Director: Raoul Peck
Starring: James Baldwin, Samuel L. Jackson
In 1979, author, intellectual and activist James Baldwin wrote a thirty page treatment for a book to be called ‘Remember this House.’ It was going to be his personal account, describing his experience of the murders of his three friends and fellow civil rights champions, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. However Baldwin ultimately couldn’t bring himself to write the book and he passed away in 1987 having never returned to it. Using Baldwin’s own words, Raoul Peck’s Oscar nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro sets about trying to bring this unrealised work to life.
While Baldwin is the film’s principal character, I Am Not Your Negro is not a biography. Peck does not concern himself with delivering names, dates, milestones and achievements. If you come into this film without a great knowledge of who Baldwin was and what he did (and as a thirty-something Australian I confess to being far from an expert), you are not going to come out of the film with all of those questions answered. But you will come out with the desire to learn more, because what the film does emphatically show you of Baldwin was that he was a towering mind, a great thinker and powerful debater. Continue reading
Director: Theodore Melfi
Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali
There is something romantic about the Space Race. The sheer ambition of it. Literally shooting for the moon. Particularly today when politics seems so petty the aspirational nature of it is appealing. Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures tells the true story of three unsung heroes working behind the scenes at NASA, using this moment of heroic scientific progress to reveal equally heroic social progress.
It is 1961, and in Langley, Virginia, NASA’s engineers are deep into planning the Mercury mission that will see John Glenn become the first American to orbit the Earth. But these are still analogue times. The ‘computers’ that the engineers use to do their calculations are people, predominantly women, seen effectively as mathematical clerical workers. Among these computers are Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae). While the work they do is critical to the success of the Mercury mission, they still live in a segregated world Continue reading
Director: Ava DuVernay
Starring: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejoga, Tom Wilkinson, Wendell Pierce, Common, Tim Roth, Stephan James, Andre Holland, Colman Domingo, Lorraine Toussaint, Oprah Winfrey
In their opening monologue for this year’s Golden Globe Awards, hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler introduced Selma with a pointed joke: “The movie Selma is about the civil rights movement which totally worked and now everything is fine.” It was a good line. It got a big laugh. But it also perfectly captured why, in 2015, it is hard not to experience Ava DuVernay’s powerful, inspiring and triumphant film without feeling just a tinge of sadness. That sadness comes from the knowledge that half a century on from the Selma march, in a world of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Ferguson, we still have so far to go.
It may seem hard to believe, but Selma is the first time we have seen a theatrically released studio film with Martin Luther King Jr as its protagonist. But Selma is not a biopic as such. Great films will often focus on a specific story in order to illuminate a greater one. As such, DuVernay does not attempt to tell the entirety of Dr King’s story. We don’t see the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Birmingham campaign or the “I have a dream” speech. Instead, the film focuses in on the 1965 campaign by King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Continue reading