Black Lives Matter: Educating Society On The Severity Of Systemic Racism Through Cinema

2020. The year our lives transformed from a mundane Coronation Street Omnibus into the darkest season of Black Mirror yet. Coronavirus is/was just the beginning. We have now entered into the next tense episode: Black Lives Matter. (Spoiler alert: it’s not any less dystopian). This one is a tough watch, but irrefutably necessary, for 2020 is finally time the world unites and stands up for what is fundamentally right.

A long-overdue political shift has arisen from the murder of George Floyd, resulting in global outrage fueling the Black Lives Matter movement to respond in full throttle. Unfortunately, Floyd is one of many black men who has been killed by a police officer because of the officer’s own racial prejudice. This behaviour is actively encouraged due to the systemic racism present within the most important governing social structures.

As a member of this society, we all have a duty: we must do what we can to learn about the history of not only systemic racism, but racism on all levels, and be able to call it out when we see it. Education is the answer to this injustice, and film is one of the best mediums one can study to come as close to witnessing and understanding this prejudice without ever experiencing it themselves.

Fruitvale Station

Films such as 12 Years a Slave, Django Unchained and Lincoln capture slavery and racism to a horrifying degree. They are extremely relevant movies with many parallels to the 21st century, however, there is an obvious historical detachment to modern society. To learn about the presence of systemic racism within more recent years, works such as When They See Us, La Haine and Boyz n the Hood expose that racial exploitation and bias within modern grasp. A Time To Kill, The Help and Green Book similarly show this prejudice, however from a slightly earlier time period. The 2016 Netflix documentary 13th also examines systemic racism, navigating through history from the post-Civil War era to present day. One of the more recent films to emphasise the problem is a film that holds harrowing parallels to the murder of Floyd: Fruitvale Station.

BLACK LIVES MATTER: Educating Society on the Severity of Systemic Racism Through Cinema
Fruitvale Station (2013) – source: The Weinstein Company

An unfortunate similarity between most of the films discussed is that they are based on real people and real incidents. The 2013 movie Fruitvale Station walks the audience through the final day of 22-year-old Oscar Grant’s (Michael B. Jordan) life, before he is dragged off a train, ambushed and shot by police officers. It stresses the incompetence of those who are supposed to protect all citizens, how much they are encouraged to rely on stereotypes and how little respect they have for the black community.

Grant is a character everyone warms to; he tries to do the right thing every chance he gets. This sense of goodness makes him relatable to all, but his life is overruled by domineering white men who will not tolerate black men arguing their innocence. Before the credits roll, the depth of this injustice is described, for the cop who shot Grant said he thought he was using his taser. He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served 11 months of a two-year sentence. This is not an isolated incident – there are many Oscar Grant’s, George Floyd’s and David McAtee’s who have been severely failed by their supposed ‘protectors’. How can the police department treat black citizens so abhorrently, yet follow a Declaration of Independence which states:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”?

America isn’t equal. America is hypocritical.


Spike Lee’s 2018 movie BlacKkKlansman tells the story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), an African American detective who infiates the Ku Klux Klan. This humorously ironic (and true) story not only shows systemic racism within the police force, but also racism within The White House today. This film might be set in Colorado in the 1970’s, but a montage of the 2017 Charlottesville rally footage at the end of the movie highlights how times haven’t changed at all.

BLACK LIVES MATTER: Educating Society on the Severity of Systemic Racism Through Cinema
BlacKkKlansman (2018) – source: Focus Features

During this montage of white supremacists shouting “white lives matter” and “Jews will not replace us” whilst driving cars into equal rights protestors, Donald Trump comments on the atrocity, saying both sides were just as violent. He then adds “not all of those [far-right supporters] were Neo-Nazis […] you also had very fine people.” David Duke – former KKK leader is then seen speaking at the rally stating: “we are making a realisation to which something Trump alluded to earlier in the campaign: this is the first step to taking America back.”

Comments like that actively support hate, and segregation as he is not negatively swayed by this behaviour. If the President of the United States does not stand up to racism, the fascists seep out of the woodwork. They get louder and believe this abhorrence is subsequently acceptable. Trump and the Ku Klux Klan talk about each other as if they are allies – and unfortunately, they are.

Jump from 2017 to 2020 and Trump is now in a bunker commanding US police use tear gas and fire rubber bullets at his own citizens during a pandemic, all because they want equal rights. Trump now joins the notorious Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler in being one of the only leaders to gas their citizens whilst in hiding. If you have racism in the Oval Office, how on earth will justice prevail? (Keep on fighting. He can’t stay in his bunker/in power forever).

Just Mercy

In 1987, Walter McMillan (Jamie Foxx) is convicted of murdering an 18-year-old girl. There is no evidence, just the say-so of another man who is faced with the death penalty himself if he doesn’t come forward with a name. The film navigates the audience through the legal proceedings as lawyer Bryan Stephenson (Michael B. Jordan) does all he can to set an innocent man free – once again, a true story.

BLACK LIVES MATTER: Educating Society on the Severity of Systemic Racism Through Cinema
Just Mercy (2019) – source: Warner Bros. Pictures

This 2019 legal drama is strongly comparable to The Green Mile (1999); opening eyes to death row, the electric chair and racial prejudice within the criminal justice system. When all the facts and lack of evidence is laid out for one of the in-county judges, he rejects his release – just because he is black. McMillan’s freedom is only granted when prosecutor Tommy Chapman (Rafe Spall) recognises his own stubborn prejudice through Stephenson’s plea, and agrees to join the motion.

All it took was for one white man to look in the mirror and recognise his own obstinacy and bigotry to save an innocent man from the electric chair. How flawed can the American criminal justice system be if the prosecutors reasoning was solely that he didn’t want to be proved wrong? How can someone be more comfortable with condemning innocent people to death, than to hold their hands up and admit they made a mistake?

A note at the end of the movie explains: “For every nine people who have been executed in the U.S., one person on death row has been exonerated and released, a shocking rate of error.” Most of the men on death row are black, but not all can be proven innocent before their execution date. That “error” serves injustice on an incomprehensible scale. The system is heavily flawed and designed to benefit white people only. Remember when Brock Turner raped an unconscious woman and walked away with three months in prison? Why? White privilege.

Just Mercy is available to stream for free in the US to teach its citizens about systemic racism within the criminal justice system in light of Floyd’s death.

Black Lives Matter

Cinema is an incredible and invaluable tool for education, and we need it now more than ever. Fruitvale Station, BlacKkKlansman and Just Mercy show systemic racism within the police force, the government and the criminal justice system, however, it exists within hundreds of other institutions, big and small. There are thousands of films on black history and the history of racism at your disposal so utilise them! Systemic racism within American films and American injustice may have been the epicentre of this analysis, however, the rest of the world is by no means exempt. We see what you do, and we will not tolerate it any longer.

Black Lives Matter is a global movement that will eradicate the racist paradigm within each and every society through solidarity. The more we educate ourselves, the more we unify. Do not forget – we are the majority. Now is the time to call out injustice. Recognise the failures and prejudices within your community; speak up and never back down. Do not remain silent. Do not side with the oppressor. We must fulfil our moral obligations to read, watch, and listen to the black community through various mediums. We must engage and broaden our minds on this archaic issue. We will help win the war against racism.

*It’s easy for me to sit and write about a few movies on systemic racism within my bubble of white privilege; I will never understand what it feels like to be shunned out because of the colour of my skin, but I will always stand with all ethnic minorities because of one simple reason: it is the right thing to do.


What film do you think is essential to educating people on systemic racism? Share your thoughts and comments below!

Does content like this matter to you?

Become a Member and support film journalism. Unlock access to all of Film Inquiry`s great articles. Join a community of like-minded readers who are passionate about cinema – get access to our private members Network, give back to independent filmmakers, and more.

Join now!

Posted by Contributor