Four films offering four different approaches to #BlackLivesMatter

DECEMBER 1 — Give or take, it's been about five to six years since #BlackLivesMatter became a thing on social media.

By most accounts, the use of that hashtag began after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin.

The deaths of Michael Brown (which led to protests and unrest in Ferguson) and Eric Garner in New York City and the street demonstrations that followed made the movement known all over the US and of course around the globe as well.

Surely it's an extension or a new mutation/update of the Civil Rights movement, with a little bit of Black Power and various other social justice movements thrown into the mix, as people react to what's happening around them now.

And just like how the Civil Rights and Black Power movement inspired films to either tackle the subject matter head on or have some sort of dialogue with it, the last few years have seen all sorts of films engaging with issues connected to #BlackLivesMatter, from indie ones like Fruitvale Station to blockbusters like Black Panther and even Oscar winner Moonlight.

The last few months have seen quite a few fascinating films engaging with the subject matter in all sorts of ways, from the detective genre trappings of BlacKkKlansman to the absurdist and surrealist Sorry To Bother You, to the tearjerking mainstream Young Adult fiction approach of The Hate U Give and the raucous buddy comedy of Blindspotting, it has been a wonderfully rich year for #BlackLivesMatter films.

In a more just world, these films would (and should) be talked about for the upcoming awards season, whether it's the Oscars, the Golden Globes or the many other awards that lead up to the Oscars early next year.

Only time will tell if they'll get their due or not but for now, do seek them out and enjoy their different approaches to what's essentially the same thing – letting people know that black lives do matter.

‘BlacKkKlansman’

If I get a sen every time I hear another person say that a new Spike Lee film is good, but not as good as Do The Right Thing, I can probably buy myself a fancy new big screen LED television already.

Of course, not many films can live up to the fun and fury of Do The Right Thing, but for the last 20 years or so at least, people have been under-rating the pleasures of Spike Lee as a genre film-maker.

Whether it's 25th Hour, Inside Man, He Got Game, Bamboozled, Summer Of Sam or Miracle at St. Anna, Lee has proven himself very adept at telling stories about the African-American experience through the prism of genre.

And with his latest film BlacKkKlansman, he's made a detective film with a protagonist who thinks he's a blaxploitation hero, and it's quite a hoot. Telling the unbelievable true story of how the first African-American detective in the Colorado Springs police department infiltrated the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, the film is packed with a lot of heart-stopping suspense (especially surrounding their undercover police work) and sharp humour and observations on being black during the film's 1970s setting. Definitely Lee's most entertaining film in recent memory.

‘The Hate U Give’

Movie adaptations of Young Adult novels have generally been so underwhelming that sometimes even a franchise like the Divergent series just gets stopped in its tracks.

All that lukewarm track record is of course never a good sign whenever a new YA movie adaptation arrives in town, which The Hate U Give definitely is.

Despite also starring in an absolute stinker of a YA adaptation this year, The Darkest Minds, Amandla Sternberg has totally redeemed herself with this movie, even going so far as giving an honest-to-goodness Oscar-worthy performance in the lead role, I kid you not.

Sternberg plays a teenager who lives in a black neighbourhood but who's sent to a prep school with mostly white, rich students. Her two very separate lives collide when she witnesses the fatal shooting of a childhood friend by a police officer.

Despite very obviously going for our heart strings, The Hate U Give ended up being an involving, earnest and totally non-cheesy viewing experience.

For an easily accessible yet non-preachy crash course in #BlackLivesMatter, The Hate U Give is surprisingly very good value, and one of the best YA movie adaptations ever. What a pleasant surprise!

‘Sorry To Bother You’

On the surface, Sorry To Bother You is not exactly about #BlackLivesMatter, because it's about a bunch of telemarketers and their office struggles.

But what may at first seem like a satire on corporate life a la Office Space takes a brilliantly hilarious new dimension when our hero, who is African-American by the way, is given the advice to speak using his "white voice."

That turned out to be the key to his professional success as he quickly rises up the ranks, and finally gets promoted to become a “power caller”, who turns out to be selling some of the most morally abhorrent things you can think of.

The story gets wilder and wilder as writer-director Boots Riley puts in even fantastical sci-fi elements, not to mention the brilliantly surrealist visuals (especially in the scene transitions) that he serves the audience.

One of the most strikingly original narratives you'll encounter this year, Sorry To Bother You is also laugh out loud funny in a lot of spots, making it one of the movie highlights of the year, whatever kind of movie you may fancy.

‘Blindspotting’

Like Sorry To Bother You, this one is also set in Oakland, but aside from it also being brilliant and funny, the similarities stop there.

Opening with a montage that is a clear love letter to Oakland as a city and as home, we then get to meet the film's African-American hero Collin, out of jail and on the last three days of probation, living in a halfway house and hanging out with his wild and reckless childhood friend Miles, who's white.

On his way home to catch his curfew, Collin witnesses the fatal shooting of an African-American man by a police officer, and this sets him off on an internal crisis, as the movie ponders on issues like what it means to be a black man in America now, white privilege, trauma, guilt and racial stereotypes.

In essence it's a buddy comedy, but imbued with rap's freestyle spirit (and the two buddies rap all the time, improvising the lyrics, which are mostly about their lives), both its humour and its biting social commentary, resulting in a film that asks a lot of great questions, but is never presumptuous enough to think it knows the answer to all of them.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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