“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”
Set in Colorado circa 1972, BlacKkKlansman follows the Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) as he navigates the racially charged atmosphere of his new job and community. Ron has a passion for police work but being the first black cop at his department means the odds are stacked against him. After he’s promoted to undercover work, he meets and becomes smitten with Patrice (Laura Harrier), a civil rights activist attending a Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins) event. He’s then assigned to gather intelligence on a local chapter of the KKK. Caught between these two worlds, he devises a plan. He’ll inflitrate the KKK with the help of his white coworker Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) who will do undercover work in person while Ron speaks to key figures, including Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace) on the phone. The tension in Colorado Springs escalates as the Black Panther activists increase their activity and the KKK devises a bomb plot to take out protestors. Ron and Flip must find a way to save their community and themselves before their true identities are revealed.
Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman makes a bold political statement about racism in an effective way. The film is based on the true story of undercover cop Ron Stallworth. Lee and his writing team used Stallworth’s memoir as the basis for the script but made some key changes including a shift in the timeline and the addition of the bomb plot. The final chapter of the film directly links the events in the story to those of the Unite the Right Rally and the deadly car attack in Charlottesville, VA in 2017. By connecting the past and the present, Lee’s film is giving a clear warning to the future.
Stylistically BlacKkKlansman is stunning. It’s quite an achievement to make the 1970s, known for faded oranges, yellows and browns, look vibrant and colorful. I love how the film stayed true to the era but still finds a way to appeal to the modern eye. As a classic film enthusiast I’d be remiss not to point out how elated I was to see African-American performer and activist Harry Belafonte in the film. He has a small part as Jerome Turner, an elderly man who recounts his stories of witnessing atrocities. His scene is juxtaposed with a KKK initiation ceremony. That whole sequence packs a powerful punch.
BlacKkKlansman is nominated for 6 Academy Awards including Best Original Score, Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director (Spike Lee), Best Supporting Actor (Adam Driver) and Best Film Editing. I highly recommend following up your viewing of BlacKkKlansman with the documentary Alt-Right: Age of Rage which I reviewed a few months back.
“Women are the base of any society. And women are more powerful. But they don’t recognize themselves. They don’t know how much power they have and what they can do.”
Menstruation. It’s not a subject people like to talk about but it’s one that shouldn’t be ignored. Director Rayka Zehtabchi new documentary Period. End of Sentence., follows a group of women from a small town outside of Dehli, India. We learn that menstruation in this patriarchal culture comes with a deeply rooted stigma. It’s embarrassing to talk about and the women use dirty cloths or whatever they can get their hands on during their time of the month. They’re not allowed to pray when menstruating and are essentially isolated from their community until their cycle is over. Many young women even leave school shortly after they get their first period.
Alarmed by these findings, a group of students from Oakwood High School in Los Angeles, California, with the help of The Feminist Majority Foundation’s Girls Learn International program, banded together to start The Pad Project. They raised funds for the equipment that would help these women create their own sanitary pads. The inventor of the machine, Arunachalam Muruganatham, trained the women in the art of making sanitary pads. With this knowledge, these women were empowered to not only overcome their shame but to start a new phase in their lives as enterprising career women making and selling sanitary pads in their community. For some of them, this was their first job and a chance to learn a trade and become successful at it and to earn money for their household and for themselves.
Out of all the Academy Award nominated documentaries (short subject) this is by far my favorite. Period. End of Sentence. is a feminist manifesto that demonstrates how empowering women can make a huge difference. It’s moving, endearing and full of hope. This film touched my heart and I hope it’ll do the same for you.
“The strongest creature on Earth is not the elephant, not the tiger, but the girl.”
Period. End of Sentence. is nominated for a 2019 Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject). The film premieres on Netflix February 12th.
On February 20th, 1939, over 20,000 Americans gathered at Madison Square Garden in New York City for a Nazi rally. The organizers invited the press to cover the event and as a result we have footage of this little known event in US history. Director Marshall Curry in his 7 minute short documentary A Night at the Garden, offers a glimpse into this historic event. The film captures A Pledge of Allegiance, a speech as well as a protester who storms the stage only to be apprehended quickly by police detail.
Curry’s film offers a glimpse into an event that happened 80 years ago but is still eerily relevant today. This documentary is as timely as ever with the recent resurgence of white supremacy in the US. The pro-American, Anti-Semitic and anti-press rhetoric from 1939 is no different from rhetoric spoken in 2019. A Night at the Garden is just as much a window into the past and as it is a mirror reflecting the present.
A Night at the Garden is nominated for a 2019 Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject). Visit the official website for more information.
“There’s nothing inherently medical in dying. It’s much larger than medicine. It’s purely human.”
Death is not something we want to talk about but it’s something we have to talk about. Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s documentary End Game explores this final phase of life through the stories of 5 terminally ill patients living through it: Mitra, Pat, Kym, Thekla and Bruce. Filmed at the Zen Hospice Guest House in San Francisco, End Game primarily focuses on Mitra an Iranian woman dying of a terminal illness. We see her family, notably her husband and mother, struggle with the decision to fight to keep her or to let her go. As Mitra condition worsens, the window of time they have to make that decision gets shorter and their options are fewer. Through the other stories we see how different individuals make those final choices of how they will live until they die.
In 2015, my father passed away in hospice after a long decline. His death was brought on by a sudden condition that left him in much pain. I know what it’s like to have those long difficult conversations about how your loved one should die, how you should honor their wishes and how to give them the most comfort in their final days.
End Game is painful to watch and maybe you’ll think you can’t get through all 40 minutes of it. But you can and you will and you’ll be better for it. It tackles a difficult subject in a sympathetic and respectful way.
End Game is nominated for a 2019 Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject). It’s available to watch on Netflix.
“Rationality is wildly over played… The heart is where your real thinking comes.”
The second documentary in Skye Fitzgerald’s Refugee Trilogy, Lifeboat tells the story of the search-and-rescue missions conducted by Captain Jon Castle, a Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior, and his team to save Libyan refugees crossing the Mediterranean. Filmed aboard the Sea-Watch vessel, viewers get an inside look at what goes into a mission and the conditions in which the volunteers find the refugees. They work tirelessly to rescue everyone they can. These refugees are suffering from hunger, dehydration, heat stroke and exhaustion. A medical team on board helps treat the ill and to gather the dead.
The documentary also shines a spotlight on the refugees themselves. As Jon Castle wisely notes in the film, the closer you get to the problem the more you can sympathize. You stop seeing these refugees as an anonymous group of people and you start seeing them as individuals. In Lifeboat, we get to hear from refugees themselves, who were kidnapped from either Cameroon or Cote D’Ivoire, sold and enslaved in Libya.
Lifeboat is a harrowing documentary but necessary viewing. It’s these stories that help us understand in a way that watching or reading the news cannot. These refugees come from dire situations and are willing to endure a dangerous journey for the chance at a better life. The film also serves as a tribute to Jon Castle himself who passed away the year the film was released.
Lifeboat is nominated for a 2019 Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject).