“We are born into a box of space and time. We are who and when and what we are and we’re going to be that person until we die. But if we remain only that person, we will never grow and we will never change and things will never get better.
Movies are the most powerful empathy machine in all the arts. When I go to a great movie, I can live somebody else’s life for a while. I can walk in somebody else’s shoes. I can see what it feels like to be a member of a different gender, a different race, a different economic class, to live in a different time, to have a different belief.
This is a liberalizing influence on me. It gives me a broader mind. It helps me to join my family of men and women on this planet. It helps me to identify with them, so I’m not just stuck being myself, day after day.
The great movies enlarge us, they civilize us, they make us more decent people.”
That excerpt from the late, great film critic Roger Ebert’s Hollywood Walk of Fame speech in 2005 could not be more relevant today. There’s never been a year that humankind has more desperately needed an “empathy machine” than 2020.
Here are 6 amazing movies — 4 of which are based on real events or people — that will let you walk in someone else’s shoes, experience a different period in time, or consider ideas you might never thought of before.
Double Feature: Fruitvale Station and The Hate U Give – Fruitvale Station is a 2013 biographical drama and the first film directed by Ryan Coogler, who would go on to helm Creed and Black Panther. It’s about the 2009 death of Oscar Grant (played by Michael B. Jordan), a 22-year-old Black man who was shot in the back by a Bay Area transit police officer while unarmed and pinned down. Depressingly, 11 years later, little has changed. The Hate U Give was originally a Young Adult novel written by Angie Thomas in college after she heard about Grant’s death, and it deals with a Black high school student who watches a police officer shoot and kill one of her friends. Though this is most certainly a heavy double feature, what I love is that Thomas was able to take painful memories of her own childhood growing up around gun violence and police brutality, and write a powerful story about honoring those we have lost and using our voices to speak out against injustice.
BlacKkKlansman – In this “truth is stranger than fiction” ‘70s-set tale that was nominated for 6 Oscars (and won Best Adapted Screenplay), director Spike Lee brings us the real story of the first Black police detective in Colorado Springs (John David Washington), who amazingly infiltrates the local KKK chapter over the phone, and then convinces his partner (Adam Driver) to carry out the investigation in person. The film’s dramatic ending — and how Lee ties this true story from nearly five decades ago to recent headlines and a 2017 white supremacist rally — is both brilliant and chilling.
Sorry To Bother You – This completely original dark comedy by first-time director Boots Riley shares something in common with BlacKkKlansman: Its main character uses his ability to “sound white” to great effect at his job. Lakeith Stanfield plays Cash Green, a telemarketer whose skills get him swept into a corporate conspiracy that threatens both his relationship with his activist girlfriend (Tessa Thompson) and his life. This is one of THE strangest movies I have ever seen — as in, there’s no way you will ever see what’s coming, and you are either going to love it or hate it. I think about it constantly, and I urge you to give it a try and see what message you take away from it.
Double Feature: Selma and John Lewis: Good Trouble – If you want to be inspired and walk in the shoes of true heroes for a few hours, then director Ava DuVernay’s Selma, which tells the story of the 1965 equal voting rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, is a great place to start. Follow it up with a spotlight on the late John Lewis (who was the last remaining leader of the Selma marches until his death in July of this year) — a real-life civil rights superhero with more than 6 decades of activism that will forever be his legacy. Good Trouble will motivate you to get involved and make a difference in the issues you care about.