Director: Ava DuVernay
Year Released: 2016
DuVernay retraces the history of race relations in the United States - and specifically, the 13th Amendment (the abolition of slavery) - from pre-MLK to the present day, with this country facing problems with mass incarceration and police brutality (spawning the controversial Black Lives Matter movement). It's a ton of complex material shrunk down to a very limited time-frame - think of it as a Cliff's Notes version (for those who remember those little yellow books) - glossing over/compressing a mass of information but still providing a timely document (in an Election Year, naturally) about a cultural matter that (unfortunately) needs addressing: why are so many black men in prison and what is with the wanton use of force by law enforcement (full disclosure: I have a Master's Degree in Criminology and actually studied this very issue ... in brief, our police need extensive retraining and better equipment, and that's simply the beginning). It does threaten to veer into Tin Foil Hat territory a few occasions (specifically with the for-profit corrections agencies) - I was waiting for the notorious accusation that the CIA was pushing drugs into black communities (it never comes up) - and the emphasis on blame instead of self-reflection is a bit too easy ... but the talking heads she provides (sometimes framed awkwardly) are largely insightful (even Newt makes an appearance!). The pessimist in me says we'll still be making films like this fifty years from now, having learned nothing - the optimist says we'll do the right thing and figure it out ... somehow.