The Fate of the Fast and the Furious Movies

The Fate of the Fast and the Furious Movies

Bigger is supposed to be better, and, on the surface, that appears to be true of the Fast and the Furious franchise. Each installment has a more ridiculous action set piece. Last movie, it was cars speeding through the window of one Abu Dhabi skyscraper to crash into the window of a neighboring one. This one has Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson grabbing a torpedo with his bare hands and altering its course on top of a frozen lake.

There’s no shame from the filmmakers with these outlandish scenes. Nor should there be! The Fast and the Furious is basically a different kind of superhero franchise, in which the avengers are a diverse group of lower-class nobodies who overturned the system to achieve the American dream. This franchise has single-handedly replaced the bar for what action movies should be going forward, so why should the filmmakers adhere to arbitrary rules about what they can or cannot do? Why shouldn’t they construct a heist in which the main gambit is strapping a ten-ton safe to two Dodge Chargers and careening through Rio?

That scene of kinetic bliss is from 2011’s Fast Five, which might be the purest iteration yet of the Fast/Furious saga. It featured Johnson’s introduction and Vin Diesel’s Dom recovering from the apparent death of his long-time girlfriend, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). It was the first time the Family as we know it today was all together- Johnson’s Hobbs, Diesel’s Dom, Paul Walker’s Brian, Ludacris’s Tej, Tyrese’s Roman, Jordana Brewster’s Mia, Sung Kang’s Han, and Gal Gadot’s Gisele, minus Letty, of course, though her presence was very much felt. Five is where the series’ concept of Family truly solidified and became the fulcrum for every plot twist and car chase thereafter.

The Fate of the Furious (the eighth in the run that started with 2001’s relatively minor The Fast and the Furious) actually mirrors Fast & Furious 6, in which Letty returns with amnesia and is working against Dom’s crew. This time, however, cyber-terrorist Cypher (Charlize Theron) has turned Dom against his people. Pleas of “But family!” seem to mean nothing to him, and the Toretto crew has to team up with Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell, introduced in Furious 7) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham, the last movie’s villain) to track Dom down.

Cypher is an effectively cold-hearted villain with a terrible plan for Dom, and the estrangement between him and Letty is genuinely hard to watch. Furious 7 is the emotional peak of the saga, due to the perfect way the filmmakers handled honoring Paul Walker after his tragic death. This movie can’t compare to that, but what could?

Even so, it does seem like this franchise may be wearing out its emotional heft, after a trio of movies in which the “Family” trope became something almost real. In Fate, deaths in the Family lose some of their power. One member’s passing feels like a mere plot point, and Han’s death in Fast & Furious 6 becomes something of a loose end with the team embracing Shaw, who murdered Han as revenge for the Family putting his brother in a coma. Shaw’s induction into the team seems a little too easy and takes you out of the movie. However, it sounds like the filmmakers may address justice for Han later.

Nevertheless, director F. Gary Gray (The Italian JobStraight Outta Compton) has made The Fate of the Furious a thrill ride, and, even with my above questions, exploring the grief induced by Dom’s betrayal only strengthens the Family’s 8-movie history. The box office returns on this one have been lower than Furious 7’s, which produced a lot of hand-wringing by pundits about diminishing returns. There has also been a lot of hand-wringing from critics about a dip in quality. I saw one critic that I respect (and he’s not alone in this) saying Fate might even be the worst of the series, which is pretty much impossible when the series includes Tokyo Drift.

Even if this one is not quite as good as the last one, so what? It’s the eighth movie of a supposed ten in a franchise that has so far spanned eighteen years and will likely extend five more. The Fast and the Furious has already written cinematic history with its box office records, its diverse stars, and with the worldwide ardor it has received. If they want to make two more movies of controlled chaos that are utter garbage, more power to them. They’ve already changed the game. All I ask is that they stay true to this Family and that they blow my face off. For The Fate of the Furious, check and check.

Get Out Is More Than a Horror Movie

Get Out Is More Than a Horror Movie

Nothing about movies makes me happier than a movie upending mainstream norms to take the box office by storm. There are a lot of big studio movies that I enjoy, but something about seeing the system turned upside down gives me more joy than a well-tailored blockbuster. By all conventional wisdom, Get Out, the new horror movie from Jordan Peele, should not be a hit. It should not have made $162 million domestically. For context, the next highest grossing horror movie with a similar budget in recent years was 2016’s Don’t Breathe, and that made $89 million.

There are a lot of reasons why Get Out has been so successful, not the least of which is how relevant it its subject matter seems on the surface. Get Out follows Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Allison Williams) as she takes him home to meet her family. Rose is white, and Chris is black, but Rose thinks this is no big deal and hasn’t told her parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keene). This bothers Chris, but he tries to play it cool. When they arrive, however, It’s pretty clear that something is different about Rose’s parents and the community they live in.

There will be spoilers later in this post, so if you don’t want anything spoiled, stop after this paragraph. But it’s not spoiling anything to say that the weirdness surrounding Rose’s family’s estate has everything to do with their whiteness and Chris’s blackness. At one point, Chris tells a friend on the phone about Rose’s parents and their friends, “They all act like they’ve never met a black person that hasn’t worked for them.”

This directness about the social experience of being a black man in a white world is refreshing and is surely one of the reasons why it has received such great word-of-mouth, and great word-of-mouth is surely the main reason it has been such a successful movie at the box office. It received great reviews (99% on Rotten Tomatoes, 84 on Metacritic), but critics can only have so much effect on audience turnout. Movies outside of established franchises need good reviews from the audiences themselves, and everyone who has turned out for Get Out has gone on to tell their friends that this wasn’t just a good movie, it was a movie they had to see.

And they have to see it, because it is such a unique movie-going experience. There have been plenty of good horror movies released lately, but few that deal so explicitly and effectively with social issues. Personally, I was tempted to be skeptical about how one of a kind Get Out truly was before I saw it. There’s not a shortage of socially conscious horror movies throughout movie history. Night of the Living Dead, the original zombie movie, and Candyman deal directly with race in sharp, striking ways. And two movies that director Jordan Peele cites as influences on Get Out, Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives, tackle gender equality by exposing a special kind of dread that can only be described as sociological anxiety.

Get Out makes use of the same kind of suspense as those latter two movies, slowly ratcheting up Chris’s paranoia as the weird event tally racks up around him. It’s too soon to compare writer-director Jordan Peele to a director like Roman Polanski (the director of Rosemary’s) or to a writer like Ira Levin (the author of both stories from which those movies were adapted), but Get Out is a truly astounding achievement. Its box office success is a triumph, but it’s more impressive that Get Out is a great movie.

Peele is clearly walking a tightrope. There is a scene near the end in which a black man clearly takes pleasure in shooting a white woman. I was forced to confront my own prejudices in this and in other scenes- seeing a black man do something violent to a white woman invoked a weird discomfort in me, more discomfort than I likely would have had seeing the reverse. I have to face the fact that I have that prejudiced inclination. This movie is full of such challenges to the status quo (read: whiteness), and it wears them with quality.

Get Out is not about to solve any problems or heal any wounds; the only things that can do that are people themselves and time (and God, but that’s another conversation for another post). But seeing this movie may be the first time some white people understand even in the slightest that being black is scary. That in itself is a great argument for diversity in the movie industry. The perspective of a black man like Jordan Peele offers an opportunity for a studio like Blumhouse Productions to expand the spectrum of the stories it tells. That is the lesson I hope other studios take from Get Out‘s massive success.

As my friends and I walked out of our showing of Get Out, someone walking ahead of us said, “I can’t believe we paid money to see that.” They were white, which may be incidental, but probably isn’t. It is hard to confront that your very race predisposes you to certain prejudices that yield barbarity, especially when you grow up in a world that works hard to teach you that it’s the other races that are barbaric. Not every white person is going to commit the kind of atrocities committed in Get Out, but every white person needs to deal with the fact that whiteness is a direct factor in a lot of atrocities.

There have been shitty white people in lots of movies, though, both in front of and behind the camera. The genius of Get Out isn’t in the racial dichotomy at the heart of its thrills, though that juxtaposition is fascinating. The genius is in the universality of Get Out’s white villainy. These villains aren’t Ku Klux Klansmen- they voted for Obama, they probably give money to social justice causes, and they probably enjoy political correctness. It would be easy to resent Get Out for making whiteness the villain, even if Peele was more specifically targeting white liberalism. It is more challenging to confront Get Out‘s central theme, that liberal moralizing is worthless, even dangerous, without first humanizing.

The 2017 Academy Awards

The 2017 Academy Awards

I say to my wife almost every year (she probably doesn’t even notice I say it anymore) that the Oscars are my Super Bowl. I’m well aware that the actual show is usually kind of boring. But I’m nonetheless fascinated by what upsets will take place, what winners will say onstage, and who the last tribute will be in the In Memoriam montage. I find a lot of joy in the movies, and I appreciate the Oscars as a celebration of that.

This year, they feel like the Super Bowl in more ways than one. For one, they feel unnecessarily politicized. During the Super Bowl, I fell into the trap of rooting against the Patriots because of Tom Brady’s and Bill Belichick’s ties to President Trump- as if there aren’t myriad other reasons to root against New England. That almost ruined my enjoyment of what ended up being the Pats’ historic comeback.

The Oscar layperson won’t think about this, but anyone following the pre-ceremony hype will have seen thinkpieces aplenty about the supposed La La Land vs. Moonlight rivalry. The two movies are being pitted together much like New England and Atlanta- white vs. black, Trump’s America vs. the Resistance, evil vs. good.

That’s stupid, and frustrating. Both are great movies. Both have zero to do with the politics of our time, at least directly. It would be a stretch to make an argument that either is attempting to participate in current polemics one way or the other.

Moonlight‘s very existence and the attention it is receiving is a political statement within the industry, but that’s about it. Moonlight‘s director, Barry Jenkins, has spoken about the La La Land backlash and clearly respects the art that Damien Chazelle and his team created. The movies exist apart from any faction or political ideology. They are both moving, complex, life-affirming works of art that deserve more than easy narratives.

Narratives aren’t necessarily bad, but in this case they are unnecessary. They make cultural events like the Oscars and the Super Bowl more accessible, and they often add stakes to the proceedings. But tomorrow, forget the political narrative, and just appreciate that whatever wins Best Picture this year will likely be worthy of the distinction.

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Best Picture

Arrival*
Fences*
Hacksaw Ridge*
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Lion*
Manchester by the Sea*
Moonlight

Will win: La La LandMoonlight or Hidden Figures could upset, but movies don’t get 14 Oscar nominations without winning. First time for everything though…

Should have been nominated: Zootopia. Animated movies never get enough respect, but Zootopia deserved a place in the sun.

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Best Directing

Arrival, Denis Villeneuve*
Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson*
La La Land, Damien Chazelle
Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan*
Moonlight, Barry Jenkins

Will win: La La Land, Damien Chazelle. If the La La Land backlash has retained its full force, Jenkins could upset.

Should have been nominated: Kubo and the Two Strings, Travis Knight. Again, animated movies don’t get their due. The degree of difficulty on a stop-motion movie like Kubo is so high, how is the industry not better about rewarding directors of such movies?

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Best Actor in a Leading Role

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea*
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge*
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic*
Denzel Washington, Fences*

Will win: Denzel Washington, Fences. Affleck’s sexual assault will linger in too many minds, and Denzel is too much of a force of nature. He’s given voters enough of an alternative to Affleck to ease their consciences.

Should have been nominated: Colin Farrell, The Lobster. It’s an awkwardly earnest and selfish character that anchors one of the year’s most overlooked movies.

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Best Actress in a Leading Role

Isabelle Huppert, Elle*
Ruth Negga, Loving*
Natalie Portman, Jackie*
Emma Stone, La La Land
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins*

Will win: Isabelle Huppert, Elle. Where there’s an easy way not to vote for La La Land, I think people who believe in the backlash will take it. Huppert is a legend, and many will think it is her last chance to win.

Should have been nominated: Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch. Horror movie acting is probably supposed to be easy, but existential dread isn’t. She did both beautifully in 2016’s breakout horror film.

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Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea*
Dev Patel, Lion*
Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals*

Will win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight.

Should have been nominated: Anton Yelchin, Green Room. This isn’t just a reaction to his tragic death. His performance in Green Room is visceral and a career best.

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Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Viola Davis, Fences*
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion*
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea*

Will win: Viola Davis, Fences.

Should have been nominated: Janelle Monáe, Hidden Figures or Moonlight, take your pick.

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Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

Arrival*
Fences*
Hidden Figures
Lion*
Moonlight

Will win: Moonlight.

Should have been nominated: I dunno…Sully, I guess?

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Best Writing (Original Screenplay)

Hell or High Water
La La Land
The Lobster
Manchester by the Sea*
20th Century Women*

Will win: Manchester by the Sea.

Should have been nominated: Hail, Caesar!

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Best Cinematography

Arrival*
La La Land
Lion*
Moonlight
Silence*

Will win: La La Land.

Should have been nominated: The Witch.

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Best Animated Feature

Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana*
My Life as a Zucchini*
The Red Turtle*
Zootopia

Will win: Zootopia.

Should have been nominated: Eh, nothing I saw.

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Best Documentary (Feature)

13th
Fire at Sea*
I Am Not Your Negro*
Life, Animated*
O.J.: Made in America*

Will win: O.J.: Made in America.

Should have been nominated: Under the Sun.

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Best Foreign Language Film

Land of Mine (Denmark)*
A Man Called Ove (Sweden)*
The Salesman (Iran)*
Tanna (Australia)*
Toni Erdmann (Germany)*

Will win: The Salesman.

Should have been nominated: Microbe & Gasoline (France).

With Patriots Day, What You See Is What You Get

With Patriots Day, What You See Is What You Get

Peter Berg’s new thing is directing movies about ordinary men (well…Mark Wahlberg, at least) caught in disaster. It’s a good look for him. He broke out in ’04 with Friday Night Lights, a movie that was every bit as rooted in realism and Steadicam as the TV show would be. There were some forays into science fiction with Hancock (2008) and Battleship (2012), which were less than successful. But now, with the triptych of Lone Survivor (2013), Deepwater Horizon (2016), and Patriots Day (2016), he seems to have found a niche.

I haven’t seen Deepwater Horizon yet, and I hear good things. But of his movies I have seen, Patriots Day is Berg’s best yet. Nuance still isn’t his strong point. But straightforward ness isn’t a sin, especially in the service of a story that needs no frills.

Fulfilling his destiny to play the most Bostonian man alive, Wahlberg headlines the film as a regular cop, recovering from a knee injury he accrued on the job. He is a part of the police contingent at the 2013 Boston Marathon, and he ends up being near the finish line when the bombs go off. This scene is harrowing, a masterpiece of disaster sequence editing. The preceding scenes are well-done as well, building the tension as we get to know several of the key players, including a couple who will both lose legs in the explosions, a security cop at a local university whose role is unclear at first, and the two brothers responsible for the bombs.

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What follows that initial scene of devastation is a fairly direct retelling of the ensuing manhunt for the Tsarnaev brothers (Tamerlan is played by Themo Melikidze, Dzokhar is played by Alex Wolff). There are two interesting scenes that hint at things beneath the surface of this mostly surface-level movie. One scene involves the Tsarnaevs in the car they steal from Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang) while they still have him held hostage inside. They end up talking about the 9/11 attacks, and the Tsarnaevs tell Meng it was an inside job, that the U.S. government orchestrated it to make Americans hate Muslims. It’s a fascinating scene and a sobering reminder of the role fake news and alternative facts play in radicalization. And that’s not just in Islam.

The other scene takes place at the warehouse where the FBI sets up the investigation’s headquarters. Tamerlan’s wife, Katherine Russell (Melissa Benoist), has been brought in for questioning, but someone from a different agency barges in and takes control of the interrogation. They send in a woman in a hijab (Khandi Alexander) who begins using Russell’s own faith against her and tells her candidly and threateningly that she has no rights. In a movie that lionizes law enforcement it’s a reminder that not everything is always above board.

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I was worried going into Patriots Day about how Berg would handle his depiction of the Tsarnaev brothers. He directed a movie in 2007 called The Kingdom in which Muslims were nameless, faceless villains, and the voracity with which the audience cheered at their deaths was uncomfortable. The Tsarnaev brothers are of course still shown as villains, rightly, but they’re also human beings with anxieties and disagreements and interests in pop culture. If you prefer your Muslim terrorists only as monsters, then you’re ignoring some basic things about human nature and helping to alienate an entire culture in your heart.

Patriots Day is similar to 2006’s United 93 in its celebration of American heroism and shaky camera action, though Patriots arguably leans a little too much on more unnecessary Hollywood conventions than United, such as Mark Wahlberg’s Tommy Saunders being present at too many key events. But like United 93, Patriots Day is effective without being exploitative, honoring the heroes and victims of the event with an honest, realistic portrayal.

Not Much Hidden About Hidden Figures

Not Much Hidden About Hidden Figures

There’s something to be said for movies that get the job done. No flashy camerawork, no dream sequences, little to no subtext. Not every movie needs to be Moonlight or La La Land. Sometimes you just need to see an untold story told well.

Hidden Figures does just that. Following three black women (Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monáe, and Octavia Spencer) working for NASA in the 1960s, Hidden Figures does just about everything you would want from a period movie like this. We get a comprehensive view of the racism they faced both in the workplace and outside of it. The white people involved are not excused, but they do get opportunities to redeem themselves in the movie’s plot, which seems unrealistic. But clean period movies like this often lack nuance, and that’s okay. The story of these women overcoming the institutional and personal racism directed at them to achieve far more than anyone expected of them is enough. Nuance is for other movies.

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Octavia Spencer gives the best performance of the three, but that’s really just because her character was written with the most range. She has to bite her tongue in the face of white ignorance more than the other two, and we see more of Spencer taking initiative behind the scenes. Henson has the most emotional scenes, one in which she loses control in front of her white coworkers and chastises them for how they’ve treated her, and one in which she is proposed to by a good man (Mahershala Ali). She nails both of them. Monáe, who, like Ali, is having a breakout year, is sassy and quietly strong, which nicely complements her maternal performance in Moonlight.

My personal preferences have me disappointed in retrospect that Hidden Figures was a little too well tied up at the end. Surely these women didn’t live happily ever after. But I can appreciate the beauty of a pure, Hollywood movie starring three black women that hits all the expected emotional moments. It’s enjoyable in a way that more artsy movies cannot be. If I want nuance, I’ll go watch Moonlight again. If I want pure entertainment, I’ll put on Hidden Figures.

The Classics: 25th Hour (2002)

The Classics: 25th Hour (2002)

The phrase “Trump’s America” seems to be in vogue among thinkpiece writers right now, and that couldn’t bother me more. It implies that just because Mr. Trump won the election and is our president, that the country is now his. So writers are finding tiny reflections of him everywhere in the culture or telling you how to survive or how to have a conversation “in Trump’s America”. It’s a pithy phrase, and an annoying one. So allow me to use it in one post and one post only.

While re-watching 25th Hour for my series on the classic movies from 2002, I came upon one of the movie’s famous scenes and thought instantly, “This is Trump’s America.” If you’re not familiar with 25th Hour (and you’re probably not- it made only $13 million), the movie follows Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) on his last day of freedom before he goes to prison for drug charges. It’s directed by Spike Lee, and it’s a beautiful movie about New York and America hurtling toward an uncertain future.

Monty is having lunch with his father (Brian Cox), who owns a bar, to confirm that he will drive Monty to the prison the next day. At one point, he goes to the bathroom, and while there, he has this exchange with himself in the mirror. Heads up: lots of f-words here, and probably some offensive things said about other races. That’s the point.

So I watched that scene, and immediately thought, “This is Trump’s America.” And it really felt true, at first. Monty is angry, and he turns his anger on everybody in the city, reducing people to their tribes or their surface-level labels. He lashes out at his friends for their faults and their flaws. He curses his girlfriend for simply being suspicious.

But don’t let anyone tell you that this xenophobia and irrational anger is “Trump’s America”. Instead, look to the last 15 seconds, when Monty turns the “f*ck you” onto himself. In that moment, he takes responsibility for what he did, instead of turning the blame onto everyone else. He finally directs his anger at the one person that deserves it.

I hope that you don’t place your hope in America. There are greater things, eternal things. But we can hope things for America. I hope that America emulates those last 15 seconds and takes responsibility for the ways that it has screwed up. And I hope President Trump finds out that is his America.

Protest in Art on the Art of Protest

Protest in Art on the Art of Protest

There is one scene in Congressman John Lewis’s March trilogy of graphic novels that encapsulates in just a few panels the heights of which he and his team (coauthor Andrew Aydin, and letterer and illustrator Nate Powell) are capable. It’s at the beginning of Book 3, the scene set with a pair of short heels clicking down a church hallway, marked by a tiny “clik clik clik” across the page’s panels. The woman who belongs to the heels busts into a bathroom, marked by a bigger “BOOM” within the panel’s frames. The girls are framed in black as they are caught in the act of skipping Sunday school and told to hurry along. The woman clik clik cliks away to her Sunday school class, where she opens the door with a “creaak”. She reports to the mother of one of the girls in a whisper over the teacher reading Jesus’s admonition to love one’s enemies. And then another “BOOM”, this one enormous, breaks through frames and word bubbles, even disrupting the art at the end of the page.

March’s creators are doing nothing new by breaking the medium’s conventions to make an emotional impact, nor are they innovating in the format with their use of onomatopoeia and font size to transport the reader to the story’s setting. But rare is the marriage of all of a page’s elements so devastating. The depicted1963 bombing of a Birmingham church is infamous in civil rights history, and I knew what was coming as I read it. Yet when I reached the sequence’s end, at the image of a child’s shoe in the hand of an adult, I was in tears.

This one scene in March is heart-wrenching and masterful, but March is brilliant through and through and not just in its set pieces. Those set pieces provide the emotional structure of the series, but it’s the smaller scenes that solidify the series’ themes. The trilogy is an easy read, but it is not simply a chronicle of all the civil rights movement’s big moments. Rather, Lewis and his team spend much of this memoir detailing the many strategies and disagreements of the movement’s organizers. The line that Lewis and Aydin draw from the decisions he and his compatriots made to the decisions lawmakers made are a powerful argument that protest works.

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There are similar scenes of strategizing in Selma, Ava DuVernay’s 2014 movie about the march from Selma, Alabama, to the state’s capitol, Montgomery. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) chose Selma specifically because their very presence there was likely to incite police brutality. We watch this play out on screen multiple times: black people lining up outside a courthouse to vote getting pushed to the ground, black people marching across a public bridge being chased like animals by cops on horseback while tear gas rains down, white people getting beaten to a pulp for associating with the black protesters, black people getting shot by cops without provocation.

Dr. King and his compatriots spend time in Selma discussing how best to implement their plan, and we see plenty of conflict between them regarding the timing of the protests, who should even be allowed to participate, and even what exactly to protest first. The protests’ leaders spend an entire scene arguing what injustice is most urgent to address, and none of them agree. After all, should they start by protesting the courts refusing to register black people to vote unless they can name all of Alabama’s county judges, the voucher system that requires prospective voters to find someone already registered to vouch for them, or the businesses that will fire or not hire black people who are bold enough to register?

We have a lot of movies about fighting racism written from a white perspective, designed in full to encourage empathy and action in white people. These movies are noble in intent if usually misguided in their execution, downplaying the role of black people in their own emancipation. Selma is that rare movie that is told by black people and is about black people working for black people. The making of Selma was not burdened by anybody’s white guilt, and therefore is far more clear-eyed about where the injustices are.

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Selma is also historical. Much was made of DuVernay’s incomplete portrayal of President Johnson. But little was made of the movie’s re-creation of the band of people around Dr. King or of DuVernay’s painstaking attention to the details of the protests and the resulting brutality. These things happened, and we’ve never seen the like of them onscreen before. Selma is a powerful argument that protest is a moral necessity.

March and Selma together present a picture of a black culture that figured out how to fight injustice on its own. This was in direct opposition to a white world that pretends to be for justice but is too often a willing accomplice in injustice’s crimes. The graphic novel and the movie are companions. They complement each other in their historical details and in how effective they are in arousing righteous anger and heartbreak.

The movie 13th deserves recognition beside those two. DuVernay’s new Netflix documentary is different in form and function from March and Selma, but it is their cousin in theme. 13th draws a line through history from slavery to today’s mass incarceration, finding guilty the phrase written into the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted…” The documentary makes a compelling argument, using historical archive footage and a bipartisan conglomeration of talking heads, that the prison system functions as today’s slavery, imprisoning black people at a far greater rate than other races to the profit of politicians, lobbyists, and businessmen alike.

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The line DuVernay draws is unambiguously straight. She squarely places the blame on rich white people who want to stay rich and get richer. I can understand the skepticism I occasionally hear in the face of overwhelming evidence that racism still exists, because nice white people often aren’t around overt racism in their daily lives and feel threatened and blamed when macro views like 13th’s find that white people are often the villains. But we have too many examples throughout history that powerful people do anything to keep their power. Is it really that hard to believe that governments and institutions would embrace racist policies to achieve this?

There’s a scene in 13th that unapologetically places President Donald Trump in this context. Over a montage of racist acts by Trump supporters against protesters and similar images from America’s Jim Crow past (including beatings, lynchings, and verbal abuse), DuVernay plays many of Trump’s statements against other races. The effect is eerie, finding the connection between the language the president uses and racist violence. It isn’t a big jump to make, and it is a heartbreaking that we still need the act of protesting.

Selma, March, and 13th aren’t telling us anything new, though a lot of what I learned from them was new to me. If we were once convinced that we lived in a “post-race” world, these three works of art are a harsh reminder that the “post-race” world never existed. When I hear people decry protesters or question the legitimacy of protests, I want to grab them and shake them and show them one of these pieces of culture. We need March to remember that protest is effective. We need Selma to remember that protest is a deeply moral act. And we need 13th to remember that protest is still necessary after all.