7 movies you can stream right now if you're trying to understand what it means to be an anti-racist

Black Lives Matter protests spread across the country and the world after George Floyd was killed in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25 .

moonlight
  • Anti-racism is an effort to consciously work against systemic racism.
  • To practice anti-racism, one must learn about how racial oppression and inequality have shaped the country's history.
  • Business Insider spoke with Samantha Sheppard , an assistant film professor at Cornell University with an academic focus on Black cultural production and African American cinema, about how films can help people understand anti-racism.
  • Sheppard said that people can watch films that talk about American history, the Black experience, and even racist films to learn about how racism exists and functions.
  • Here are some of Sheppard's film recommendations for learning what it means to be anti-racist.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories .

There is no such thing as a "non-racist" person, racism scholar Ibram X. Kendi says . Rather, people are either racist or anti-racist, because there is no room to be neutral. To be anti-racist, one must consciously work against racism, Robert J. Patterson, professor of African American Studies at Georgetown University, previously told Business Insider .

Start your anti-racist work by educating yourself. One way to educate yourself is through films, according to Samantha Sheppard. Sheppard teaches film at Cornell University, with a focus on Black cultural production.

Some of these films explore the beauty, pleasure, pain, and politics of Blackness and others have the power to teach you "the ways Hollywood has framed and tried to reframe Black people into very small categories and representational tropes," Sheppard told Business Insider.

Sheppard added that you can even do anti-racist work by watching racist films and paying attention to the ways that the film is supporting racism. You have to interact with the film to do so.

Two of Sheppard's recommended films aren't currently available online but are valuable to watch. "The Spook Who Sat by the Door," a 1973 film about a Black man who has an apprenticeship with the C.I.A. and uses what he learns to organize a Black Revolution, is "perhaps one of the most powerful films that has ever existed" in Sheppard's opinion. Another is "Killer of Sheep", a film about a financially frustrated Black boy who works at a slaughterhouse and lives in the neighborhood of Watts, Los Angeles, in the mid-1970s. These films, Sheppard said, can help viewers understand Black pain and politics.

Here are seven other movies you can stream right now to get you started, listed in order of release date.

NMH Archive/Vimeo

"Something Good-Negro Kiss," a silent short film,shows two Black actors kissing and laughing four times in less than 30 seconds. It is the first-known film of a Black couple kissing .

The film was inducted into the Library of Congress in 2018 . The press release marking the occasion said that the chemistry between the actors is what makes the film so powerful.

"It's really a beautiful piece of art and artifacts," Sheppard told Business Insider.

Library of Congress

"Within Our Gates" is a silent film about a Black woman who works to save a school for impoverished Black students. The film was a response to a film called "The Birth of a Nation," about southern white people and the Ku Klux Klan.

Dick Lehr, the author of the book "The Birth of a Nation: How a Legendary Filmmaker and a Crusading Editor Reignited America's Civil War," told NPR in 2015 that the film's director, D.W. Griffith, "portrayed the emancipated slaves as heathens, as unworthy of being free, as uncivilized, as primarily concerned with passing laws so they could marry white women and prey on them."

"'Within Our Gates' really speaks back to the sort of racist white programming at the time that painted African Americans in really viscerally evil ways," Sheppard said. "And 'Within Our Gates' really takes seriously the very form and function of racism during this time, including white mob violence, the assault of Black women by white men, and tries to carefully reconstruct the Black path to Black memory."

This film is in the Library of Congress .

Photo by Anthony Barboza/Getty Images

"Do the Right Thing" is a comedic drama that takes place over the course of one summer day in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. The film highlights racial tensions in Brooklyn when a Black pizzeria delivery driver confronts the owner of the restaurant about its depiction of the neighborhood.

No. 27 on the National Society of Film Critics' "100 Essential Films" list, "Do the Right Thing" was controversial at the time of its release, but now it's considered a classic.

"It's not dated; it hasn't aged," Spike Lee, writer, director, and star of the film told USA Today in 2019 . "I was just trying to capture some truths as I saw them at the time that are still relevant today."

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

"Daughters of the Dust" is the story of a Black family living in South Carolina in the early 1900s after being enslaved in West Africa. Exploring themes of Black female identity, generational trauma, love, and belonging, this is Sheppard's favorite film on this list.

"I think that this film really understood that [making] films of a Black woman and more importantly, [watching] films as a Black woman involves a retraining of how you watch movies," Sheppard told Business Insider.

A film that is created to make us think about the way we look at cinema, Black women, and the way we remember history is a pleasure to experience, in Sheppard's view.

California Newsreel/YouTube

"Black Is ... Black Ain't," a documentary, explores Black identity and diversity across the US. Produced by Marlon Riggs, the film explores perspectives of Black people of various ages with various backgrounds, including a range of wealth and sexual identity.

Photo by J. Vespa/WireImage/Getty Images

"Watermelon Woman" is a romanticcomedy-drama about a Black lesbian documentarian named Cheryl who is trying to make a film about an imaginary 1930s Black film actress commonly known as "the Watermelon Woman." The film is ultimately about Cheryl finding her own sense of identity and community.

Associated Press

"Moonlight" tells the story of a gay Black man named Chiron growing up in Miami struggling with self-acceptance. The movie beautifully documents Chiron's experiences and emotions throughout his childhood and into his adult life. It won the Oscar for Best Picture at the 89th Academy Awards in 2017.

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