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five antiracist movies that break the mold. [five things.]

Movies about race are most often – like very, very, very often – biopics and/or fictionalized documents of historical events. Don’t get me wrong, I think films like Selma and 12 Years a Slave can be amazing and important [Steve McQueen forever!], but the films on this list are refreshingly divergent from the norm. From the powerful oscar-bait biopic to the toxic white savior narrative, these filmmakers have thrown away all those recipes that studios and filmmakers normally follow to make racially themed movies.

Each entry is a fresh, vital contribution to the larger cultural conversation. And speaking of conversations, the invitation to the RtM antiracist movie club is still open. It’s been amazing so far!

Every film on the list was made by people of color, and they all focus primarily on Black Americans. Any future lists will branch out into the experiences of other communities. With that said, on with the show!

Here are five mold-breaking antiracist movies that you should DEFINITELY watch.

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Da 5 Bloods

Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing is the quintessential example of the mold shattering antiracist movie, so it should come as no surprise that he shows up on this list.

In his follow-up to BlacKkKlansman – which despite technically being a biopic, could have made this list in its own right – the director has delivered one of the Spike Lee-est Spike Lee Joints that ever Spike Leed. His stylized approach to filmmaking is used to great effect to tell an emotionally powerful story that tackles perennially relevant issues – like race, war, politics, family, mental illness, guilt and money – in a world where America used Black, Vietnamese, and poor White bodies as cannon fodder in pursuit of consolidating power and wealth for the American ruling class.

For my money, this is one of Lee’s best films, and Delroy Lindo should win all of the things.

Also, if you still haven’t seen Do the Right Thing, now would be a great a time to rectify that!

Update: Hours after this was originally posted, we all found out that Chadwick Boseman – who costarred in Da 5 Bloods, has died after a years-long battle with colon cancer. It felt right to come back and mourn a remarkable talent, and by all accounts I’ve seen, a good man. Rest in Power, Mr. Boseman. Wakanda Forever.

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Blindspotting

Oakland’s own Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal wrote and star in this powerful, remarkably singular piece of filmmaking. Set in today’s Oakland, Blindspotting tells a poignant story at the intersection of race, gentrification, criminal justice, and prejudice, and it does so with energy and humor, somehow managing to feel ebullient even as it tackles dark themes with gravity.

You’ve never seen anything like Blindspotting before. It’s the movie we didn’t know we needed [or wanted], but absolutely did. Watch it!

Also, can we all agree to offer up thanks to whatever gods gave us Daveed Diggs?

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Queen & Slim

Like Blindspotting, Queen and Slim is a truly unique film. Writer Lena Waithe and director Melina Matsoukas collaborated to tell a heartbreakingly beautiful story that not only transcends the all too common lazy, paint-by-numbers movies about race, but transcends the majority of film of any sort.

It’s a love on the run road movie where literally everything works: the visual style, the characterization, the tension, the performances, the humor, the dialogue, the locatedness in the cultural conversation, etc. etc. etc.

Seriously, friends, can you just watch all the movies on this list?

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Dear White People

Dear White People is a razor-sharp comedy that feels like a series of powerful, Black-led conversations on race distilled into a movie. It provides a clear-eyed glimpse into some of the microaggressions, appropriation, power dynamics, and other bullshit Black people have to deal with every single day, challenging the unchecked beliefs, assumptions, and blind spots that keep white people participating in and feeding racism. Also, it’s not as heavy as the above films.

The movie has since been adapted into a Netflix show, which is still running at the time of this writing.

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Get Out

Okay, okay, okay, I know everyone’s already seen this one, but how could I leave Get Out off this list?!

So, you know, watch Get Out again.

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Important endnote: In the week between deciding to write this post and publishing it, another Black man has been shot by police without cause. Four. Fucking. Bullets. In. His. Back. And three more bullets that missed.

It’s horrifying how unsurprising that is. To be honest, it may have been more surprising if the cops had gone two weeks without shooting a Black person on video. That’s how fucking bad this is! Can you imagine how much worse things were before cell phone recordings? Before police violence was a central part of the national consciousness? It’s been said again and again, but this is how they act when they know everyone’s watching!

Black bodies continue to be lynched, and not just without legal recourse, but by “law enforcement” itself. Meanwhile, a huge part of the population, along with much of the media, blame the victim nearly every time. It’s a horrifying symptom of the terminal disease of racism, a disease genetically grafted into America’s DNA from the beginning.

So, while education and cultural exegesis can be helpful [I love both dearly], they’re useless if they don’t lead to tangible work to replace racist policies with antiracist ones. Watching antiracist movies doesn’t change anything, but things like this help me keep fighting, and I believe it can help us fight smarter, and with more empathy and understanding. But we can never allow it to take the place of the actual fight, or else all we’re doing is assuaging our guilt while we change absolutely nothing.]]

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‘steven universe’ is beautiful in its queerness, here are some articles written from queer perspectives.

One of the most important things about Steven Universe – both on a broader cultural level and a deep personal level for many – is what it means to people in the LGBTQIA+ communities, as well as other communities underrepresented in the myopic mainstream cultural lens.

SU was created and run by a nonbinary, bisexual genius; it tells stories (including the overarching narrative) written from queer perspectives; it normalizes queer characters while also making them visible to kids; and it depicts queer joy when all too often queer characters are written as exclusively tragic, suffering figures.

As a cisgender, heterosexual man, that’s not my story to tell, but I believe it would be unforgivable to leave the beautiful queerness of Steven Universe unsung. So, I’m linking to essays/articles/posts by people with a personal connection to this aspect of the show. Every single one of these links is well worth your time, and if you want to find more, they don’t even represent the tip of the content iceberg.

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“Steven Universe” Is the Queerest Cartoon on Television – “The show is also boundary-breaking for the way it portrays queerness; in fact, it may stand as the most progressive cartoon on TV in terms of queer representation.” 

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Steven Universe is the glaad-award winning kids show i wish i had growing up – “I love the normalcy Steven Universe applies to LGBTQ+ topics. The show treats queerness and gender fluidity as completely normal and okay—because they are! And children need to know that.”

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Steven Universe creator has done more for LGBTQ visibility than you might know – “We need to let children know that they belong in this world,” [Sugar] says. “You can’t wait to tell them that until after they grow up or the damage will be done. You have to tell them while they’re still children that they deserve love and that they deserve support and that people will be excited to hear their story. When you don’t show any children stories about LGBTQIA characters and then they grow up, they’re not going to tell their own stories because they’re gonna think that they’re inappropriate and they’re going to have a very good reason to think that because they’ve been told that through their entire childhood.”

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Steven Universe Is the Queerest Animated Show on TV – “What’s radical about Steven Universe, the brainchild of Adventure Time alum Rebecca Sugar, is not that it shatters gender boundaries. It glides over them as if they didn’t exist in the first place.”

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Steven Universe: 5 Ways This Kids Show Was Queer Before Its Lesbian Kiss – “Since its premiere in 2013 on Cartoon Network, the show has wielded zany comedy, drama, and visual metaphors to teach its children—and adult—viewers that identity isn’t chained to heteronormativity.”

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Steven Universe: The Movie Prepares The Queer Community For A Fight – “At the heart of Steven Universe is a theory of social change that values empathy and emotional intelligence over violent, direct action. It’s not that the show abhors violence. The characters match fist-for-fist, whip-for-whip, and sword-for-sword with their enemies all the time, and at one point organized militarily to protect the Earth. It’s that violence is rarely deemed a final answer for solving systemic problems, and only used when nonviolent approaches fail. We truly win, the show argues, when we emotionally connect with our enemies and convince them to abandon their endeavors.”

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Steven Universe creator says farewell, knowing her show made young LGBTQ viewers feel seen – “Sugar dealt with what were perceived to be ‘very difficult themes around youth television: mental health, issues of gender orientation, sexual orientation, trauma,’ Sorcher says. ‘And I think that she handled all of those issues with a grace and an elegance that made all the difference.”

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The Queer Ecology of Steven Universe – “Steven Universe offers a narrative of living with without resignation: living with failure, living with damage, and living with hope. Its queer ecological ethic demands action and imagines efforts that aren’t perfect and are still better than what we had before.”

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This one isn’t from a queer perspective, but I included it anyway:

How Steven Universe Taught Me to Embrace My Neurodivergent Identity – “This repeated theme of learning to accept our differences in how we look, think, and love as a strength, not a weakness, is why Steven Universe has become so popular, especially with members of the LGBTQ and neurodivergent communities. For kids, teens and adults who felt their identities to be a source of shame, Steven Universe provided not only a safe, colorful world which showed characters struggling with those same issues and growing from them, but also a thriving, passionate community of like-minded fans.

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‘the batman’ has a trailer!

As much as fanboys (aka man-babies) bitched and moaned, I was on board with the idea of Robert Pattinson as Batman from day one. Seriously, if you still think of Pattinson as nothing more than the sparkly guy from Twilight, then you’re clearly in the dark as a movie fan, He’s been consistently amazing ever since.

And after his work writing/directing the last two Planet of the Apes movies, I’m excited to see what Matt Reeves does with the character. I mean, the fact that all along he’s been saying the film is going to be a gritty, noir detective story is all I need to hear. Almost all of my favorite Batman stories are rooted more in the fact that he’s the world’s greatest detective, with a noir visual style. I mean, Batman: The Animated Series is noir as fuck, including making Batman’s investigative skills the focus, and that’s still the best onscreen Batman to date (fight me!).

This trailer only amplifies my hope that this will be great. Fingers crossed that movie theaters are a thing by the time this comes out!

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And speaking of Batman, some bonus trailers from the world of video games!

First, a WB Games Montreal trailer for a new Arkham series style game that I REEEEEEEEALLY hope is good. Those Arkham games are some of the best games ever made. Without Rocksteady – the makers of the original Arkham series – who knows what we’re going to get quality-wise. I’m hoping for the best on this one!

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And speaking of Rocksteady’s Arkham series, they revealed a new Suicide Squad game set in the same universe!! The movie won’t be out until at least 2022, so there is no gameplay footage yet, but my interest is most definitely piqued!

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why everyone should watch ‘steven universe,’ or, get ready for a bunch of ‘steven universe’ content.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during this decade we call 2020, it’s that friends don’t let friends sleep on Steven Universe. [Thanks, Josué!] So, if no one has done it yet, let me be the one to tell you that you need to watch this show!

Creator and showrunner Rebecca Sugar is an amazing talent, and I’m dead serious when I say that, along with the rest of the Steven Universe team, they’ve created one of the most well-crafted stories television has ever produced.

Don’t make a huge mistake by preemptively writing off the Cartoon Network show as a silly, insubstantial, run-of-the-mill kids show. It’s certainly chock full of silliness, it’s accessible for kids and written with them in mind, but that barely scratches the surface of what Steven Universe is. Teeming with empathy, the show is also droll, inventive, clever, inclusive, charming, inspiring, whimsical, and emotionally resonant. Love and kindness, acceptance and optimism, somehow the show’s creators don’t just illustrate those things, but reach out through the screen and offer them to the viewer.

A cartoon doesn’t become a low-key cultural phenomenon for no reason, and Steven Universe has done just that, inspiring a devoted cult of adult fans. As this post makes obvious, I’m a proud convert to the Church of Steven. That’s because the show – with its beautiful philosophy of what we all mean to each other, and how we can and should treat one another and ourselves – genuinely makes me want to be a better person, and more than that, I believe it’s already helped me on my way. [More on that in next week’s post.]

I will say that for the first 20 episodes or so [each episode is 11 minutes long] the show more closely resembles what most people might expect: a charming kids show about a sweet, hilarious little boy getting himself into trouble around Beach City, and tagging along for adventures with a team of badass, super-powered aliens called the Crystal Gems. But by the time you reach episode 23, the seeds of deeper themes have begun to sprout. [Let me be clear, even in the early episodes – and other similar episodes throughout the series – the show is still a delight. For example, the comic timing is genius from the very beginning.]

The show’s depth becomes more and more apparent as Steven grows up significantly in a relatively brief timeframe. Unlike the characters in most shows – for adults and kids alike – Steven is permanently changed by his experiences in consistent and believable ways. And that goes for every other character on the show, who (almost) all change considerably between their first appearance and the final episodes. There is never a shift in character – large or small – that isn’t earned. There are no changes or developments that don’t fit the narrative and emotional trajectory built into the show. Even in Steven Universe: Future, which is a significant departure from the earlier tone, and wasn’t foreshadowed throughout the original series, the change feels natural. It’s a believable extension of the original arc, considering what the characters have been through up until that point.

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And unlike the vaaaaaaaaaaaast majority of shows, it’s clear Sugar had a plan all along. With nearly 35 hours of story [six seasons and a movie!], released over the course of nearly seven years, there isn’t a single significant course correction or retcon [i.e. retroactively pretending previous story developments never happened or happened differently]. Thanks in large part to the remarkable job they did laying a solid foundation in season one for the original series-long story arc as a whole, the entirety of the show is tight and unified. Rewatching the show, I see subtle moments and Easter eggs in early episodes that pay off in future seasons, sometimes several years and dozens of episodes later. Even in the wake of “peak tv,” I’ve never seen it done this well.

Oh yeah, and speaking of believable, incremental growth: the worldbuilding is incredible. They’ve dreamed up an engaging, original universe [no pun intended!], and it is gradually and organically revealed as Steven learns more about his world, his family, the past, and himself. The worldbuilding, as well as plot and character, is never moved along by shoehorned exposition. Every revelation is narratively centered and earned.

But the most important reason you should watch Steven Universe, is that I genuinely believe it matters even more right now. It’s the perfect antidote to the current horror show we find ourselves in. Even at its “shallowest,” it offers a bit of goodness, some hope and delight in a dark world.

At its most affective, it’s a powerful story about how to be a person. It’s about loving the people around us optimistically, always looking for who they are underneath the fear and ignorance and rough edges. It’s about believing that, with a little room to fuck up and learn and change, people can actually grow into the person they had the potential to be all along. It’s about believing people can learn there is another way to be themselves and see the world. And the show is clear that the person who we need to love like that is very often ourselves.

Those are powerful, life changing things to learn at any time, but the reason why the show is so important for this moment is that while it embraces that beautiful philosophy, it’s also about never walking away from a fight when it’s time to defend and protect those who need it. The show makes it clear that loving the difficult people never means allowing harm or injustice. Steven always hopes for change, but he never waits for it at the expense of others. He is empathy personified, and he can’t look away while someone suffers. He will always choose to stand between any person and those who mean them harm.

This show is the opposite of both the interpersonal and the systemic toxicity and ugliness at the core of the world as it is.

All that to say that Steven Universe is wonderful and significant, and you should watch it.

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‘jazz’ – toni morrison.

I already told you to read any Toni Morrison you can get your hands on, so it should come as no surprise when I add Jazz as another great addition to the antiracist reading list.

As I wrote recently, I’ve never read anyone who draws characters better than Morrison did. They are vivid, real enough it feels as if a reader is listening as someone bares their story and soul from across a sitting room or kitchen table.

Often, stories become universal in their particularity. By being rooted in a writer’s own humanity, people who don’t share any circumstances with the storyteller somehow find their own heart reflected back. As a white man, that’s not my experience reading Morrison’s novels. Her work doesn’t offer me a mirror, but instead a window into the humanity of others, offering glimpses into realities other than my own. And in part, they are lives lived under the weight of my own privilege and the privilege of the people I come from.

Obviously, her work is infinitely more remarkable and significant than my experience of it, but one tiny facet of Morrison’s work is that it invites white readers to grow in compassion, empathy, and humility, and to remind us that our own stories are often told at the expense of the stories of others.

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my antiracist movie list, or, who wants to join an antiracist movie club?

The final installment of my antiracist book list is published, but that obviously isn’t the end of it. For one, if you’re familiar with this blog at all, you know it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t compile a companion list of antiracist movies. When I’m actually maintaining it, film is the beating heart that makes Roused to Mediocrity go, so let’s talk about movies.

Seriously though, let’s talk about movies. I’m planning to start an antiracist movie club, and I’m inviting you along for the ride. I haven’t worked out details, aside from the core concept of watching a movie once a month, then getting together virtually to have a conversation about it.

In the past, when I wanted to start something like this, the virtual part has always been the rub. It’s a necessity, considering the physical distance between me and most of you, but it just wasn’t something I thought anyone would want to try.

Fast forward to 2020, and Zoom is a regular part of everyday life. So, I vote we give this a shot. For now, just let me know if you’re interested. If you know me, contact me however the hell you want. If not, leave a comment, or email me – scott.e.small@gmail.com – This invitation is open to any and everyone.

I’ve compiled a big list of movies* to give us a pool to choose from as we get RtM’s Antiracist Movie Club up and running. Obviously, we’ll never get to all, or even most of these.

Here’s my list.** Let me know some movies I missed:

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  • Fruitvale Station
  • Do the Right Thing
  • Queen and Slim
  • Blindspotting
  • 12 Years a Slave
  • If Beale Street Could Talk
  • I Am Not Your Negro
  • Get Out
  • BlacKkKlansman
  • Malcolm X
  • Boyz n the Hood
  • 13th
  • Selma
  • OJ: Made in America
  • Shaft
  • Da 5 Bloods
  • The Hate U Give
  • Just Mercy
  • Whose Streets?
  • Menace II Society
  • Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song
  • Let It Fall
  • LA 92
  • Dear White People [film]
  • Good Hair
  • The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975***

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The movies below will be great additions down the line, but it seems gross if we don’t begin with movies created or co-created by people of color.

  • The Central Park Five
  • Teach Us All
  • Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland
  • Loving
  • Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am
  • Attack the Block
  • The Color Purple
  • In the Heat of the Night

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*I’ve only seen 12 of them.

**I’m skipping all white savior nonsense, along with stories designed to make white folks feel good about “how far we’ve come,” by comparing ourselves to cartoonish racist southerners from the antebellum south through to the 60’s. Those films can be part of valuable conversations about racism depicted in film disingenuously, ignoring the systemic role it plays in every facet of American society. I just don’t believe it’s the appropriate place to begin.

***This one is directed by Swedes, but I’m including it here because all of the voices are Black. It’s just that Swedish filmmakers were the ones who came over to document the Black Panther movement. It’s white people pointing the camera, but after that it’s purely Black revolutionaries getting to speak their piece, so I believe it fits in the first category.

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