where Donald Trump was quite successful in mobilizing racial resentment and building support on that,” said Larry Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota. The question of whether the Minneapolis protests mean Trump will have more success with that message in 2020, is still unknowable. “Going back to 1968 and looking at what Trump is trying to do but not well, there is this law-and-order card. It was terrifying to watch Minneapolis burn,” Jacobs added. “That has unnerved the suburbs and if that poll had run today, it would be a tossup.” While much of the media attention has been on unrest and violence in clashes between police and protesters, Floyd’s graphic killing caught on video inspired many peaceful protests around the country — including some in predominantly white areas of the state like Duluth, or just across the border in Fargo, North Dakota. “The violent protests, Trump will certainly try to use them for backlash purposes. So the question is will that be drowned out by the peaceful protests,” said August Nimtz, a professor of political science and African American studies at the University of Minnesota. He added, “The fact that Fargo and Duluth have seen actions suggest this may be something different. The breadth of the outrage is a reflection of the changing attitudes about race, and blacks being seen in a much more human way than was historically the case in the US.” Whatever the outcome, how Minnesota votes in 2020 could have profound political implications for the rest of the country. The state has traditionally taken a backseat to its neighbors Wisconsin and Michigan during presidential races. But if Democrats were to lose Minnesota for the first time in nearly 50 years, it could be a tremendous blow to their hopes of retaking the White House. “Minnesota could determine who becomes president if it’s close as 2016,” Jacobs said. If national Democrats get complacent, he added, “it’s a false complacency, Minnesota is quite winnable.” Minnesota is a swing state Every four years, Minnesota is typically written off as a solidly blue state, compared to the rest of the upper Midwest. There’s a reason for that; the last time Minnesota voted for a Republican presidential candidate, it was Richard Nixon in 1972. But there’s plenty of evidence to suggest the state is turning purple. Minnesota doesn’t have political party registration, meaning there aren’t precise statistics of how many Republicans and how many Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor members (the state’s Democratic Party) there are. But the results of the last presidential election suggests Trump has considerable appeal in the state. Control of the state legislature is also divided, with Republicans narrowly controlling the state Senate and the DFL controlling the state House. In 2016, Trump was just 44,593 votes shy of beating Clinton. Whereas Obama had won 42 of Minnesota’s 87 counties in 2008 and 28 of them in 2012, Clinton won just 9 in 2016. Clinton eked out a win relying on the most populous, blue areas of the state around Minneapolis and St. Paul, but staring at the 2016 Minnesota electoral map was like staring at a sea of red. There are a few factors to help explain this shift. Minnesota is historically a very white, protestant Christian state that has diversified rapidly in the last few years as immigrants from Somalia, Cambodia, and Latin American countries have settled there. Politically, the state can be divided into the blue areas around the Twin Cities, and a more purple area around the northern Iron Range that was historically Democratic and union-heavy but has trended red in recent years. There’s also the southern part of the state that is reliably Republican, but is also diversifying in some cities where immigrants work at meatpacking plants like Hormel in Austin, Minnesota. The swing areas, Schultz and Jacob agreed, are suburban areas around the Twin Cities and places like Rochester, Minnesota (home to the Mayo Clinic). “The battleground now is mobilizing the bases and capturing suburban swing voters,” said Schultz. “We’re really looking at the battleground being suburban women. It’s not so much the suburban males.” The rapid diversification of such a white state helps explain Trump’s sudden 2016 rise in a traditionally Democratic state, Jacobs said. “Trump was very effective in using his ethnic nationalism to trigger that racial resentment and to portray himself as someone who was going to stand up for white voters,” Jacobs continued. “Minnesota is vulnerable to that, particularly in areas that are experiencing economic anxiety and where you started to see diverse populations move in. I think there’s a risk the protests could be used that way, particularly the arson, the apparent lawlessness in the streets.” The question is whether the fallout from the Minneapolis riots could help boost him again. The swing voters to watch are suburban women While Trump and the GOP’s effort to stoke fears about immigrants may have worked politically in 2016, it did not appear to work during the 2018 midterms. The GOP ran a playbook of fear about Latin American immigrants arriving in caravans and Democrats letting violent criminals run amok in the streets. As Vox’s Dylan Scott wrote: If you were to distill the prevailing Republican campaign message for the 2018 midterm elections to one image, it would be this: a hooded figure in the shadows, machete (or knife or bladed fingers) in hand, waiting to pounce if the wrong candidate wins. Life is a horror movie and it’s Democrats behind the hockey mask. Vote Republican. Meanwhile Democrats ran on a message focused on health care, infrastructure, and eradicating DC corruption — and they won across the country. That 2018 midterms win was powered by suburban women, and happened in no small part because of active distaste and disgust with Trump himself. In Minnesota, Democrats flipped two Republican congressional districts in the suburbs, but Republicans also managed to flip two Democratic districts, including a previously reliable one on the northern Iron Range. “Nobody should forget we won two seats in Minnesota, but we also lost two seats,” said Matt Fuehrmeyer, the former research director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2016 and 2018. “The parties broke even in the congressional map.” The question in this year is whether Republicans try the same playbook with the Minneapolis protests as a backdrop, and if they are more successful. Trump’s presidential campaign and the Republican National Committee are already playing aggressively in the state, hoping to complete the first Republican flip of the state in nearly 50 years. “I still don’t think Democrats should sleep on Minnesota,” Fuehrmeyer said. Support Vox’s explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.
Facebook’s new feature will help you erase your weird teenage years
We all have awkward moments from our younger days that we’d rather forget. | Corbis/Getty Images Manage activity will make hiding your past shame easier than ever. If you were a tech-savvy teen and an early Facebook adopter, you’re now in your early 30s with half your life documented on the social media giant. If you’re like most teens (or, let’s be honest, most adults), you probably said a few things on Facebook that don’t represent who you are now — or at least, who you want people to think you are now. Well, you’re in luck: Facebook just introduced an easy new way to get rid of those bad old posts. Facebook’s new “manage activity” feature, which is rolling out over the next few weeks, will allow you to “curate” your Facebook presence “to more accurately reflect who you are today,” the company said in an announcement. Users will be able to find and manage posts in bulk, with filters that let them find posts from certain date ranges or that mention certain people. Here’s what it looks like: Facebook A spokesperson for Facebook told Recode that, according to both users and privacy advocates, better control over past posts was a much-needed feature for the platform, given how much of users’ lives have now been spent on it. While users have been able to use a “limit past posts” feature to change large numbers of public posts to be visible only to friends, the new feature lets you pick and choose what you want to hide from the masses. You can either archive your embarrassing old posts for your eyes only or delete them entirely. Even if you don’t regret anything you did in your younger days, it might not be a bad idea to give your years-ago Facebook days a trim. You can get fired from your job if problematic past social media posts surface, even the ones viewable by friends only, and things that may not have seemed bad to you back then may reflect poorly on you now. Potential employers may use automated background check services that misinterpret perfectly innocuous remarks, costing you a job without giving you the chance to explain them away. Or maybe you wrote something five years ago that looks bad now when its context has been removed by the sands of time. All it might take is one 10-year-old Facebook post about how you hate Company X for Company X to decide not to hire you when you apply for a job there. Or perhaps you don’t want the conservative company you work for to know about your liberal political leanings. Before and after you get the job, your employment is often at the mercy of whatever the company thinks best represents its brand. What the manage activity tool doesn’t do — at least, not yet — is let you mass-delete the stupid old comments you made in groups or mass-unlike dumb things you once gave a thumbs up. Facebook told Recode it’s exploring that as a future option. For now, manage activity is launching first on Facebook’s mobile version, with availability on its web version “in the future,” the company said. Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists. Support Vox’s explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.
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