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Cover of 12 Years a Slave
12 Years a Slave
Steven McQueen, John Ridley

12 Years a Slave is a feature film adaptation of Solomon Northup's slave narrative of the same name. Widely lauded by film critics and viewers around the globe, the film won three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Northrup was born free and living in New York state when he travelled to the Washington D.C. area for a short term job. There he is kidnapped and shipped south where he is sold - twice. After 12 years in slavery, he is finally identified as a free man by someone he once knew and returns to his family.

African-American history scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. was a consultant on the film which is widely thought to be one of the most -if not the most- accurate portrayals of slavery on film.

Recommended by Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development(Justified Anger)

cover of Ballad of Gregorio
by Robert M. Young

In this film set in 1901 and based on a true story, Edward James Olmos plays a young Mexican named Gregorio Cortez. Cortez  killed a sheriff in Gonzales, Tex. and flees, chased by a 600 man posse led by the Texas Rangers. Ultimately captured, his trial had essentially a pre-determined outcome. In the trial, it was revealed that an interpreter had inadvertently distorted the sheriff's meaning and turned an inquiry into a threat. The real Cortez served 12 years of a 50 year sentence, getting out only after a Governor's pardon.

Recommended by YWCA Madison

Cover of The Butler
Lee Daniels, director

The Butler is a feature film which won  the 2013 African-American Film Critics Association awards for both Best Actor (Forest Whitaker) and Best Supporting Actress (Oprah Winfrey). Winfrey was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Epic in scope, The Butler is the story of a White House butler who served seven presidents, and is composite character based on an actual African- American White House butler, Eugene Allen, as well as other White House employees. The movie traces the Civil Rights era through the experiences of fictional butler Cecil Gaines  as he serves seven presidential administrations but also as he lives at home with his wife, Gloria, and their sons Louis and Charlie.
Recommended by Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development (Justified Anger)
Cover of Fruitvale Station
Fruitvale Station

The true story of Oscar, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident who wakes up on the morning of December 31, 2008 and feels something in the air. Not sure what it is, he takes it as a sign to get a head start on his resolutions: being a better son to his mother, being a better partner to his girlfriend, and being a better father to T, their beautiful four-year-old daughter. Then he's gunned down by BART officers on New Year's Day in 2009, sending shock waves throught our nation. This film was Michael B. Jordan's breakout role, and won various awards, including an NAACP Image Award for Best Independent Film.

Cover of The Hate U Give
hate u give
based on the book by Angie Thomas

Starr Carter is constantly switching between two worlds: the poor, mostly black neighborhood where she lives and the rich, mostly white prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Now, facing pressures from all sides of the community, Starr must find her voice and stand up for what's right. Recommended by YWCA of Madison

Cover of Just Mercy
Just Mercy DVD
Stevenson, Bryan, Jordan, Michael B., Foxx, Jaime

Bryan Stevenson's book memoir/autobiography of the same name recounts his life's work as an attorney in Alabama defending wrongly convicted people, people on death row and his creation of the Equal Justice Initiative. ​The film condenses the book into a feature film starring Michael B. Jordan as Stevenson.

Cover of Middle of Nowhere
Middle of Nowhere DVD
Ava DuVernay, writer and director

In this drama, a nurse puts her own plans and dreams on hold when her husband is sentenced to eight years in prison. Despite the disapproval of some of her family and financial stress, she works to maintain her marriage and support her husband emotionally- making regular trips to visit him in prison. Writer/director DuVernay explores the lives of women waiting, and said in the Los Angeles Times she was inspired by the lives of women from her own neighborhood (she grew up in Long Beach and Compton).

Cover of Pariah
Dee Rees

First time director Dee Rees (with executive producer Spike Lee) has created a film reflective of Rees’ own real-life young adulthood. Here, 17 year old Alike is a high achieving African-American high school senior, cautiously exploring her lesbian identity out-of-sight of her parents. While her sister knows her story, her parents --who are socially conservative--  act as if they do not. An exploration of identity across and within multiple cultures.

Cover of Precious
Precious DVD
Lee Daniels, Director

In this feature film based on the book Push by Sapphire, in 1987 an obese, illiterate, black 16-year-old named Claireece 'Precious' Jones lives in Harlem with her dysfunctional family. She has been raped and impregnated twice by her father, Carl and suffers constant physical, mental and sexual abuse from her unemployed mother, Mary. After getting pregnant for the second time, Precious is suspended from her school. Her principal arranges to have her attend an alternative school where her new teacher, Ms. Rain, helps Precious learn to read and she responds to this glimmer of hope. There Precious also meets Mrs. Weiss, a social worker, who discovers the abuse and incest that Precious has had to endure. As the film ends, we are hopeful about Precious' future. Gabourey Sidibe won many awards for her portrayal of Precious- including an NAACP Image Award, an Independent Spirit Award, a Black Reel Award and many others. The film (as well as director Lee Daniels and co-star Mo'Nique) also received many award nominations- including multiple Academy Award nominations.

Cover of A Soldier's Story
Jewison, Norman, Washington, Denzel

" Set in Louisiana during World War II, this film tells the story of a murdered Black Master Sergeant and the tough Army Captain sent to investigate the crime. Dealing with issues of race, prejudice, and segregation, this gripping drama is a must see for movie and history fans alike." Part of a 2021 Wisconsin Veteran's Museum African-American History Month Event

 Recommended by Wisconsin Veteran's Museum