The Cinapse Team highlights streaming picks upholding the conviction that Black Lives Matter
Welcome to Field of Streams, Cinapse’s weekly guide of what’s playing on your favorite streaming services. What’s new on Netflix and Amazon Prime? What do we recommend on Kanopy, Hoopla, and Shudder? We’ve got it all. From topical roundups, to curated top 5 lists, to reviews of our favorites available now… it’s here. We built it for you, so come and join us in the Field of Streams.
On this week’s streaming column we specifically want to come together as a team to lend our voice to a statement that we hold to be true: that Black Lives Matter.
As the nation reels and responds to the latest black man to be murdered on camera by police violence, several film distributors, studios, and streaming platforms have recognized the opportunity to specifically lift up black films and filmmakers, particularly those highlighting social justice or racial awareness. Major studio titles including Just Mercy (which is our Two Cents Film Club pick for this week), The Hate U Give, Selma, Antwone Fisher, Brian Banks, Ali, and The Secret Life of Bees have been made free to watch or rent (and in some cases discounted to purchase) on streaming platforms. The Criterion Channel announced that several films, including Maya Angelou’s Down in the Delta, Les Blank’s A Well Spent Life, and Agnes Varda’s The Black Panthers, would immediately be exempted from their paywall. Similarly, Shudder has done the same with their acclaimed documentary Horror Noire.
With a mix of documentaries, dramas, and even horror, here are some films that we believe are worth your time to watch, digest, and discuss.
This is required viewing. Period. It’s powerful, award winning, and eye opening. With its central conceit rooted in Michelle Alexander’s seminal 2010 work The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, the film begins with President Obama telling us that the US has 5% of the world’s population, yet 25% of the world’s prison population. What the film then begins to explore is exactly who comprises that large prison population and the connection to the country’s history of slave labor. The connections are startling and the data supports a nefarious and dangerous truth. Slavery still exists in America and 13th explains how it all works. Ava DuVernay’s documentary is masterful in how it constructs the story and brings the horrifying design of the modern “justice” system to light. You can’t watch this one without coming out of the other end a changed person. (Justin Harlan)
THE HATE U GIVE (Amazon Prime, Google Play, Hulu)
One of the more direct movie parallels to current events, The Hate U Give follows the story of Starr, a high school girl who sees one of her closest friends shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop, suddenly finding herself at the center of the chaos that follows in her community and the media.
Besides the obvious themes of police violence and protests, the film also touches on other pressures that Starr and her family face: the expectation of inevitable police racism (introduced from the jump as a young Starr’s father teaches her how to act submissively to cops), the social stigma of “snitching”, navigating a mixed-race relationship, and even code switching: Starr is a black girl who attends a mostly-white private school but lives in a predominantly black neighborhood, feeling a bit lost in the duality — a perspective also recently seen in Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse. (Austin Vashaw)
I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO (Amazon Prime, Kanopy)
Any documentary about James Baldin would be worth a watch, but with I Am Not Your Negro, we not only get one of the best writers America has ever produced but also Martin, Malcolm, and Medgar.
Based on notes Baldwin wrote before his death, laying out his plans for a book about the three most important men of the Civil Rights era, this film paints a portrait of a time in American life when change was happening but it was all so, so messy. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, it’s all delivered via Baldwin’s words, things of such beauty in his hand that it’s easy to be awed and miss the larger socio-political point.
The end of this tale is well known. Death came to them all, assassinations times three, with Baldwin himself not surviving the 80’s due to cancer. Still, his words live on, and with I Am Not Your Negro, we have striking images to go alongside: a timely documentary when it came out in 2016 which is even more timely today. The question that persists: will it be timely evermore? (Rod Machen)
In the Blaxloitation heyday of the 70s, black playwright Bill Gunn was approached by a group of white producers to capitalize on the current trend and deliver a vampire flick in the vein of Blacula to run in the 42nd Street grindhouses. What he delivered a surreal dream-like meditation on religion, race and culture, using the hunger for blood as a metaphor for addiction. Starring Night of the Living Dead’s Duane Jones, the film screened at Cannes, but after failing to get a foothold in the US after only a week in theaters, was recut from 110 to 76 minutes and re-released under the campier moniker Blood Couple. The film was ahead of its time, but like all good things we soon caught up to it, as it screened at rep houses and colleges over the years. Kino recently restored the film to that original 110-minute cut for Blu-ray and streaming. (Dan Tabor)
COOLEY HIGH (Amazon Prime)
Set in and around Chicago’s infamous Cabrini-Green complex (the same housing project featured in Candyman and Good Times), Michael Schultz’s semi-autobiographical coming of age tale Cooley High (1975) offers a historic perspective on black youth, taking us back to the same year as the Civil Rights Act: 1964. The boys of Cooley High live in public housing, struggle with school, flirt with girls, smoke pot, and occasionally engage in petty crimes. For the most part the film is lighthearted, but also delves into social issues: working class parents who barely make ends meet, a concerned teacher who begs them to apply themselves, and pressures from neighborhood gangsters — the sum of which is a fatalism that hangs over them as they feel predestined to occupy a rut of poverty. The film weighs more heavily as it goes on, moving from breezy comedy to a poignant finish. (Austin Vashaw)
TALES FROM THE HOOD (Starz)
Sometimes light and comedic, sometimes dark and creepy, always thought-provoking… Tales from the Hood is often overlooked as one of the best socially aware and powerful genre films, but that’s exactly what it is. Four segments with potent sociopolitical commentary, effective and sometimes violent scares, and a good dose of humor are bookended with one of the best anthology wraparounds in horror movie history. Clarence Williams III is Mr. Simms, the funeral home caretaker who leads a few gangbangers — Stack, Bulldog, and Ball — through a journey of ill-fated patrons of the funeral home. From Corbin Bernson’s KKK grandmaster turned politician to the prison reform by way of A Clockwork Orange described in the “Hard-Core Convert” segment, this 1995 Spike Lee produced joint is the crowning jewel in filmmaker Rusty Cundieff’s filmographic crown. (Justin Harlan)
HORROR NOIRE (Shudder)
Horror Noire collects interviews with prominent filmmakers, actors, and social & historical commentators to tell the history of American horror films from a uniquely black perspective — featuring Jordan Peele, Tananarive Due, Tony Todd, Ken Foree, Keith David, Ashlee Blackwell, Ernest Dickerson, Rusty Cundieff, and many, many more knowledgeable and engaged guests. Covering racism and tropes on film, struggles with representation, the blaxsploitation era, “hip hop horror”, the new wave of socially aware films like Get Out, and everything in between, Horror Noire is both an astute study and a very watchable bit of entertainment for any film lover, sure to not only challenge and educate, but also provide you with a few new titles to add to your watch pile. (Austin Vashaw)
There are countless services to explore and great things to watch on all of them. Which ones did we miss that you would suggest to us? And, as always, if you’ve got thoughts on titles we’re missing out on or new services to check out, leave a comment below.
Check out Cinapse’s other streaming content in the meantime, but till next week… stream on, stream away.