David Oyelowo, as Martin Luther King Jr., in "Selma."

 David Oyelowo, as Martin Luther King Jr., in "Selma." Credit: Paramount/ Everett Collection

Looking back at the past decade, it’s clear that filmmakers of all colors were trying to send America a message. Year after year, we saw movies about racism, police violence and anger within the black community. Yet here we are — again. If you’re struggling to understand today’s global protests, or if you need a reminder that George Floyd’s death is part of a much larger and longer story, here are several recent movies that may shed some light. All titles are streaming or on demand.

FRUITVALE STATION (2013) In one of his breakout roles, Michael B. Jordan plays Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old black man who in 2009 was stopped at an Oakland BART station, then laid face down on the platform and fatally shot in the back by a white transit cop. Writer-director Ryan Coogler, later of “Creed” and “Black Panther,” structures the movie as a re-enactment of the last day of Grant’s life.

SELMA (2014) David Oyelowo turns in a command performance as Dr. Martin Luther King as he tries to organize the 1965 voting-rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The Civil Rights movement may be well-trod ground in the movies, but this detailed and emotionally engaging version from director Ava DuVernay seems destined to become a standard text.

THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF A REVOLUTION (2015) America has long cherished its Second Amendment, but when the Black Panthers took up arms in the 1960s, white alarm bells sounded. Stanley Nelson Jr.’s documentary chronicles the controversial movement with insight, outrage and a touch of wry humor.

DETROIT (2017) Kathryn Bigelow’s difficult-to-watch film dramatizes the Algiers Motel incident, one of the more horrifying stories to emerge from Detroit’s 12th Street Riot during the summer of 1967. Will Poulter plays a white policeman who leads a raid on the motel that quickly spirals into brutality, mock executions and real deaths. Although screenwriter Mark Boal earned an Oscar nod, audiences declined to relive the nightmare and turned “Detroit” into a box-office failure.


Yance Ford and William Ford Jr. in Netflix's 2017 documentary...

Yance Ford and William Ford Jr. in Netflix's 2017 documentary film "Strong Island." Credit: Netflix

In 1992, a young black man from Central Islip, William Ford, was shot to death by a white car mechanic during an argument over a repair. Though Ford was unarmed, the shooter claimed self-defense and an all-white grand jury declined to indict him. Decades later, Ford’s brother, filmmaker Yance Ford, would earn an Oscar nod for this Netflix documentary about the impact on himself and his family.

LA ’92 (2017) Directors Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin present a tick-tocking timeline of the 1992 Los Angeles riots that were spurred largely — but not only — by the videotaped police beating of Rodney King. It’s an instructive case study of what happens when a city’s history of racism finds a flashpoint.

BLINDSPOTTING (2018) In gritty but vibrant Oakland, Calif., a young ex-con (Daveed Diggs, of Broadway’s “Hamilton”) is struggling to finish his last few days of probation when he becomes witness to a police shooting. Written by Diggs with his lifelong friend and co-star Rafael Casal (“Bad Education”), this indie comedy-drama became a critical smash for its hip-hop sensibility and authentic Oakland locations. Directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada.


From left: Megan Lawless, Amandla Stenberg, Sabrina Carpenter in "The...

From left: Megan Lawless, Amandla Stenberg, Sabrina Carpenter in "The Hate U Give." Credit: 20th Century Fox / Everett Collection/Erika Doss

This young-adult novel adaptation stars Amandla Stenberg as a black teenager attending a mostly white prep school — but her double identity is tested when she becomes witness to a police shooting. This is a glossy teen film, not a gritty drama, which makes its head-on confrontation of an ugly issue all the more compelling. Author Angie Thomas wrote her book in reaction to the shooting of Oscar Grant III.

QUEEN & SLIM (2019) Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out”) and Jodie Turner-Smith play a black couple whose first date ends with the shooting death of an abusive white cop. Written by Lena Waithe (“Master of None”) and directed by Melina Matsoukas, the film shows the outlaw pair running through two different Americas: A white one that presumes guilt, and a black one that has found its new folk heroes.

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