Film Forum

Resistance films unflinchingly document race relations

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay looks at violence on Black bodies through the lens of the criminal justice system in her documentary “13th.” (Credit: Netflix)

Resistance. The refusal to accept or comply. The attempt to prevent, by action or argument. As the United States moves into 2017 and the era of President Trump, documentaries made in the past decade about resistance have taken on new meaning.

Filmworks presents the latest entry in this category of resistance films when it screens “I Am Not Your Negro” on March 10 at the Tower Theatre. Directed by Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck and narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, the documentary re-invents author James Baldwin’s unfinished memoir, “Remember This House,” which takes a powerful look at the lives and ultimate deaths of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. An Oscar nominee for Best Documentary Feature, the film connects the social justice conflicts of the 1960s with the current #BlackLivesMatter movement, highlighting Baldwin’s elegant and necessary commentary.

In addition to “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till,” which Filmworks screened in 2006, “The Central Park Five” from 2012, “3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets” from 2015 — and others — here are three more documentaries that provide important viewing for resistance:

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975” (2011)
Contemporary Swedish filmmaker Göran Hugo Olsson re-envisions news footage shot by a group of Swedish journalists who documented the Black Power Movement in the United States from 1967-1975. A critical favorite at Sundance and a product of the PBS Independent Lens series, the film delivers a crucially important international perspective on U.S. race relations and realities after the Civil Rights movement, a global view that feels more important than ever in the early days of the Trump Administration.

“Free Angela and All Political Prisoners” (2012)
From writer/director Shola Lynch, this documentary chronicles the life and work of social justice advocate, scholar, and author Angela Davis. Patching together archival footage with current interviews and context, Lynch traces how the unflinching social activism of a young professor Davis and her contemporaries within the Communist Party and with the Black Panthers lands her on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list and shadows her for life. Davis packed the Satellite Student Union at Fresno State for a lecture and Q&A after a CineCulture screening of the film in May 2014.

“13th” (2016)
This Netflix original film takes a historical look at the United States prison system and shows how it amplifies the nation’s history of racial inequality. Nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, this documentary is from filmmaker Ava DuVernay, who also directed 2014’s award-winning drama “Selma.” DuVernay stitches together into one timeline so many complex issues within the criminal justice system, all serving her compelling thesis that a loophole in the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allows slavery (and the threat of slavery) to continue in the 21st Century. Her closing sequence — a chilling compilation of documented recent violence against Black bodies that have all failed to result in justice — leaves a devastating and lasting mark. For a limited time, Netflix is making the film free to the public to watch without a subscription, for educational purposes.

Jefferson Beavers serves as development director for Fresno Filmworks.

Every second Friday of the month, Fresno Filmworks screens first-run independent and international movies at the historic Tower Theatre.